Oklahoma's Lincoln Riley and Texas' Tom Herman are about to take their turns leading teams into the Red River Showdown. Like other rivalry games, it comes with its own difficulties, quirks and highlights that will challenge the two first-year head coaches.
Going into the 112th edition of the Red River Showdown, ESPN.com canvassed the exclusive fraternity of former Oklahoma and Texas coaches for their recollections of their first Red River games and advice for the challenges of managing the emotions and pressure of a team as a new head coach in the unique setting of the Cotton Bowl.
Mack Brown was an assistant for one season under Barry Switzer at Oklahoma in 1984 before later becoming the head coach at Texas in 1998.
"I rode through the middle of the state fair with Coach Switzer on the front seat when you still did that. And fans were shaking the bus on both sides. It was so crazy that I understood the magnitude of the rivalry. I remember with Coach Switzer, I had said, 'Who do you have to beat to keep your job at Oklahoma?' And he said, 'Texas.' I said, 'But what about the Big Eight, what about Nebraska, Oklahoma State?' And he said, 'Texas. Understand, you have to beat Texas to keep your job at Oklahoma.'"
Switzer was promoted to head coach at Oklahoma in 1973 after seven seasons as offensive coordinator.
"This is the most important game on our schedule to our alumni. The reason why? There are a helluva lot of people that graduate from Oklahoma and go work south of the Red River to make a living. The whole damn state has got a lot of our alumni. So, it's damn important."
Brown: "Two weeks before the Texas game, all Barry would talk about was the Texas game. That was it. I didn't even remember who we played the week before because he didn't care. It was all Texas. When the buses stopped, and the fans were shaking our bus, Barry looked at me and said, 'Now do you understand how they feel about this game?'"
Bob Stoops arrived at Oklahoma in 1999 after three seasons as Florida's defensive coordinator.
"I understood the importance of it. Most of us in this position have already been in a lot of important games. ... Being the head coach really wasn't much different. So, I don't remember anything terribly out of the ordinary about it. I loved pulling up with the state fair going around it, the crowd, that was all awesome. That atmosphere was great -- that's what sets this game apart from some others."
John Mackovic took over Texas in 1992, while the Longhorns were still in the Southwest Conference.
"It was a season of its own. OK, this is Oklahoma week. It's the Oklahoma season. You can't forget the [Texas A&M] Aggies, either. But the Aggie game always had to do with your [conference] championship. The Oklahoma game was its own championship."
Brown: "This game is different than all the rest. Even the A&M game for us was an in-state, friendly rivalry. It was always a stadium full of a mixed crowd [of allegiances] and families and Thanksgiving. The [Red River Showdown] was really hostile. In the A&M game, everyone stayed in the stands until the game was over. The team that's losing in the fourth quarter at the Texas-OU game goes home. They're outta there. They clear out. So it's the weirdest thing I've ever seen in my life. Both coaches take the picture for their players of when it's only their fans that are left. I had one in my office. I always told them, the objective was this -- to make sure midway through the fourth quarter the burnt orange fans were the only ones still there."
Mackovic: "I remember walking on the field to go out for the pregame warm-ups and I heard this group of people calling my name, 'John, John ...' I thought, 'Oh, some of our fans are here.' I turn and look, and they are all in red. They saluted me, as you might guess they would. They gave me the one-finger salute."
Brown: "This is definitely the most important game for either coach to win. If you're going to have a good tenure at Texas or you're going to have a good tenure at Oklahoma, for these young guys, you've got to win this game at least half the time. That's how important it is, in your first time out."
Stoops: "Truly, fans make such a big deal about this game. And I get it. But if you're the coach or the player here, you've got to win them all. You don't win them all by caring about this one, and not the next one. Sure, we knew we had to play well to win it. But we didn't treat it differently than other games. I realize everyone else does. And I've got to admit -- you knew it was different. But we're all-in next week, too. I don't think we ever lost the week following. There's a balance to it. Everybody says, 'Just beat Texas.' Well, that's not the truth. To me, you can't have consistency and win them if you're treating that one differently."
Brown: "It's very difficult, you've got to manage the emotion the week before the game, you've got to manage the emotion of the game and then it's hard to coach the week after the game. If we lost to Oklahoma and came back to Texas to play, the crowd was awful. They were mad at you."
