A few days ago the Texas Longhorns coaching staff turned their attention to finalizing recruiting for the 2011 class and toward upcoming spring practice. Mack Brown had finally filled in the final piece of the coaching puzzle with the hiring of new offensive line coach, Stacy Searels.
Enter the Tennessee Titans.
In a surprising, and somewhat confounding decision, newly-hired Texas defensive backs coach Jerry Gray decided to accept an offer from new Tennessee Titans head coach Mike Munchak to become the team's defensive coordinator.
As soon as Gray had arrived, he was gone, and Brown was again in coaching search mode.
Just as with the previous hires, no one should expect Brown and his staff to take the search for Gray's replacement lightly, nor expect them to make a quick decision for timeliness sake.
This will be another careful and deliberate search to find a good fit for the Longhorn football program.
Let's take a look at a few potential candidates:
Willie Mack Garza—USC Defensive Backs Coach
A three-time All-State running back and defensive back from Refugio, Texas, and a University of Texas alum, Willie Mack Garza's Texas ties run deep.
As a Longhorn player, Garza was a Freshman All-American in 1988 and Southwestern Conference Newcomer of the Year, going on to a very productive four-year career on the Forty Acres.
His 16 years of collegiate experience include a three-year stop at Texas (1994-1996) as a cornerbacks and special teams coach for former Longhorn head coach John Mackovic.
Moving on from Austin, to North Dakota, Tennessee, and most currently with Lane Kiffin at USC, Garza has the reputation as a great teacher and motivator who demands the best from each of his players.
Garza's calling card is his laid-back, jovial and calm manner. Very rarely will he grab a player by the facemask on the sideline and yell after a blown play. You're more likely to see him pat someone on the back and offer words of encouragement instead.
This type of personality is indicative of the newly-shaped coaching staff which Brown has crafted over the past few months, therefore, it's very reasonable to expect Garza to at least get an interview in coming weeks.
Melvin Smith—Mississippi State Cornerbacks/Nickelbacks Coach
Another potential candidate to fill the defensive backs coaching position, is current Mississippi State Cornerbacks/Nickelbacks Coach, Melvin Smith.
With former Bulldogs' defensive coordinator Manny Diaz taking the same position earlier this year with Texas, it would make sense that Smith would be in line for an interview.
Smith's 18-year collegiate coaching career includes stops at Ole Miss, Alabama and Texas A&M, but a large percentage of his time has been spent with the Bulldogs in different roles.
While Melvin Smith may not have Willie Mack Garza's Texas ties, he has built great relationships with high school coaches in Mississippi and Alabama which could help the Longhorns establish the Southern recruiting foothold which they have coveted for so long and hope to begin to build with the arrival of Bo Davis, Stacy Searels and Manny Diaz.
Van Malone—Tulsa Secondary Coach/Recruiting Coordinator
Another collegiate coach with Texas ties, Van Malone is a Houston native and former four-year starter for the Longhorns at defensive back during the late 80s and early 90s.
Currently the secondary coach for the Tulsa Golden Hurricane, Malone's coaching career has included stops at North Texas, Arizona State and Texas A&M where he primarily coached defensive backs and had special teams duties.
His NFL playing career spanned five seasons with the Detroit Lions.
Malone's Texas ties as a former Longhorn player and coach who has recruited in the state and understands the intensity those battles can bring could make him a first-tier candidate to replace Jerry Gray.
The next few weeks should see Brown plug the hole left by Gray's departure. Maybe then, the Longhorn staff can finally focus on football as spring practice arrives.