For the first time in well over a decade, Texas A&M has gained the upper hand over long-time rival Texas. All the advantages sit with the Aggies—a nationally driven atmosphere, a magnetic star athlete and a young, charismatic head football coach—while the Longhorns flounder in what has seemed to be an inconsequential coaching search.
Monday, just hours prior to the national championship, Texas concluded its musings with the official announcement of Louisville's Charlie Strong, a defensive-minded coach who led the Cardinals to a 23-3 record and Sugar Bowl victory the past two seasons.
It was the safe hire. And what many are calling a "football" hire.
Unfortunately for Texas, though, the Longhorns require more than just a head football coach. As Strong's predecessor Mack Brown has proved time and time again over the past 16 years, the position demands a political face off of the gridiron, one Strong may not be able to implement.
As Sports Illustrated's Andy Staples discussed in his column on the topic, Strong is simply about the internal workings of the program, ranging from the on-the-field strategy to relationships with the players. Spending time with the boosters looking for bonus points or corralling the media for a press conference just isn't part of Strong's demeanor. Period.
And the Texas athletic department did a poor job moving Strong into the position from day one, as they sacrificed their new head coach's image by not even consulting the major donors beforehand, as Texas business school namesake Red McCombs pointed out during a radio interview.
Not exactly a strong start (pun noted).
Now, how does this immediate insecurity affect Texas A&M? One word: positively.
The Aggies' football program has taken off the past two years under Kevin Sumlin, and for a multitude of reasons. First, for A&M's bold realignment into the Southeastern Conference. Second, for Sumlin's suave recruiting skills. And third, for Johnny Manziel's catalyst-esque boost to the program's direction, drawing national attention and distinction to College Station in a fraction of the time it may have taken without him.
According to 247Sports.com, A&M ranks third overall for its recruiting class and second conference-wide (trailing only division rival Alabama). In the past week alone, the Aggies have secured commitments from the first- and 11th-ranked wide receivers nationally—Speedy Noil and Frank Iheanacho—despite losing top-flight All-American Mike Evans to the NFL Draft in the same time period.
Basically, Sumlin and the Aggies have been unflappable on the recruiting trail and deadly on the football field. And while A&M and Texas have no plans on taking the field against one another any time soon, the Aggies are winning the in-state rivalry by a landslide.
Strong's hire failed to do for the Longhorns what the program would have hoped: make a splash. It was safe. It was predictable. And worst of all, it looked—and felt—awkward. Middle school dance awkward.
For A&M, Texas' lack of ability to take advantage leaves yet more room for the Aggies to add separation between them and the Longhorns, both on the field and the recruiting trail.