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Matt Rhule won’t recruit IMG Academy because sucking up to Texas high school coaches is important

The new Baylor coach isn’t interested in the most talent-dense school in high school football. There’s a method to the madness.

NCAA Football: Big 12 Media Days Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports

New Baylor coach Matt Rhule made some waves a few days ago by taking a little shot at IMG Academy, and schools like it.

IMG’s head coach, Kevin Wright, responded to the comments at the school’s media day Thursday.

“My reaction is I think that first of all stuff gets said,” Wright said. “We’re innovative, we’re different. I think that everybody’s gonna have an opinion. There’s a lot of high school programs in America where people have an opinion. We just happen to be in the spotlight. So I think that with those comments, you know, I don’t take ’em personal.”

Wright said that Baylor didn’t contact him prior to Rhule making the comments about not recruiting IMG. He also said he’s curious to see if IMG detractors’ public comments line up with the recruiting they do in private.

For those unfamiliar, IMG Academy is a boarding school in Florida where elite athletes of all sports go to live, train and attend classes.

Recently the school has added a football team, and it’s a breeding ground for blue-chip talent.

The workload for IMG students resembles that of a college schedule.

"It somewhat does [feel like college]. It gets tough sometimes. Sometimes you have to wake up at 5:15 in the morning to work out at six," IMG student and Tennessee recruit Will Ignont said. "It's tough because nobody wants to wake up that early, but do I want to be starting on Saturdays in a year? That's what you've got to be thinking about."

But for athletes looking for a more direct path to the next level, IMG is the move. It’s also an interesting test case in players taking their agency into their own hands.

Texas high school football coaches aren’t exactly fond of IMG, and you probably wouldn’t be either if there were a good chance your best player would leave your school district to play in Florida. It’s no secret how ingrained high school ball is to the culture in Texas, and it’s not at all rare for a high school coach to be paid a six-figure salary.

Baylor didn’t have any IMG commits in the 2017 recruiting class and isn’t linked with any IMG players in the 2018 class besides a very loose connection to three-star DT Josh Walker.

Let’s call a spade a spade here. Rhule said what he said to get in the good graces of those Texas high school football coaches.

And that’s no small feat. Take Charlie Strong, for instance. Earlier this year, SB Nation reported on how the insular culture of Texas high school football coaches lobbied for Major Applewhite to get hired at Houston.

Wronging high school coaches in the state by going outside of it for talent can become a scarlet letter.

Strong also erred, in many eyes, by immediately recruiting from outside of Texas, despite being on record about keeping in-state talent close to home. This led to a high school coach describing Strong as a “horrible hire.”

“Charlie was a great man but a horrible hire,” South Grand Prairie coach Brent Whitson told “You get here and the first thing you do is go to Florida for recruits. ... All it did was cost him about 2,500 head coaches at Texas high schools.”

So Matt Rhule is saying the right things publicly, even if saying you’re not going to recruit at the most talent-laden program in the country may seem strange. We’ll see if he sticks to his words as he continues to build his program.