Stoops: "I remember just really focusing on the game, not worried about all of [the pressure of the game]. I can't say that I really bothered to make much of it."
Brown: "What we started doing was, we'd divide the season up into four sections. We would have the out-of-conference schedule. Then we'd start over and have the first conference game to the OU game, and the OU game was the last game of that season. Then we'd start the rest of the season. Then we'd start the Big 12 championship and bowl game season. That's the way we tried to handle it. Sometimes we'd even start out with new stats just to try to emphasize it was that way."
Mackovic: "In those days we had the following week off. Now they don't. That meant a lot."
Switzer: "It was an advantage for me in that I had been down that ramp many times [as a coordinator]. And for me to be able to be in that locker room and talk to the players about that and what this game meant, that was truly [an advantage]. But it's not what you say Saturday, it's what you do Monday through Friday. That's more important."
Stoops: "I would think [having experience coaching as an assistant in the game] helps and maybe a little more to Lincoln being that he's more recent and had more of a responsibility in this game. That way, they know what to expect, none of it will be new. They've already worked through it, especially Lincoln being in the position he's in. Again, I felt even though I had not had that opportunity, I had been in the Florida-Georgia game, and I knew it was a very similar type of situation. Rivalry game in the same division, stadium split in half and I knew the importance of it."
Brown: "It's a game you have to win. Then you kind of start your season over. I was 7-9 against Oklahoma, but had three or four blowouts. That's just unacceptable in that game."
Mackovic: "The game itself was the fastest game I had ever been around. I never saw the players run that fast on both sides ever. It was like, 'What is it about this game?' They played fast, I mean fast."
Switzer won his first game over Texas 52-13. Switzer's Sooners went on to win national championships in the following two seasons.
"We were better than they were. We were talented. My situation was really good. I was part of a program that was a dominant program. I had helped recruit to that. Obviously was instrumental offensively [implementing the wishbone]. I knew when I took over the job in '73, I inherited what I'd helped built. I knew we would be a great football program. I had the Selmons [All-American defensive linemen Lee Roy, Dewey and Lucious Selmon]. I had great running backs. I had eight defensive starters that would start in the NFL. So, I wasn't worried about it. I thought we'd dominate the game, which we did. I really didn't worry about them. I truly didn't."
Mackovic entered his first game against Oklahoma in 1992 a heavy underdog. But the Longhorns led by 24 points in the fourth quarter before cruising to a 34-24 win, making Peter Gardere the only QB to go 4-0 as a starter ever in the series on either side.
"We made so many mistakes and still scored points and won the game. Peter Gardere called a play backward and threw a touchdown pass on it. He had everybody going differently from where they were supposed to be going. He hit one of our tight ends [Jason Burleson] for a touchdown."
In 1998, Brown also won in his debut against Oklahoma, as the Longhorns rolled behind running back Ricky Williams 34-3.
"Going into the game, John Blake was the coach on the other side. There was a lot of buildup, but the game wasn't as big in my first year because it had kind of lost its luster. Then we won. So, it was a great first game for me. In the dressing room, we gave the ball to Doak Walker's family, because Ricky had been so close with Doak Walker [the former SMU great had recently passed away] and he wore No. 37 in Doak's honor in the House that Doak Built [the Cotton Bowl]. So, there were a lot of things there. We won big. We had Ricky changing his number for the game. We had Doak being honored. So, it was real easy for a first game for me."
Stoops was the only of these four coaches to lose in his Red River debut. The Sooners built up a 17-0 lead in the first half, but Texas rallied for the 38-28 victory. Stoops, however, would begin a five-game winning streak in the series the following year on the way to the 2000 national championship.
"What I remember most is us coming out and getting to a 17-0 lead and not being cool enough about it as a team overall to manage it the right away and keep building the lead and winning the game."
Brown: "The momentum in the game changes so much because you've got half and half fans. It's not normal. And you're never out of it as you go back and forth."
Stoops: "The biggest thing I took away from it, was realizing our guys hadn't been up 17-0 over anybody any good. ... I bet we hadn't had a 17-point lead against any quality opponent in the previous four to five years, I'm guessing. That's what I said to the staff, we have to teach them how to win these games ... to finish these games. I remember looking around the sideline seeing too many giddy, happy faces early in the game. We had to learn how to handle success in these games early being up 17-0 and add to it. That's what we did the year after."