Who says new Texas head coach Charlie Strong isn't good at schmoozing?
Numerous times during his introductory press conference Monday, Strong deliberately mentioned high school coaches in the state of Texas. Every time, he was complimentary.
"Nationally, the Texas high school coaches are king," Strong said. "My staff and I will be committed to closing the borders on this great state.
"We will recruit with fire and we will recruit with passion. We're devoted to making Austin the state capital of college football, as well as the state capital of [Texas.]"
Strong's intensity comes through loud and clear. That, along with his impressive resume, earned Strong the Texas job.
But one of the concerns about Strong was the unfamiliarity he has with the state's high school recruiting map. Strong's Texas ties consist of a year, 1985, when he was a graduate assistant at Texas A&M.
Of course, former Longhorns coach Mack Brown didn't have deep Texas ties either when he took over the program in 1998, but Strong isn't going to have 16 years to turn things around.
A&M head coach Kevin Sumlin and Baylor head coach Art Briles, meanwhile, are rooted in the Texas high school scene. No two programs have benefited from the Longhorns' mediocrity in recent years like the Aggies and Bears.
Though Texas maintained top-five recruiting classes in 2011 and '12, Baylor and A&M have closed the gap. Both successfully recruited Heisman Trophy-winning quarterbacks—Robert Griffin III and Johnny Manziel, respectively—and A&M's move to the SEC is beginning to pay dividends on the recruiting trail.
There's no doubt that Strong's lack of familiarity with Texas will be used against him by other in-state college coaches.
Strong knows he can't shy away from the challenge, though. Staying entrenched in Texas is crucial to the long-term success of the program. Recruiting is more than building a relationship with a prospect and his family; it's about developing rapport with high school coaches.
Strong is already known as a great recruiter because he connects with young people.
With National Signing Day less than a month away, Texas already has 21 verbal commits. His first job will be to keep that class, ranked 17th, together.
Strong's connection, as well as his staff's connection, to coaches across the state is what will be tested. It's important, then, for Strong to get off on the right foot.
"There are great coaches here, coaches who do an unbelievable job," Strong said. "That's why the doors here will always be open to these high school coaches. I want them to be here and I want them to be a part of it. This is their team.
"We represent this whole state, we represent this country, but we will also represent these high school coaches."
Don't expect Strong to move his recruiting efforts to Florida, where he has deeper ties from his days as the defensive coordinator for the University of Florida.
"I want to make sure I control this state and then we will cherry pick outside this state, whether it's Florida...or Georgia," Strong explained. "I want the high school coaches to understand that, when we leave this state, don't think your player isn't good enough to play here."
Not only would abandoning Texas be a poor recruiting decision for Strong, one that would likely result in his firing, it could potentially screw over the coach who succeeds him.
A bad hire can set a program further back than a good hire can propel a program forward. Putting Texas high school players on the back burner could be nothing short of an unmitigated disaster.
So don't expect Strong to have the presence in Florida he used to have. His focus is within the borders of Texas now. It's a grand experiment, as was Texas athletic director Steve Patterson's decision to hire him.
There's no denying Strong and his coaching staff can develop talent. Marcus Smith came to Louisville as a quarterback recruit in 2010 and leaves as a highly touted defensive end prospect for the NFL.
Rather, the question will be whether Strong can keep persuading that talent to come to Austin. The success of Patterson's decision, and of Strong's tenure, will be closely tied to it.
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