As a special advisor to president Bill Powers, former Texas coach Mack Brown is still heavily involved in the Longhorns program.
However, comments by Houston, TX (Lamar), safety recruit John Bonney make it easy to infer that Brown has not been "all in" with Texas.
Speaking to ABC13 in Houston, Bonney, a Texas commit, said Brown told him in December to "look around" at other schools. According to his 247Sports profile, Bonney visited Austin on Dec. 13; Brown officially resigned the following day after 16 years as head coach of the Longhorns.
Here's the video of Bonney's interview followed by the comments of focus:
I was at my official visit when Mack Brown resigned and he told us to go look around. [He said] he'll even talk to other coaches for you and everything because he really just wanted the best for us as players.
Bonney took official visits to Auburn on Jan. 17 and Baylor on Jan. 24.
Given the circumstances, Brown's reported comments come across as interesting, if not outright suspicious. In fact, it has shades of John Bacon's book "Three and Out." The book documented, among many other things, former Michigan coach Lloyd Carr's reported attempt to undermine his successor, Rich Rodriguez.
Though the story is that Brown stepped down on his own accord, Pat Forde of Yahoo! Sports reported on Dec. 23 that Brown was forced out.
Drawing the conclusion that Brown was sticking it to Texas is a natural one to make. The Horns lost four major recruits in the month of January, including linebacker Otaro Alaka and defensive tackle Courtney Garnett.
But is it an accurate conclusion? For all anyone knows, Brown could also have been singing Texas' praises. At least, that's what Brown said on his Twitter account.
Some of you have asked about my visit w/recruits & their families after I stepped down. Let me assure you it was all positive towards Texas!— Mack Brown (@UT_MackBrown) February 4, 2014
Our new AD Steve Patterson was there with me and I told the entire group that Texas would hire a great coach, it is a wonderful place ...— Mack Brown (@UT_MackBrown) February 4, 2014
... and they absolutely should still come.— Mack Brown (@UT_MackBrown) February 4, 2014
No one will ever know except for Brown, but there is some context that's worth considering.
Brown has always come across as a coach who genuinely cares about his players' well-being. To that point, the best thing any recruit can do is look around as much as possible.
That holds especially true if there's a coaching change. Brown didn't know who would succeed him in December, but new Horns coach Charlie Strong is a major departure from Brown personality-wise. That's not a bad thing, but it reinforces the belief that it's safer to commit to a school than a coach.
The school will always be there. The same can't be said about the man in charge.
David Ubben of Fox Sports Southwest expands on that point:
It's not best for Texas to have a player signing his letter of intent just because he'd committed to Brown and figuring out two years into their career that they hate playing for Charlie Strong. That's a lot of time, resources and development that would never pay off for the Longhorns. A kid who transfers then is going to hurt Texas a whole lot more than a kid who decommits now.
Indeed, it's bad for the school. It's also bad for the player.
Once a football player enrolls in college, he is bound to a system of limitations. Barring any special waivers, athletes have to sit out a year if they transfer to another Football Bowl Subdivision program. Usually, a school will "block" a player from receiving a grant-in-aid to a specific list of other schools. Even players who have received their undergraduate degree have transfer restrictions.
Meanwhile, coaches are free to come and go as they please, with only a buyout to pay. Oftentimes, a coach's new employer will pick up that tab.
A group of Northwestern players announced last week that they intend to unionize with the help of National College Players Association president Ramogi Huma. One of the items on the NCPA agenda is a demand for looser transfer restrictions.
Even if athletes get what they want, reform is likely years away. In the meantime, the status quo reigns supreme.
Prospects should live up the recruiting experience as much as possible for as long as possible. They should take multiple visits and entertain all offers. They won't be in this kind of position again for a long time—and that's if they're fortunate.
Even if a college player is good enough to make it in the NFL, they won't have substantial bargaining leverage until their second contract thanks to the league's rookie wage scale. That could be at least another eight years down the road.
That's a long time to not have an upper hand. By encouraging recruits to look around, which is not the same as encouraging them to decommit, Brown is doing them a favor. Of course, that hasn't always been his philosophy. In the same editorial by Ubben, Brown said in Feb., 2013 that commitment is a two-way street:
"We've allowed a couple of kids to commit and still look around the last couple years. We're going to go back and say, 'We're not doing that anymore. If you're committed to us, you're committed. If you're going to go look, we're going to go look.'" Brown said.
Some coaches around college football, like Georgia Tech's Paul Johnson, are notorious for rescinding scholarship offers if a committed player visits another program.
This is a different situation, however. Texas is transitioning from one coach to another. Strong's priority is try to keep the recruiting class intact as best he can while looking to build long-term relationships for future classes.
It's not uncommon for recruits to waver when a new coach takes over. If Strong rescinded a scholarship offer every time a Texas recruit looked elsewhere, he probably wouldn't have much of a signing class at all.
This is a time when recruits have the power of choice. It behooves them to take advantage of it.
Ben Kercheval is the lead writer for Big 12 football. All rankings courtesy of 247Sports.