Texas high school football and the rise of Texas Tech’s Joey McGuire and UTSA’s Jeff Traylor


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In July, among the 16,452 attendees at the annual Texas High School Coaches’ Association convention in San Antonio, two college coaches drew a crowd wherever they went.

Sure, Georgia coach Kirby Smart, continuing a tradition among national championship coaches, flew in for a few hours just to speak to the largest and most powerful coaching organization of its kind in the country. Texas’ Steve Sarkisian and Texas A&M’s Jimbo Fisher drew plenty of attention. All 12 Division I coaches in Texas spoke on a panel together, which packed a crowd into a huge ballroom at the Henry B. Gonzalez Convention Center downtown.

But throughout the three-day event, Texas Tech’s Joey McGuire and UTSA’s Jeff Traylor seemed to be in a huddle surrounded by coaches six people deep.

In a state that has inspired best-selling books, movies and TV shows based on the statewide pastime on Friday nights, where Kyler Murray went 42-0 playing in a $60 million stadium at Allen in the Dallas area, high school coaches loom as some of the most influential people in thousands of towns spanning the state’s 269,000 square miles. And two of those coaches, Traylor and McGuire, were here returning as conquering heroes, former brethren who made it big, filling their colleagues with pride.

“They represent us because they’re one of us,” said John King, the head coach of Longview in East Texas since 2004, who was overseeing the convention as the last act of his tenure as outgoing president of the THSCA.

“They’re two guys that people took a chance on that did it the right way. They love kids, coach kids and got a golden opportunity to go to the college ranks and made the most of it.”

Both had engineered legendary runs in just their first head-coaching jobs. McGuire took over at Cedar Hill on the southwest edge of Dallas in 2003 after the school had suffered eight straight losing seasons. He immediately flipped the program — going 141-42 with the Longhorns and winning three state championships. Traylor returned to his hometown of Gilmer (population 5,139) in deep East Texas in 2000 and restored the Buckeyes’ pride, going 175-26 with three state titles.

After rising through the ranks as assistants — McGuire at Baylor before landing the Tech job this year and Traylor at Texas and Arkansas before getting the UTSA job in 2019 — they’re both taking the big stage at the same time on Saturday as McGuire’s Red Raiders travel to No. 16 NC State (7 p.m. ET, ESPN2/ESPN app) while Traylor’s Roadrunners visit Texas (8 p.m. ET, Longhorn Network).

Chances are, there are going to be 1,400 coaches in the state keeping tabs on them.

“I’m a high school coach that gets to coach college football, and I think everybody understands that,” McGuire said. “I really mean that. I know where I’m from. I know my background. I know how I got here. And I show respect to those coaches. Because of that, the reception has been incredible.”

BOTH MCGUIRE AND Traylor are known for their relentless enthusiasm and energy. McGuire has stirred Lubbock into a frenzy upon his arrival, mobilizing Red Raiders fans into a Twitter army, and promising the faithful that, “I will die here at Texas Tech” in his introductory news conference. Last weekend’s 33-30 double-overtime win over then-No. 25 and future Big 12 rival Houston has the Red Raiders at 2-0 and only amplified the optimism. Traylor, meanwhile, has already turned an 11-year-old UTSA program into Conference USA champions, the first title in the school’s history, and the program’s debut appearance in the AP poll last season.

But before they were rising stars in the college world, they were just two guys who happened to be candidates for the same job at the University of Texas.

In 2014, Charlie Strong had just arrived in Austin to take over for the departed Mack Brown, and Strong, as a Texas outsider, needed to build inroads to the state’s high school coaches.

It’s somewhat of a tradition that new college coaches — particularly those who aren’t from Texas — make a peace offering to the THSCA by hiring at least one of their own to their staff. One of Brown’s first hires upon arriving in Austin in 1997 from North Carolina was Bruce Chambers, the head coach of powerhouse Dallas Carter. It’s smart business, paying dividends in goodwill as well as recruiting.

McGuire and Traylor were each coming off state championships in their respective divisions when Strong arrived. They both had stellar reputations and talked with a drawl so thick y’all mighta thought it was a put-on.

The job could’ve pitted McGuire and Traylor against each other, two ultra-successful, ultra-competitive coaches who were familiar with each other’s résumé, but didn’t know each other well, looking to step over each other as they jostled for position on the coaching ladder. But, McGuire and Traylor had an unspoken bond. They were Texas high school coaches, a fraternity unto itself, and those guys stick together.

“We talked almost every night, just from the standpoint of like, ‘Hey, what do you think? Who have you talked to? How’s this gonna go?” McGuire said.

“We never tried to mind-game each other,” Traylor said. “We were literally like brothers. We were that honest with each other.”

