A day after Arkansas Razorbacks defensive backs coach Clay Jennings was in Austin interviewing with Texas Longhorns head coach Charlie Strong, FootballScoop.com's Zach Barnett broke the news that the Horns will hire Jennings to replace dismissed defensive backs coach Chris Vaughn, who did not have his contract renewed as a result of alleged improprieties when he coached at Ole Miss.
A report from the Arkansas side provide some confirmation in the immediate aftermath:
Sources say Clay Jennings informed Arkansas' defensive backs yesterday that he'd be moving on to Texas.— Danny West (@DannyWest1) February 17, 2016
Orangebloods became the first site on the Texas side to confirm.
In the evening hours, the Longhorns officially announced his addition.
"It's an honor and privilege to have the opportunity to coach in my home state and represent one of the nation's premier football programs," Jennings said in a statement released by the school. "I'm excited to be a part of the Longhorn family and ecstatic to have the chance to join Coach Strong's staff. I've followed him for a long time, and he's a man that so many of us as coaches look up to and admire. Coach Strong is all about transforming young men's lives, and that is first and foremost to me, as well, so I'm just thrilled to be a part of that."
"Clay has a tremendous track record for developing defensive backs and has coached in a lot of great defenses," Strong said. "He's knowledgeable, personable, brings a lot of energy and is a coach our staff all thought fit in really well with us. On top of that, he's from Texas, has years of experience coaching here and already has great relationships across the state. That's a big advantage for him to get in here and get going right away. After spending time with him, we felt like he has everything we're looking for. I know our players will all really respond well to Clay, and we're looking forward to having him on our staff."
The hire will complete Strong's coaching staff after another offseason of major turnover and the apparent near loss of defensive line coach Brick Haley to the Texas A&M Aggies. News broke on Wednesday morning that Haley will remain in Austin instead of joining his longtime friend and colleague John Chavis in College Station.
The advantage that Jennings had over his competition for the job, Purdue Boilermakers defensive backs coach Taver Johnson, is that he played his college football in the state of Texas and, including his years as a graduate assistant at his alma mater, North Texas, has made four different stops as a coach in the state at Houston, Baylor, and TCU.
And, in fact, Richard Davenport of WholeHogSports.com told Burnt Orange Nation on Wednesday that Jennings still recruited parts of Dallas, Houston, and Central Texas for the Razorbacks over the last two years and served an important role in the recruitment of Beaumont Central running back Devwah Whaley in the 2016 class. The top running back in the state, Whaley pledged to Arkansas over Texas at the 2016 Under Armour All-American game.
Most importantly, Davenport described Jennings as a hard-working, down-to-earth person who has strong relationships with high school coaches in the state. Those attributes would explain why his Tuesday interview with Strong was considered a resounding success -- it sounds like he has a similar personality to Strong and the other assistants currently employed by the Longhorns.
But Jennings isn't just someone who attended school in Texas -- he grew up in Waco, making this another homecoming of sorts for the longtime position coach and a deeper chance to cultivate those relationships with Texas high school coaches.
"I'm truly excited to have a chance to come back home and recruit in the state of Texas," Jennings said. "I look forward to continuing to nurture and develop relationships with the Texas high school coaches. That's important, now and in the years to come, as we continue to help Coach Strong support those coaches and get the Texas program back on top.
"My dad was a big UT fan, and growing up in Texas, I always rooted for the Longhorns. I know my mom and dad, my wife, my whole family is excited that we're Longhorns."
His tenure with the Horned Frogs was the longest of his career, as he served as the cornerbacks coach there from 2008 to 2013, helping develop cornerback Jason Verrett into a two-time All-American, Big 12 Co-Defensive Player of the Year, and first-round draft pick.
Since making the move to Fayetteville to replace Johnson in 2014, Jennings has had several players show marked improvement, including Texas native Tevin Mitchel. Some of the immediate success the unit experienced was a result of a high-level pass rush, according to Davenport, but the young players still continued on positive trajectories in 2015, even without the benefit of as much pressure from the defensive front.
The numbers were solid for the group last year, too -- seven of Jennings' defensive backs ranked among the top 10 on the team in tackles and combined for nine tackles for loss, while producing nine interceptions and 30 pass breakups. For the second straight year, Jared Collins led the unit in breakups with nine after tying for the SEC lead with 13 in 2014.
Now Jennings will have a chance to work with two noted defensive backs coaches in Strong and defensive coordinator Vance Bedford.
"Having a chance to work with Coach (Vance) Bedford is really exciting, too," Jennings said. "I've always admired his work with defensive backs and the great job he does as a defensive coordinator. Working with Vance, Brick (Haley) and Brian Jean-Mary on defense is going to be special. I've known those guys for a while, and I'm really looking forward to getting in the room and helping them continue to develop defensive schemes and young men."
So from the standpoints of teaching acumen and Texas recruiting experience, Jennings checks off what are perhaps the two most important boxes as a candidate. Now the Strong's staff is complete for 2016, and on paper it looks like by far the most impressive group overall the head coach has had since he arrived in Austin.