Texas high school football coaches belong to a fraternity rooted in pride and a love for the state they coach in. Do one wrong and you've done them all wrong, they'll tell you.
That's why it's so imperative to build those relationships the moment you step on campus as a collegiate head coach in the Lone Star State, and then keep them in good standing. No one – no one – was better at that than Mack Brown.
LonghornDigest caught up with four prestigious Texas high school football coaches, all of which were frequently visited by Texas' old staff, to get their take on Brown's departure, Strong's hiring and the direction they see UT's program going.
They did not hold back their true feelings in this anonymous survey.
What was your initial thought on Mack Brown's resignation?
Coach A: "I thought the process, probably more than anything, would be the thing that generated the most interest to me. It was a rumor for months. As a result, the delayed action and the uncertainty surrounding it slowed the recruiting process. It seemed like every day you'd see something about UT and it wasn't in a positive light."
Coach B: "I was very disappointed in the university. I was shocked. Just different rumors about how it went down, I didn't think it was the right way."
Coach C: "Disappointing in my opinion. I know it is part of the business. But when you build something that's great you give the guy an opportunity to turn it around. I felt like it was closer to him turning things around than not. But that's just me and the relationship that we built over the years."
Coach D: "I think if they would have won the Big 12 championship then he'd still be there. I wasn't that surprised."
What was your initial thought on Charlie Strong's hiring and the staff he's put together?
Coach A: "I don't know the staff to be honest with you. More than anything, that will be a wait-and-see. Nothing changed for us with Bruce Chambers continuing here. I thought it was big that Coach Strong came and spoke to our Texas High School Coaches Association regional meeting weeks after he was hired. I think that went a long way for the guys that had a chance to see him."
Coach B: "I was really excited. I don't know Coach Strong. When it happened I was in California and everyone they recruited from their schools had great things to say about Charlie Strong. It is definitely a different direction. They are totally two different guys. It's going to be interesting, but I'm excited."
Coach C: "It's exciting. I think they made the right choice. I know it wasn't the most popular choice with some of the alumni, but they brought the right guy in. He is very serious about making sure Texas is tough. I think they made the right hire there."
Coach D: "Um, I really think the move that Texas Tech made, that Coach [Kevin] Sumlin made of hiring a guy out of high school helped them out really well. I think Texas could have used a high school coach. You look at TCU, they hired Kenny Perry and I think that's going to go a long way. I'm just concerned that they don't get the coaches that recruit the state of Texas. If they don't they will be in a world of trouble. The only person I know that has relationships with coaches in this state is Coach [Bruce] Chambers. [Offensive coordinator/offensive line coach] Joe Wickline coaches Texas very well but, hell, he isn't Coach Chambers. If they don't get somebody they are going to get killed. If they recruit out of the state too much they are going to do just like they did [John] Mackovic and run his [expletive] out of town."
Mack Brown really took pride in staying in good standing with Texas high school coaches. How important is that to Strong's success at UT?
Coach A: "First of all, I'd say initially in the media Coach Brown was very polished and always made mention of the Texas high school coaches. I remember after the national championship he threw a bone to us, which was huge. Obviously, you know from my standpoint, we both uncovered a bit of the reality of what that really was. So I'm a bit jaded. Not only do I think it is imperative from a survival standpoint to have great relationships with the high school coaches in this state, but Texas is such a unique state. The bond is so close that if you do one wrong you do them all wrong. It is imperative that it is a major point of emphasis."
Coach B: "I think it's really important. I'm not a Texas grad or anything like that but I think Charlie Strong is the face of the state, as much or more than the governor. When you are the head coach at the University of Texas it is just such a huge deal. Mack was such a genius at that. He always had an open-door policy and I think it's important that Strong has the same policy because a lot of coaches expect that in this state."
Coach C: "It's very important to start winning now. I know people realize but the emergence of A&M and Baylor has put a dark cloud over Texas. He has to win right away. When I first got here kids were breaking their necks trying to get to Texas But now they have different options and that Texas offer doesn't hold the same weight that it did three to four years ago."
Coach D: "It's going to be the key. Mack was the best I'd ever seen. Mack welcomed them with open arms. And he remembered names. You don't think Mack knows your name? He'd walk up to you and have a conversation with you like there was no tomorrow. He's very friendly. It was unbelievable. I'll give Charlie the benefit of the doubt because I want those guys to be successful. I have kids down there. But if you don't get the relationship with the high school coaches, especially the right ones, recruiting is going to be hard at UT. A&M and Baylor are killing the state."
How much of an effort has he and his staff made with you thus far?
Coach A: "Personally I haven't spoken from Coach Strong. I have gotten a couple of emails. Chambers was here a couple of weeks after he was hired."
Coach B: "He's been incredible. He spoke at our regional meeting. I think he flew in and spoke at ours, then flew to Houston and spoke at theirs, then turned around and flew to San Antonio to speak at theirs all in one day. I was really impressed with that. That was also a recruiting day so you know he had recruits on campus but it was important to him to get out there."
Coach C: "It's pretty good on our side. During the time that our recruitment was up I was able to meet Coach Strong, offensive line Coach [Joe] Wickline, the defensive line coach [Chris Rumph] and the defensive coordinator [Vance Bedford]. So they really took the time to build these relationships."