Still, someone had to win out. It came down to family. McGuire had previously had college offers, but he wanted to coach his kids, and they were almost done with high school. He wanted to stick it out.

“My son [Garret] was a junior, about to be a senior,” McGuire said. “I got to coach my daughter [Raegan] in powerlifting and I wanted to finish out with my son and man, I’m glad I did.”

Traylor got the job. But he had to make his own peace with it.

“Well, Jake, my son, was a senior as well,” Traylor said. “I told Jake, ‘Well, if he offers me the job, I’m telling you I’m taking it. Jake’s teased me forever that Joey must love Garret more than I love Jake. So I’ve had to do a lot of reassuring to Jake that I love my son the same as Joey loves his son.”

The two coaches became inseparable through a process that could’ve divided the oldest of friends, and their mutual admiration endures.

“Shoot, he would’ve probably got the job over me anyway,” McGuire said. “He’s a stud.”

Remarkably, this dance continued with three other jobs. Matt Rhule hired McGuire at Baylor in 2016 once his son graduated, but Rhule also tried to land Traylor, who instead opted to go to Arkansas with Chad Morris — another former Texas high school coach — which didn’t quite work as well, as Morris was fired. Both were candidates for the UTSA job Traylor got. And both were candidates for Texas Tech, which McGuire accepted while Traylor signed a $28 million extension that runs to 2031 at UTSA last season.

“Joey and I have literally talked for hours about each one of those jobs, which is freakin’ crazy,” Traylor said. “And if I ever find out that Joey McGuire is not the angel that I think he is, it’ll just crush me.”

TRAYLOR AND MCGUIRE got perhaps the greatest honor a Texas coach can receive this year, being featured — together — on the cover of the 400-page “Dave Campbell’s Texas Football” magazine, the annual harbinger of fall in the state since 1960, with the headline, “FORGED ON FRIDAY.”

It was something McGuire lobbied for immediately after being introduced at Texas Tech, saying he was issuing the editors a challenge.

“How do you not?” McGuire said. “If they’re really about Texas high school football, which they’re supposed to be — it’s like the Bible of Texas high school football — Jeff Traylor at UTSA and Joey McGuire at Texas Tech should be on the cover.”

For Traylor, it was a full-circle moment after his name appeared in the Gilmer preview in his senior year in high school.

“I really just thought I had arrived,” Traylor said. “And then you fast-forward 36 years later, and to be on the cover … I think what I’m most proud of is one, I’m on there with one of my very best friends, who I love dearly, and two, it says 1,400 Texas high schools are in this magazine. And I truly feel like I am representing all 1,400 of those head coaches and their assistants. I’d like to be that guy and say it’s not that big of a deal. But I’d be lying.”

Traylor said it was one of the biggest honors of his life, alongside when Gilmer renamed its football field Jeff Traylor Stadium in 2015.

The magazines were passed out at the THSCA convention, a surreal experience for McGuire, who was already having a surreal experience making the rounds as Texas Tech’s head coach.

“I’m not that old, but I’m an older guy and I’ve been doing this a long time,” McGuire said. “I remember walking in [as a young coach]. I can literally close my eyes and I’m listening to Bob Stoops talk. I look up to those guys. Mack Brown had a huge impact on my career. I hate to compare myself to them but as far as sitting in the same position, I’m walking in and I get to see a lot of young coaches that I’ve run into over the years, whether it was at Cedar Hill or Baylor and now they’re asking me about the program and how to make the move from high school to college. So it’s a huge honor for me.”

Over the course of the few days in San Antonio, McGuire and Traylor were part welcoming committee, part mentors, part comedy duo.

McGuire said the biggest difference in being a speaker and an attendee is what he had to wear, and he blamed Traylor for it.

“Well, I’m gonna get laughed at today for wearing this,” he said, tugging at the lapel of his blazer. “But I’m not gonna let Jeff Traylor out-sports-coat me. Literally, I woke up this morning and said, ‘Jeff’s wearing a sports coat, then I’m wearing a sports coat.’ That’s my guy.”

Traylor, for his part, says he wears his trademark coat and his white UTSA cap for similar reasons, especially as his profile has risen as the Roadrunners have captured San Antonio’s attention.

“It’s intentional,” he said. “Joey likes to tell everyone I’m balding. Which is partially true. But I’m proud of this Roadrunner [on his cap]. When you win a lot of games you get invited to a lot of black tie affairs, right? So I’ve made this my official San Antonio tuxedo. They let me in and nobody’s rejected me yet. So this is my black-tie San Antonio tuxedo.”

THEY MAY BE on college campuses now, but both coaches cling to how important it is to be the coach in a community. They show up all over the place, with Traylor having to be reminded that he doesn’t have to go to the UTSA volleyball game the night before he plays a football game.

