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The coronavirus pandemic brought the college football recruiting landscape to almost a dead stop.
The NCAA ruled there would be no official visits by prospective student-athletes to schools during the 2020 season, nor would coaches be able to hit the road to see high school coaches, recruits, and their families face-to-face. Every part of the recruiting process, including the all-important task of relationship building, went digital and will remain so after the NCAA extended the length of the current dead period to April 15.
Recruiting to a new school via only digital means is no easy task as Longhorns head coach Steve Sarkisian will find out. Regional recruiting rivals like Texas A&M and Oklahoma have retained most members of their coaching staffs since just over a year ago, and likely were afforded the chance to meet players in person before the country shut down. That’s a significant leg up in recruiting, even with a new-coach bump on the horizon for Sarkisian.
What’s one way to counter this? Hire or retain assistant coaches and staffers who have already made personal in-roads with recruits from Texas at their previous stops.
This strategy paid dividends before Sarkisian was even introduced. Sarkisian chose to retain wide receivers coach Andre Coleman from the previous staff, and his presence combined with Sarkisian’s play calling versus Ohio State in the national championship game led 2022 receiver Armani Winfield to choose the Longhorns.
“The energy and excitement for our program right now I think is one that is directly effective to what’s happening in recruiting,” Sarkisian said Tuesday. “From the moment I got hired up until last night after the game and getting a commitment to the program already from an in-state player, that just tells you about where the excitement of Longhorn football is right now.”
Coleman wasn’t the only offensive coach from the previous staff who was told his services were still needed in Austin. Running backs coach Stan Drayton is sticking around as well. Drayton was key in landing star running back Bijan Robinson and is one of the leading factors behind Texas remaining in the race for 2021 running back LJ Johnson.
Director of recruiting Bryan Carrington was present for Sarkisian’s introductory press conference and has built several key relationships with players on the current roster and Texas’ recruiting targets. His status is not certain, but his retention would keep a skilled relationship-builder within the facility at Texas.
The retentions should help, but some of the additions Sarkisian is bringing with him from Alabama have standing relationships with plenty of prospects and coaches from within the state of Texas.
Jeff Banks, who Inside Texas reported Thursday would join Sarkisian in Austin, has years of experience recruiting Texas both in his time at Texas A&M and at Alabama. Banks was part of the effort to flip former Longhorn commit Jalen Milroe to the Crimson Tide in the 2021 class, and also assisted in landing Texas prospects Marcus Banks, Kendrick Blackshire, and Damieon George in recent classes.
Another reported Alabama tag-along with in-state chops is Kyle Flood. Expected to be the offensive coordinator and offensive line coach, Flood was crucial in landing Tommy and James Brockermeyer from Fort Worth All Saints. He also flipped North Shore’s Jaeden Roberts from Auburn following the Tigers’ dismissal of Gus Malzahn. All these commitments came following a career mostly spent in the northeast or in the NFL.
Of course, Sarkisian was involved in the process of building and selling the product to offensive prospects not just in Texas, but around the country.
Several of the other reported additions to the staff such as Blake Gideon, Bo Davis, and Terry Joseph all have previously recruited the state of Texas. Gideon is a former Longhorn himself, and Davis spent several years coaching the defensive line under Mack Brown.
All these hires have some level of familiarity recruiting within the state, including some prior face-to-face meetings. They’ll still need to win the battles to put together a championship product, which will be made difficult by rising regional recruiting rivals. But bringing in a number of pre-built relationships will prove beneficial to Sarkisian and staff as they attempt to bring highly rated recruiting classes to Austin.
Cover photo courtesy of MGoBlog