Now after four seasons with at least four losses, Brown is stepping down to make way for the next coach to try to push the Longhorns back into the nation's elite.
Texas announced Saturday night that Brown, who won the 2005 national championship, is retiring after 16 seasons, with his final game to be the Dec. 30 Alamo Bowl against Oregon.
In a statement released by the school Saturday night, Brown acknowledged it was time for a change after a 30-20 record and 18-17 mark in the Big 12 over the last four seasons.
The announcement came after a week of intense speculation about the 62-year-old coach's future and a flurry of reports he was considering stepping down.
"It's been a wonderful ride. Now, the program is again being pulled in different directions, and I think the time is right for a change," Brown said. "I love the University of Texas, all of its supporters, the great fans and everyone that played and coached here ... It is the best coaching job and the premier football program in America.
"I sincerely want to get back to the top and that's why I'm stepping down after the bowl game.
Brown led the Longhorns through a run of dominance from 2001-2009 when the Texas went 101-16, won two Big 12 titles and twice played for the national championship.
He has 158 victories at Texas, No. 2 behind the late Darrell Royal, who won 167 in 20 seasons with the Longhorns. Brown is 244-121-1 overall in 29 years as a head coach.
"This is a very difficult day for everyone in the University of Texas family," Texas President Bill Powers said.
The school scheduled a news conference Sunday for Brown, and to discuss a search for his replacement to take over after the Alamo Bowl in San Antonio. Brown was under contract with Texas until 2020 with a salary of more than $5 million per year. Brown also had a buyout of $2.75 million this year, but terms of any severance deal were not immediately released Saturday night.
Brown' only losing season at Texas was in 2010, when the Longhorns fell to 5-7 after playing for the 2009 season national championship. But Brown's inability to win more Big 12 championships—Oklahoma won or shared eight league titles from 2000-2012—and four straight years of at least four losses fractured the fan base and prompted calls for his departure.
Texas expected a return to national prominence in 2013 behind a team that returned 19 starters. Even Brown talked up his chances to compete for a national championship again.
But Texas started 1-2 to rekindle dissatisfaction that would fester all season, particularly after revelations that in January, several members of the school's board of regents and a prominent donor were involved in efforts to lure Alabama coach Nick Saban to the Longhorns.
The possibility that Texas could hire Saban to take over for Brown ended Friday night when Alabama announced it had agreed to a contract extension with its coach. Texas' announcement that Brown would retire came less than 24 hours later.
Brown was considered the perfect fit at Texas when the Longhorns hired him away from North Carolina in 1997 to replace the divisive John Mackovic. The affable Brown immediately won over Longhorns fans at his introductory news conference when he flashed the traditional "Hook'em Horns" sign and urged fans to "come early, be loud and stay late."
Mackovic's blazer-polished image never seemed to fit the Texas football personality. In Brown, the Longhorns found a kindred spirit—a boot-wearing Southerner, accent all, who talked about restoring Texas' swagger.
Brown did what no Texas coach had been able to do for 20 years: unite a fan base that had been split since Royal left after the 1976 season. Brown embraced Royal's legacy to help win over fans aching a return to glory, and just as important, he embraced Texas high school football coaches, immediately establishing a talent pipeline from Texas' rich recruiting fields straight into Austin.
"Sally and I were brought to Texas 16 years ago to pull together a football program that was divided. With a lot of passion, hard work and determination from the kids, coaches and staff, we did that," Brown said. "We built a strong football family, reached great heights and accomplished a lot, and for that, I thank everyone."
And he won. In Brown's first season in 1998, the Longhorns went 9-3, beat Oklahoma and Texas A&M and won the Cotton Bowl as tailback Ricky Williams tore through defenses to win the Heisman Trophy.
Later known as "Coach February" for annually signing some of the top-rated recruiting classes, no recruiting pitch was more important for Brown than convincing Williams to wait on the NFL and play his senior season in '98. The turnaround and the Heisman Trophy quickly elevated Texas back to a place among the nation's elite. Even though they slipped to 9-5 the next season, they had returned to the top 10 with momentum building for the future
Brown's greatest run came from 2001-2009. Texas won 10 games every year in that stretch and from 2004-2009, the Longhorn went 69-9 behind quarterbacks Vince Young and Colt McCoy.
Young led the Longhorns to the national championship in 2005, scoring the winning touchdown on 4th down in the final minute of a wild 41-38 victory, the Longhorns' first undisputed national title in 36 years. McCoy led them back to the title game five years later, but Texas lost to Alabama.
But even Brown's best years were peppered with some epic defeats, most notably against Oklahoma. While Brown dominated rival Texas A&M, the Sooners embarrassed Texas 63-14 in 2000 and 65-13 in 2003 and both losses came in a five-game losing streak at the Cotton Bowl.
Texas ended the losing skid in the 2005 national championship season and beat the Sooners four times in five years.
The Longhorns reached No. 1 during the 2008 season and the push to the 2009 national title game gave no indication of the big fall the program would take just a few months later. Texas plummeted to 5-7 in 2010 and two more embarrassing losses to Oklahoma, this time by scores of 55-17 and 63-21, came in 2011 and 2012.
Texas finished 9-4 with a bowl win in 2012 and appeared on the rebound back into the national elite, but by then influential Longhorns were already searching for his replacement.
Just a few days after Texas wrapped the 2012 season, former Texas regent Tom Hicks and current Regent Wallace Hall talked with Alabama coach Nick Saban's agent to gauge Saban's interest in coaching Texas, a meeting that was endorsed by the board chairman and its athletics liaison.