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Upon landing on the IMG Academy homepage, a visitor is immediately aware of a constant, intense drumbeat of movement. Young athletes – girls and boys – pushing themselves, running, jumping, lifting and yes, even studying, surrounded by modern amenities craved by 17 and 18-year old dreamers.
If you’re an elite athlete, the web site is Disneyland, nirvana times 10. If you’re an elite athlete’s parent, the web site makes you believe all your kid’s dreams really could come true.
And if you’re a Texas high school football coach, you might see the web site and wonder if this Bradenton, Florida Shangri-La might someday cost one of your players a chance to play for one of the major college football teams in your state.
Basically, if you are a high school or college football coach in Texas, IMG and other “football academies” are either really great or a very real pain in the neck.
Or, if you are Texas coach Tom Herman, a little bit of both. Herman’s job description at Texas most assuredly includes “tightrope walking when necessary.”
The two primary points of view on the subject of these alternative high schools have recently been highlighted by Herman and new Baylor coach Matt Rhule.
Herman has successfully danced on the fence as it pertains to the schools, first by preaching to his Texas high school coaching brethren at the Texas High School Coaches Association Convention about how he hoped Texas kids would choose to stay in their home towns and play locally rather than head east.
Herman emphasized the importance of community, as it pertains to football, and the high school coaches in attendance ate it like Blue Bell in July.
Then, in a perfect example of how complicated this issue has become, Herman followed up later by releasing a statement that reiterated his hope that players would stay home while also acknowledging that every player and family must make their own decisions about where to go. In other words, he clearly sees value in both decisions.
Rhule, on the other hand, was more black-and-white with his feelings on the subject: he point-blank said that Baylor will not recruit from places that take athletes from the state of Texas.
Texas fans should be happy with Herman’s stance on the subject. The Texas coach did some apprentice work when he coached under former Texas coach Mack Brown, and has adopted Brown’s gift of understanding the importance of building rock-solid relationships with Texas high school coaches.
At the same time, Herman sees players from IMG Academy going to Alabama, Notre Dame, etc., and recognizes the need to always be flexible, as well as to always be open to all options (i.e., all players). Yes, UT wants to recruit the best players in Texas. But UT also wants to recruit players from the moon if that’s where a five-star attends school.
Granted, Rhule at least right now does not lead a program that can stand toe-to-toe with Alabama and others in recruiting the four- and five-star recruits who train at IMG. But it might be a mistake for him to emphatically close the door to recruiting players simply because they made a decision to play ball outside of Texas, Our Texas.
Herman showed his recruiting prowess long before the subject of alternative high schools found itself in the news over the course of the last week or so.
Now his handling of the subject shows that he “gets it” as it pertains to bringing the best football players to Austin. Herman loves the high school coaches, as evidenced by the long line of them waiting to have their picture taken with him at the coach’s convention. But Herman also loves winning, and as such, he is unwilling to close his door to any opportunity that improves his chances to do so.
That’s a good thing.