They both know how to sell their programs to fans. McGuire brought the juice to a Texas Tech basketball game right after being hired in mid-November (the Red Raiders fired previous coach Matt Wells after eight games).

Traylor will proselytize about making San Antonio “Roadrunner territory” every chance he can get. Hence that trademark hat.

“In this city, man, it’s catchin’, it’s hot,” he said in July. “Everywhere you go in the city, someone’s got it on. Now I’m gonna sound like a jerk here. But if you like the ‘Horns, wear ’em in Austin, if you like the Bears, wear it in Waco. When you’re in our city, rep the Roadrunners or leave. I’m all Roadrunners and I don’t want any partial fans. So I wear it everywhere I go. I’m proud of it. We’re not that little commuter school anymore. We want to play real football.”

Sounds like two guys right at home at a high school pep rally. Which, to them, is a compliment.

“I’m telling you, the school pride, the chance to make a difference in kids’ lives, the things that football does for our community,” McGuire said, pondering those 14 years of his life he spent as Cedar Hill’s coach. “I mean, there really isn’t anything like it. The pageantry of Texas high school football, the event that a Friday night game is … I mean, they make movies about it.”

The pressure-cooker, too, prepared them for this moment. Lose enough games in a small town, and you’ll find “FOR SALE” signs in your yard on Saturday morning. But the responsibilities at a high school in the state are a good training ground for running a college program. McGuire said he had 32 full-time coaches working for him at Cedar Hill.

“Me coming up on Friday night and coaching against some of the greatest coaches in high school prepared me for this, prepared me for what I’m facing every Saturday,” he said. “I always laugh because I think everything trickles up not down. You know people are having such a hard time defending the zone read in pro football? Maybe they should call some high school coaches that face it every Friday night. It might help them out.”

Both Traylor and McGuire said there are a number of other coaches at Texas high schools who could step in and run a college program right now, saying coaching in the state provides you with a grueling education, with McGuire adding what he saw in high school isn’t any difference than the college coaches he’s up against.

“Most coaches, if they’re honest and don’t let their ego get in the way they would say this too,” McGuire said. “Man, there ain’t any difference in coaching against Lee Wiginton on a Friday night. Those guys are elite football coaches. And they just happen to be coaching at the high school level.”

Wiginton, who recently took over as the coach at powerhouse Allen High School — Murray’s alma mater with an enrollment topping 7,000 — is the new president of the Texas High School Coaches Association, and aw-shucksed McGuire right back.

“I had the opportunity to coach against both of those guys and, Coach Traylor proudly thumped me out of the playoffs,” Wiginton said. “I was in a district with Coach McGuire to where it was just so awesome facing him, being around him and seeing how he does things on a daily basis.”

King, too, has known both coaches for a long time, and as the father of Texas A&M quarterback Haynes King, the No. 46 recruit in the 2020 ESPN 300, he has seen their recruiting style up close, as both recruited his son.

“They have instant street cred,” King said. “They were no different recruiting him than they were coming in recruiting all the kids. I mean, they’re gonna shoot you straight, good, bad, indifferent. Nothing was ever personal with them in terms of commitment or a non-commitment, whatever it was. It was business and they understood it, you know, but they still stay in contact.”

McGuire said his recruiting philosophy and organizational style were informed by being a destination for coaches from across the country because of the number of college prospects that came out of Cedar Hill.

“I had some dudes,” he said. “I mean, I had some great players. So I got to see so many great recruiters do it the right way. And then I got to see so many great recruiters that sold a lot of stuff that wasn’t true. I also got to see the other side, of some of the recruiters that struggled coming into a school and not knowing really where you’re at, not knowing the athletes.”

Traylor, who was a two-time Big 12 recruiter of the year at Texas during his time under Strong, boasted that he believed UTSA was the only school that signed only state prospects.

“We signed 29 kids, all Texas high school football players,” he said.

McGuire, meanwhile, touted that he had six former Texas high school head coaches on his Texas Tech staff. But he had to qualify it.

“I think Traylor’s got me beat so I don’t like that,” he said. “I’m gonna have to start looking for some more.”

Is it any wonder they’re beloved by the state coaching organization?

“They were Texas high school coaches who didn’t change when they became college coaches,” Wiginton said. “So Texas high school coaches across the state look at them and say they’re one of us. They’re genuine people. They’re sincere people. They’re humble people.”

And on Saturdays, when the state is watching, that carries its own weight for McGuire and Traylor.

“It’s almost like a sense of responsibility just because you want to do so well,” Traylor said. “Because they’re your buddies and you don’t want to disappoint ’em. You want to make ’em proud. We’re proud of our THSCA and what that fraternity means to us and the way we want our teams to look and the way we want to treat our players and our coaches. It just means a lot to us.”


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