Coach D: "They've made an effort but it's not like it should be. It's not looking good from my end, I can tell you that. He came into my office and we spoke. But if you are one of the premiere programs in the state, I think their effort needs to be better. But he's trying to get his feet wet so I understand."
Will it hurt the staff's chances with your kids if Texas starts to recruit out-of-state prospects more than Mack Brown did?
Coach A: "No I don't think so. You have to get the best players available. We just happen to be bias and think they are here."
Coach B: "No. I think everybody is doing it. I think the thing that Mack did was he was going to take Texas kids. That was his philosophy. I think where it will hurt is when you are sitting there with two kids who have equal ability and you take an out-of-state kid. I think it's smart. It helps people on both ends because Texas is going to get some kids they normally don't go after. So schools will have to battle Texas for out-of-state kids."
Coach C: "Well, you know, I think it will. Texas high school coaches are a little bit different. But it's part of the business now. A&M goes out nationally and recruits. But I think it will because I know some coaches that won't let people in the building if they are recruiting players from out-of-state, especially position-wise. I know Florida is huge like that."
Coach D. "Yes."
What's the biggest challenge ahead for Strong?
Coach A: "Win the state in recruiting and on the field."
Coach B: "Following a legend is always hard. Another thing, and I understand why he is doing it, and I don't agree or disagree with it, but a lot of people are going to use against him that he wants to have his team live on campus. It sounds simple but I think that's something that is going to have to be overcome."
Coach C: "Turning around the negative image and the arrogance. I think that was the biggest problem with Texas was that they were real arrogant, that they can go in to any building and flash the "Hook'Em" and kids were going to jump through hoops. So the arrogance part and also to have an identity. Texas hasn't had an identity the last couple of years. Establish who you are so kids can identify who you are when they watch you."
Coach D: "The biggest challenge ahead for him is winning. They ain't going to put up with no losers. I think he has a short leash. I think another big challenge for him is recruiting. He has to go win those battles. He's got to go get the kids that aren't four- or five-star kids. He'll want them to make his class look good but, hell, those aren't always the best kids. He's going to not have to be so gosh darn political. Don't worry about what other coaches think. Don't play that political game. That's what cost Mack at the end."
What's the best advice you would give Strong and his new staff?
Coach A: "Be approachable and, better yet, get out there and build a rapport with the Texas high school coaches. That is something Baylor and A&M have done extremely well. If we have 75 schools that come here in the spring, 65 are going to come, pick up the information packet, talk briefly about their program and they are out the door like McDonalds. Certain coaches come in and we talk about people beyond the world of football, and those are the guys I want my kids playing for."
Coach B: "It's the nature of the beast but I don't see how you offer a sophomore or freshman a scholarship. I think Strong will move away from that. When he spoke to us, one of the main things I got out of it was that he wanted a fair evaluation. And it's hard to have one on a sophomore. That's the easiest thing for me is that you miss on kids when you offer them too early."
Coach C: "Find your identity and go win. Winning solve all problems."
Coach D: "Honestly, Mack really, really, really called the high school coaches if he wanted to know about a player. I can tell you right now, there are two or three players that I know of that Mack called me about and they gave full scholarships to. Strong has to get a great relationship with the high school coaches."
Is there something the old Longhorns staff did that you'd advise the current staff not to do?
Coach A: "Boy, how do I keep that anonymous? Eliminate the thought of entitlement."
Coach B: "I wouldn't offer freshmen and sophomores."
Coach C: "Well the biggest thing is to let the recruiting process play out. Rather than try to pressure a kid, let kids explore their options. We dealt with that with one of our kids that basically ‘if you don't commit here we are going to write you off the face of the earth.' Kids want to be able to explore their options. I'm seeing those changes so far."
Coach D: "Wow. That's a good question. Me and Mack were really, really close. They really don't need to show favoritism to kids. Treat all the kids the same."
Is there something the old Longhorns staff did that you'd advise the current staff to do more of?
Coach A: "Role out the red carpet for Texas high school coaches."
Coach B: "I think it's important to embrace the Texas high school coaches. You have such a great association. You are not just representing your university but a state that takes great pride in football."
Coach C: "Right now they are doing it. Texas coaches always welcomed us in the building. Building relationships was something the old staff did and that this staff is doing now."
Coach D: "Reach out to the coaches. Welcome them. Let them come to their facilities. Let them come to practice. Just be open. The more open they are to them, they will help you out."
Where would you rank the Longhorns amongst the state's programs?
Coach A: "A&M, Baylor and then Texas."
Coach B: "I hate to say it but they are third behind A&M and Baylor. Because they are Texas it is an easy gap to close if there is any. I think there is a bigger gap between Texas and Texas A&M. But that can close in a number of ways. It will be interesting to see how A&M responds without Johnny Football, and it will be interesting to see how Texas responds with Strong."
Coach C: "A&M, Baylor, Texas, TCU, Texas Tech. A&M has the momentum right now. As you know, one winning season at Texas will change everything."
Coach D: "Third behind A&M and Baylor. Texas is going to be Texas. They could come back right now and take over A&M if they want to. That's how powerful they are. They can do anything they want. They are the Texas freaking Longhorns. But A&M is on top right now. I think it all depends on their offensive coordinator."