Charlie Strong Faces Tough Task Trying to Win over Texas High School Coaches

Ben Kercheval@@BenKerchevalCollege Football Lead WriterMarch 11, 2014

Charlie Strong answers questions during an NCAA college football news conference where Strong was introduced as the new Texas football coach, Monday, Jan. 6, 2014, in Austin, Texas. Strong replaces Mack Brown, who coached Texas for 16 years and won the 2005 national championship.
Eric Gay/Associated Press conducted an anonymous survey with four "prestigious" Texas high school coaches. Like every other Internet story ever written, the Q&A was published with the hopes that it would interest readers. 

First-year Texas coach Charlie Strong and his coaching staff may at least want to give it a glance, too, since every coach agreed on one answer:

The state of the program, as it stands right now, is ranked behind Texas A&M and Baylor.

That lede was buried all the way at the bottom of the survey. Still, that's a tough reality to swallow for a school used to being the king of the state.

That said, it deserves a bit of explanation.

Eric Gay/Associated Press

A coach's first recruiting class can be a crapshoot. Strong's biggest priority when he accepted the job in January was keeping the 2014 class together. Largely, he did just that as the Horns finished with the No. 17 class in the country, according to 247Sports' composite rankings

But is Texas falling behind A&M and Baylor on the in-state recruiting trail? As it relates to A&M, absolutely. The Aggies are reaping the benefits of playing in the SEC with the right coach, Kevin Sumlin, and a recent Heisman-winning quarterback, Johnny Manziel

Baylor is a more interesting comparison. Besides A&M, no other Division I program in Texas has benefited more from the Longhorns' on-field mediocrity than the Bears. However, the anonymous high school coaches agree: 

"Texas is going to be Texas. They could come back right now and take over A&M if they want to," said Coach D. "That’s how powerful they are. They can do anything they want. They are the Texas freaking Longhorns."

"Because they are Texas it is an easy gap to close if there is any," Coach B added. "I think there is a bigger gap between Texas and Texas A&M. But that can close in a number of ways."

Matt York/Associated Press

The question is whether Strong can close that gap and how quickly. 

It starts with having a tight relationship with the state's high school coaches. That's something Strong is still in the process of developing. By and large, the coaches surveyed are willing to give him that chance. 

Just as important for Strong, however, is avoiding an early mishap. "The bond is so close [among Texas high school coaches] that if you do one wrong you do them all wrong," Coach A explained. 

Former Horns coach Mack Brown was as good as anyone, if not better, at connecting to Texas' high school coaches. In his introductory press conference, Strong made a similar effort to reach out. 

Patric Schneider/Associated Press

Of course, any time there's coaching turnover, relationships are going to be tested. Bruce Chambers, Texas' tight ends coach who has great rapport within the state as a former high school coach, was strategically retained by Strong. Other than Chambers, though, Texas' coaching staff has a new look. 

While it may take a while for the new staff to get acclimated to the Texas recruiting scene, there's simply no pleasing everyone. 

Another recruiting survey, this one published in February, from Travis Brown of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram revealed more sporadic results. For example: Baylor, the very program "killing it" on the recruiting trail, was voted by at least one Texas high school coach as one of the most difficult programs to deal with. 

The Bears also received high recruiting marks in the Star-Telegram survey. Point being, each coach has his favorite/least favorite schools. 

Similarly, the Longhorn Digest survey is a snapshot of what Texas high school coaches think. It is not an be-all, end-all voice. 

Still, it provided honest answers that Strong and his staff should listen to. That doesn't mean Strong has to start pandering, or that he has to do everything the anonymous high school coaches say. But it does mean that he has his work cut out for him. 

Strong is known as an excellent recruiter, though. Given time, his presence in Texas will improve dramatically. 


Ben Kercheval is a lead writer for college football at Bleacher Report. All quotes obtained firsthand unless noted otherwise.