Something surprising emerged from the 2019 edition of Dave Campbell’s Texas Football, and it had nothing to do with the Texas quarterback Sam Ehlinger being on the cover.
Rather, as part of an annual survey, the venerated magazine asked high school coaches which college football coach in the state they trusted most. Longtime, legendary TCU head coach Gary Patterson finished first. Matt Rhule, who has led Baylor for just two seasons and is a New York native, came in second.
So, how has a Northeast-bred, opportunistic Texan found his way in front of the head coaches at Texas, Texas A&M, Texas Tech, Houston, SMU and every other mid-major program in the state? The answer, apparently, has everything to do with consistency and process.
“What we try to do is if we offer someone a scholarship, we try to call the (high school) coach first,” Rhule told the media at his annual appearance at Big XII media days, as captured by The Oklahoman. “We try to recruit all the schools we can get to, not just the ones with big-time prospects. We try to build relationships, because at the end of the day, the high school coaches in the state of Texas, they love two things, football and working with young people.
“We have an open door policy that high school coaches in the state of Texas can walk into our offices on a Friday before we play the University of Oklahoma, and they can sit there. We want people to be around, and I think the biggest thing is when we have made mistakes — and we have made mistakes in dealing with coaches — and I’ve picked up the phone and said, ‘hey, I made a mistake there.’ If you can say, ‘hey, I did this wrong,’ then you have a chance to have real relationships.”
If Rhule’s rise in respect among Texas coaches is all about communication, he’s tapped a nerve that others should be able to follow. Patterson’s long tenure and success at TCU made his position atop the trustworthy rankings a near afterthought. That Rhule could leapfrog Texas’ Tom Herman and Texas A&M’s Jimbo Fisher, both of whom have put together near national-best recruiting classes since arriving with the Longhorns and Aggies respectively, speaks volumes about the kind of grassroots connection he’s building. That starts with the three assistant coaches he hired with a background in Texas high schools and builds from there.
Whether it’s lip service or not, his message about continuing to grow the game in Texas also clearly resonates with all the people it needs to, particularly high school coaches.
“We’re trying to do a great job of communicating, and at the end of the day, one of my goals is to make sure I’m doing my part to make the game of football in the state of Texas as strong as it can ever be that’s at the high school level, Division III, Division II and FCS and FBS, and hopefully we’re all doing that together,” Rhule told the assembled Big XII media.