From the moment he was hired, Charlie Strong made it very clear that he would do things his way at Texas.
Whether it was making the team live in dorms during fall camp, removing the padlocks from the coaches offices or instilling his five core values, which led to the dismissal of nine players last season, Strong is sticking to his guns to bring needed change to Texas football.
But one of his biggest changes has happened on the recruiting front.
In an age where extending offers to 14-year olds is considered “normal,” Strong and his staff are taking a different approach to recruiting. The coaches take their time in extending scholarship offers to prospects so they can fully evaluate the talents of the guys they recruit.
Some critics are leery of this approach, claiming it will backfire on Strong and leave the Longhorns in the dust behind other programs.
With only nine verbal commits in 2016, Texas is sitting at No. 39 in Scout.com team rankings, and the questions about the Longhorns’ recruiting tactics have resurfaced.
“Last year we didn’t have very many at this time either. Most of the recruits that came to the University of Texas didn’t commit until January. We were still in the evaluation process. There were guys we didn’t offer until October and November. Of course, everyone was saying it’s too late. You know when it’s too late? When they sign on the dotted line and go somewhere else. That’s when it’s too late,” defensive coordinator Vance Bedford said Wednesday.
“Nothing has changed from this year and last year, but because it’s the University of Texas and we don’t offer 500 people like a lot of schools do, people will say, ‘Well in the past,’ you can’t live in the past. You have to live in the present.”
Strong’s recruiting approach is polar-opposite from that of the previous regime. Mack Brown was notorious for offering early and pressing for verbal commitments. He would often tell prospects that he would no longer recruit behind them if they committed early.
There’s no denying Brown’s approach was successful for a while. He signed a number of stout recruiting classes during his 16-year stint at Texas, and those classes helped the Longhorns climb to the top of college football. But the same approach that was successful for Brown is partly to blame for the current state of the program.
Texas missed on several major prospects towards the end of the Mack Brown era (***cough, Andrew Luck, RGIII, JT Barrett, cough***). And the whole “not recruiting behind commitments” approach is what led to a lot of those misses.
“Sometimes guys don’t develop until late. There are a lot of guys who left the state of Texas that developed late their junior year, or they had great senior years and they’re now at USC, UCLA and Miami because we were filled up here. We wish we had the opportunity to go and get those guys but we couldn’t,” Bedford said. “There are guys in this state that are going to develop a little bit later and hopefully you have some spots left to go get them.”
While the approach is unconventional in present day recruiting standards, there’s reason to believe Strong and Co. are actually ahead of the game.
Sure, Texas isn’t currently leading in 2016 team rankings, but does that really matter? I’ll answer that for you: No.
Don’t agree? Let’s rewind to September 30, 2014.
The Longhorns had 17 verbal commitments and were a Top 15 class in Scout.com 2015 Team Rankings. Not bad for a football program that was .500 at the time.
However, there’s a MAJOR discrepancy in the September 2014 numbers: Only 10 of those “commits” signed with Texas.
Strong described it best last season: Verbal commitments are simply reservations. And reservations can be cancelled, which is why it’s important to continue to recruit until the very end.
Aside from National Signing Day, focusing on the here and now of recruiting is a slippery slope. If you wouldn’t allow the decisions of a teenager who is not a football prospect impact your emotions, then you should take the same approach when it comes to a recruit’s “Top 5” or verbal commitment.
Sure Texas fans may not have recruiting bragging rights over Texas A&M, Oklahoma, Baylor and TCU today. But there’s no reason to doubt Strong’s method because it has yet to fail.
Many believed Texas was doomed on the recruiting front last season, but those judgements were premature. Texas signed eight Scout300 prospects and flipped three guys verbally committed to other programs in the days and weeks leading up to National Signing Day. And that all happened after a losing season that ended with back-to-back embarrassing blowout losses.
Why? Because the coaches never stopped recruiting.
Whether or not Texas fans agree with it really doesn’t matter. Strong and his staff are dedicated to this approach, and until proven otherwise, have no reason to change it.
“We will continue to work hard, recruit, evaluate guys and wait until they are seniors (to offer),” Bedford said. “We are going through the same thing we did last year. And last year, it turned out halfway decent. I’m excited about the guys we signed. They are playing decent ball.”