The Texas Longhorns have got a tremendous leg up on most other programs after their first junior day hosted in Austin this past weekend with 13 verbal commitments. Less than two weeks after the Horns finished with a top five ranked recruiting class Mack Brown and Co. are right back at it again. They've barely got the cellophane off the early enrollees, haven't unwrapped their 2010 present haul yet they're already stocking their coffers for 2011.
Every school in the nation worth it's salt hosts their own Junior Day events in an attempt to get commitments from one or two highly sought after prospects. However, unlike Texas, most schools are just hoping to impress prospects with a tour of the facilities, facetime with coaches, interaction with current players and a basketball game.
In short, these events are more of a kickoff to the recruiting process than a commitment extravaganza. Think of them as "offseason unofficial visits", where kids come, check out what the school has to offer for a day and get a feel for the staff as the heavy recruiting kicks off heading into summer. Sure, like unofficial visits, there will be a handful of kids who commit to a university but as a whole these days are about getting to know a school and a staff.
So what makes Texas' Junior Day's so different? Why do the Longhorns hammer out the bulk of their recruiting almost a full year before the kids can sign a letter of intent?
Texas & Mack Brown
If you've ever lived in, been to or met anyone from Texas you know that the state is a different world. While at times that has negative connotations in the case of Junior Days the Longhorns benefit tremendously from Texas' unique nature and Mack Brown is the facilitator.
Read more about how Mack Brown and the state of Texas work in concert to create the perfect storm for Junior Day domination.
Texas, as a state, is one of the nation's three top producers in terms of college football talent. It is a state capable of sustaining four BCS conference programs, five other FBS level schools, a myriad of lower level programs as well as regularly supplying plenty of talent to Oklahoma, Okie State, Arkansas, LSU all the while dealing with other schools plucking talent.
The Longhorn state is football crazy and with a mix of major metropolises and rural areas both working their best to win state championships the state has a culture built on football success. Texans take their football serious in all stages as gamedays aren't the only manifestation of football's importance. Offseason conditioning programs, offensive and defensive schemes and facilities are the vehicles that convey football's importance to the masses.
Talent is recognized early, developed through training and optimized through scheme so instead of kids being raw "athletes" this is a state that produces specialized, experienced and often times extremely polished recruits. Outside of the state's sheer number of BCS level talents the polished nature of Texas recruits is the biggest recent Junior Days are possible in the Longhorn state.
Why is the refinement such a distinguishing quality?
Well if you have a look at Rivals you'll quickly notice that not a single one of the players has a star rating at this date. Over at Scout the players have stars but they're largely generic as four players have one star and we all know that Texas doesn't pull in one star performers.
Texas, because of the refined talent is able to commit kids earlier than most states are willing or able. They are offering scholarships, filling potential roster spots and resting their future on the backs of kids that have yet to attend Junior Prom, attend Texas' senior camps or play their senior high school football season.
Anywhere but Texas this is risky business as California, Georgia, Ohio, Florida and Pennsylvania may be talent hotbeds but they don't have the polished quality that allows for easy early evaluation.
So Texas has got the supply of high school football players and they've got the refining process down to a science but why is it that only the University of Texas, not Texas A&M, Texas Tech, TCU et cetera, is able to secure the bulk of their commitments before spring practice?
First of all it is simple fact that thousands of kids grow up playing high school football and the bulk of them want to be Longhorns. However it takes a special type of man to get these horses to drink from the Austin water early and that man is Mack Brown. His blend of style, charisma, diplomacy, political schmoozing, staff assembly and on-field results nets him all the credentials necessary to woo young men.
No one is going to nominate Mack Brown for the "innovator of the year" award for his X's and O's, strategy or in-game decision making as he's built in the mold of the great CEO's of college football a la Pete Carroll, Bobby Bowden and Joe Paterno. He delegates and is a decision maker and with one of the best staffs in college football Brown can afford to focus his energies into the areas where he truly excels; recruiting and program building.
Most of the nation vaguely remembers Mack as a hotshot coach coming to Texas from the University of North Carolina in 1998 after leading the Tar Heels to a 10-1 season in 1997. Not many folks knew much about him beyond the fact that he rebuilt UNC and had the Tar Heels winning. The truth is Mack Brown was a dogged worker, he not only built up the Heels on the field but he renovated the stadium, added the Pope Luxury suites and got the Kenan Football Center erected in his final years at Carolina.
Flash forward to Texas and Brown has done much of the same thing, added to the stadium, increased attendance and built enough goodwill for the program with donors that Texas' reserves are bubbling over unlike any school in the nation. After the John Mackovic and David McWilliams era where the Longhorns went 72-54-2 there was a major rebuild for Brown to complete and he's done a mighty fine job.
Although the program goodwill is a tremendous accomplishment Mack's biggest success, and the reason his Junior Days work, is his ability to recruit and tap into the desire of Texas high schoolers to be Longhorns. Mackovic and McWilliams were working with the same landscape for recruiting, they had the same kids who grew up Texans, why is it that Mack Brown has been able to feast on the state, gorging the Longhorns on Texas recruits en-route to being a top three football program while they wallowed in mediocrity?
Charisma, is the one word answer and endearing yourself, your staff, your program and its success to the state is the short answer. Brown's made his team "Texas' Team" again. He's made the 'Horns the pride of Texas. Everyone wants to be a Longhorn and with only 25 spots available a season not everyone can wear the burnt orange. Here's where classic laws of supply and demand work in Brown's favor. Unlike at UNC where he had to mine the Tidewater region of Virginia to supplement North Carolina's talent pool, in Texas Brown's got more than enough talent and he can't possibly get every player into Austin.
Our guys over at Tilting at Windmills have a Sooners prospective on this "group think" mentality and while I don't whole heartedly agree it sheds some light on the process. The fact is Texas can only sign 25 kids, if you want to be a part of a team that's won 10 games for nine seasons and finished ranked for 12 then get onboard early otherwise you're going to miss out. It is a great strategy, a great plan and it has worked for Mack Brown for the past few years.
Only in Texas does this process work. A school that is a great blend of academics, athletics, money, city-atmosphere, tradition and success. A state that produces the most polished, college ready football players in the nation. A state where the bulk of the players dream of donning the burnt orange. A coach that has won the hearts of the public and who has resurrected one of the giants of the college football world. The strategy works folks and love Texas and Brown or hate them the 'Horns have a strategy that works.
Only in Texas.