After leaving the Arkansas Razorbacks recently, new Texas Longhorns defensive backs coach Clay Jennings has quickly come to understand the urgency surrounding the need for victories in Austin. But he also understands that he's well-positioned to help the Longhorns win football games because he'll oversee one of the most talented position groups on campus.
"There are two types of coaches -- ones that have been hired and ones that have been fired, and I don't want to be the latter," Jennings said on Monday. "We know that we have to get this thing going in the right direction and that we have to do it quickly. But it's exciting to know that we're going to have an opportunity to continue to put a better brand of the ball out there on the field on Saturdays this fall."
In addition to the talented young cornerbacks who experienced a trial by fire last season as freshmen -- Holton Hill, Davante Davis, and Kris Boyd -- Jennings will also get Sheroid Evans back for his sixth year in the program.
Even before Jennings got to Texas and began watching film on and interacting with his new players, he was familiar with the growth process the youngsters underwent last season and noticed the physical skills that made them stand out as freshmen and during their respective recruitments.
"The one thing you look at in that room is that you have guys that are long," Jennings said. "You got some guys that can run. You got some guys that you can see between week one and week twelve last year -- how much confidence those kids began to play with."
The season finale against Baylor in particular stood out to Jennings, who called it a de factor bowl game for the Longhorns and noted the "pride and sense of urgency" that the young defensive backs and the entire team played with in Waco that day.
The next necessary step is to put in the time and effort to become complete players during the offseason. The swagger that Jennings desires has been present since the start, but now the young defensive backs are working to develop the mental side of the game.
"I think the kids are doing a great job of buying in," Jennings said. "They're having a great time coming by the office and coming by watching tape on their own. They're enjoying playing with one another and then they're challenging one another not only physically during the workouts, but also mentally when they come in and ask questions.
"They're sitting there drawing route combinations saying, 'Hey, how are we going to defend this in this particular coverage?' When you get a chance to walk down the hall and hear those conversations between those young men, it's very encouraging."
Jennings isn't just looking towards to the future though -- as the new steward of the Longhorns' secondary, it's the responsibility of Jennings to help instill knowledge of the DBU tradition at Texas into his young players. It's a responsibility that Jennings takes extremely seriously.
"I think that the greatest thing is if you want to know where you're going, you have to know where you're at," Jennings said. "I think the kids that play here have to pay homage to the history. You go back to Jerry Gray, Quentin Jammer, Kenny Vaccaro, Michael Huff -- all of those guys have been award winners here."
The next group of award winners could be on campus already or could arrive this summer. Jennings competed against Texas on the recruiting trail while at Arkansas for several prospects who eventually signed with the Longhorns, including consensus No. 1 safety Brandon Jones and fellow Under Armour All-American Eric Cuffee.
On Monday, Jennings downplayed the supposed incident with Cuffee losing his Razorbacks offer because he was recruiting for the Longhorns while on in his official visit in Fayetteville and it's probably something the two can laugh about now.
"We're excited about having the opportunity to bring the Waco connection down here and make some beautiful music together," Jennings said of his former target and future pupil.
The native of Waco also mentioned the opportunity to return to his home state of Texas as a significant factor in his decision.
"To have an opportunity to come home and work with these kids and work with this staff and to try and take this program to the next level with Coach Strong and the rest of the staff -- it was too good to pass up."
But just because Jennings is now at the flagship university in the state that arguably produces the highest-quality talent in the country, he's not going to change his approach as a recruiter.
"You still have to go out and do the work," he said. "I'm not big on letting the shirt do the work for me. The one thing is that you have to develop the relationships with the coaches and also that you're developing the relationships with the players, and also the parents as well."
After making numerous other stops as a coach in the Lone Star State -- Baylor, Houston, and TCU -- the North Texas alum has deep ties to high school coaches in the state since he's recruited it for so long.
Richard Davenport of WholeHogSports.com told Burnt Orange Nation when Jennings was hired that he 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.
So even though Jennings wasn't able to land Jones or Cuffee or running back signee Kyle Porter, who had Arkansas in his final three, he was able to win a high-profile head-to-head battle against Texas in securing Whaley's commitment and eventual signature.
More important than any individual battles in the last class, however, 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 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.
"He's knowledgeable, personable, brings a lot of energy and is a coach our staff all thought fit in really well with us," head coach Charlie Strong said in a statement at the time of Jennings' hire. "After spending time with him, we felt like he has everything we're looking for."