Coaching overhaul doesn't slow Texas
AUSTIN, Texas -- At 7 p.m. on Dec. 11, 2010, Texas was hosting its biggest recruiting dinner of the season. The opulent Red Zone lounge at Darrell K. Royal Memorial Stadium was full of recruits and their families.
At 6 p.m., Mack Brown found out that his defensive coordinator and named successor as head coach, Will Muschamp, was leaving for Florida.
How's that for timing?
Thus, Brown found himself making an awkward announcement to 14 recruits. Instead of schmoozing them, he was startling them with news of another major change in the program. Offensive coordinator Greg Davis and several other assistants who did a lot of recruiting spadework already had moved on -- but Muschamp's exit was something of a shocker.
"There wasn't anything I could say except, 'Here's the deal,'" Brown recalled. "But it actually worked out well because I was able to talk to every one of them. I was able to settle them all down in person."
Now, 53 days later, a potentially unsettling recruiting season has worked out beyond reasonable expectations for Texas. Despite six major changes to the staff, all but one of the Longhorns' previously committed players have stuck with the program. On Feb. 2, the Horns will sign what ESPNU has ranked the No. 2 class in the country.
Given the amount of coaching upheaval at the school, that's a minor miracle. In football, opponents are as likely to honor a commitment as they are to put their playbooks on the Internet. If they sense even the slightest opportunity to jar a player loose from a verbal commitment, they'll go for it.
Many rival schools tried to get the committed Texas recruits to flip. There was very little success.
"I'm so proud of those kids," Brown said. "They wanted to still come. They didn't even blink. Competitors were all over them, but they hung in there.
"I told them, 'You all have committed to Texas. Give me a chance to hire the guy who will coach you and get to meet him. If you don't like him, I'll get on the phone to any school you want.'"
Turns out the school they wanted was the school they committed to in the first place. Texas is known for getting its recruiting work done early. This time it had to get work done early and again late.
Truth is the re-recruiting and hiring processes helped energize Brown. After a disappointing 5-7 season, the coach actually found himself with no bowl preparation to occupy him for the first time in years. Instead, he threw himself into shopping for assistants and staying in regular contact with his committed recruits.
"It ended up, as crazy as it was, kind of being fun for me," Brown said. "We're finally back to where I think there's enough hours in the day."
Now surrounded by a younger staff -- most notably new co-offensive coordinator Bryan Harsin (34) and new defensive coordinator Manny Diaz (36) -- the 59-year-old Brown looks and sounds reinvigorated. It couldn't have been easy for a man known for his loyalty to part ways with so many longtime assistants, but this is change Brown has come to believe in.
"I wanted young, I wanted energy and I wanted out-of-the-box ideas," Brown said. "I can't wait until spring. I think I needed this as much as anybody."
He'll take four early enrollees from this 2011 signing class with him into the spring. Those four, plus several others, will have a chance to play immediately as true freshmen.
That list starts with the nation's No. 2 running back, Malcolm Brown of San Antonio. Given the abysmal state of the Texas running game last year, he could be the school's most anticipated instant-impact recruit in years.
The Horns also signed the nation's No. 1 cornerback, Quandre Diggs, one of the early enrollees and the younger brother of former Texas standout Quentin Jammer. They also have commitments from five other members of the ESPNU 150: linebacker Steve Edmond, defensive tackle Desmond Jackson, offensive guard Sedrick Flowers, cornerback Leroy Scott and athlete Josh Turner. That list doesn't include receiver Jaxon Shipley, whose gene pool suggests big things -- his older brother is former Texas star and current Cincinnati Bengals wide receiver Jordan Shipley.
About the only downside to signing day in Austin was that so many Texas signees were out of school because of a winter storm that has crippled much of the country this week. That complicated the process of getting letters signed and faxed to the Longhorns, and it also deprived many of those players the opportunity for a little fanfare and publicity in front of their peers.
But in the end, the Horns got their men. Neither sleet nor snow nor ice storm nor massive staff changes could keep Texas from another promising recruiting haul.
Pat Forde is a senior writer for ESPN.com. He can be reached at ESPN4D@aol.com.
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