FOOTBALL IS ALIGNED AT TEXAS … IS ANYTHING ELSE?
This HD ONLY is full of tidbits about the momentum Hurricane Herman continues to generate in all aspects of the Texas football program, including now having commitments from both of OU’s top two quarterback recruits as well as a commitment from arguably the best defensive prospect from the state of Oklahoma - 4-star DE Ron Tatum III, who announced for Texas today.
But let’s get to the lack of alignment elsewhere in the athletic department and within the university - starting with the fact I’m hearing it may now be a less than 50 percent chance Adm. William McRaven will still be the chancellor at Texas by the end of the calendar year, when his current, three-year contract expires.
McRaven’s tenure has been choppy to say the least. He tried to bring order to a regents board that included four holdover appointments by then-Gov. Rick Perry, who battled with former president Bill Powers for two years.
For McRaven’s efforts, he got sued personally by former regent Wallace Hall after Hall’s attempt to get records that included students’ confidential information was denied. Hall’s lawsuit against McRaven was denied by a district court and then was denied by the Third Court of Appeals last September.
Then, McRaven, who has talked to Texas A&M officials about the possibility of re-establishing the UT-A&M football rivalry in the future, was grilled by new UT regent Kevin Eltife, a former Texas senator from Tyler, for failing to communicate with lawmakers (especially those from Houston) about his intentions for a 300-acre parcel of land purchased by the UT System (at McRaven’s urging).
Sources told HD McRaven didn’t keep UT president Greg Fenves in the loop on the attempted Houston land purchase, so Fenves has had to deal with legislative backlash over the attempted land deal, which has now been abandoned by the UT System.
The fact Eltife is maybe the closest confidante to Gov. Greg Abbott on the UT regents board has raised questions about McRaven’s relationship with the regents board going forward. According to several sources, the regents board is comfortable with the leadership of Fenves but may not be as comfortable with McRaven.
A source close to the situation told HD Wednesday that McRaven’s chances of returning as chancellor of Texas in 2018 is 50-50 at best “and maybe less than 50 percent.”
McRaven came in as chancellor three years ago as an absolute rock star after serving as the commander of U.S. Special Operations from August 2011 through August 2014. He oversaw the counter-terrorism raid known as Operation Neptune Spear on May 2, 2011, that resulted in the death of Osama bin Laden.
But whether McRaven still has the desire to tackle an aggressive agenda he laid out as chancellor three years ago - in the current political climate at UT, namely a regents board that may be reluctant to work with him - is unclear.
The situation is further complicated by the likelihood of a new chairman of the regents board likely being elected before the end of the year to replace Paul Foster, who has served as regents chair since 2013.
The outcome of that chairman election could play a huge role in McRaven’s desire/ability to move forward as chancellor.
Definitely a situation worth watching and one that raises serious questions about the alignment of leadership at the UT System, which presides over 14 member institutions, including the University of Texas.
WHO’S REALLY IN CHARGE?
I’ve been covering Texas since 1992, and until 2013, I could tell you without question the leadership of the university was coming from president Bill Powers, and the leadership in athletics was coming from AD DeLoss Dodds.
Now, it’s difficult to say who’s running what.
In the UT System office, the day-to-day operations - since 2003 - have been heavily influenced by vice chancellor Randa Safady, who earns a whopping $550,000 per year and has always worked hard to cultivate strong relationships with members of the regents board and with influential donors.
In the president’s office, while Greg Fenves obviously has final say, the person who may have the most influence on Fenves and thus, on day-to-day operations of the university, is his deputy - Nancy Brazzil, who has been at UT since 1991 - and has gained even more power, sources say, during the transition from Powers to Fenves.
And in athletics, even though Mike Perrin is the “athletic director,” it’s clear the person with the most influence over the most critical areas of athletics is women’s AD Chris Plonsky, who has gained even more power in the transition from Dodds to Patterson to Perrin.
Plonsky, who is in her 28th year at Texas, has long been in charge of licensing and marketing as part of the “external services” portion of her job description.
But Plonsky’s power in the athletic department grew to include academic services, in part, because of her close relationship with former academic support chief for athletics Randa Ryan, who has been phased out at UT over the past year, following a critical internal probe.
That probe raised questions about whether Ryan was keeping some student-athletes - namely minorities - from their desired degree programs and instead putting them in degree programs considered easier to pass.
Ryan has declined to be interviewed up to this point.
Ryan’s replacement in charge of academic support is Kat (Richter) Hastings, who is aligned closely with Plonsky and often defers to Plonsky on matters even when they involve men’s student-athletes.
Basketball coach Shaka Smart, after hearing from some former UT basketball players about not being allowed to select their desired degree programs (including Javan Felix, Jonathan Holmes and even T.J. Ford), raised holy hell within the department and said he didn’t want Plonsky or Ryan having anything to do with the academic support for his players.
Some sources have said Hastings has seemed overwhelmed at times in taking over for Ryan, and they wonder if Hastings even wants the role of heading UT athletics' academic support.
I’m told Ryan is furious at Plonsky for allowing Ryan to be made the scapegoat for the failings found in a 49-page report produced by NCAA compliance expert Gene Marsh in January 2016. But, again, Ryan has been mum up to this point.
Perhaps the biggest criticism sources within the department and former student-athletes have relayed to HD about academic services when being overseen by Ryan was the gathering of information from student-athletes by Ryan or her tutors - during study sessions or exit interviews - about the goings on within their teams. That information would then be relayed to Plonsky, who often confronted UT coaches about details from that information, sometimes completely blindsiding the coach, sources told HD.
After men’s deputy athletic director Butch Worley was bought out of the final two years of his contract by Steve Patterson and left Texas in August of 2014, Plonsky’s influence in UT athletics increased.
According to multiple sources within the department, in addition to marketing, licensing and academic services, Plonsky, the only women's athletic director in all of Division I, became the point person for:
- Compliance, headed by Lori Hammond
- Sports medicine, headed by Alan Hardin
- Equipment managers (including football and basketball)
- Gameday experience (including football and basketball)
One of the few areas Plonsky hasn't been able to gain control is the Longhorn Foundation, headed by Amy Folan, who has had a frosty relationship with Plonsky for several years, sources said. The foundation, however, has been in disarray since Patterson's failed tenure as AD, when several of the program's best fund-raisers, including David Onion, left out of frustration. Onion now raises money for the UT law school. Big-money donors complain foundation events that used to take place across the state, such as golf outings with UT football and basketball coaches, haven't happened in years. Some say they feel completely disconnected and have stopped giving to athletics, instead giving to other areas of the school.
Sources say Plonsky has been able to maintain control over all her areas within athletics - even after the arrival of Mike Perrin, who took over as AD in September of 2015 (and has an agreement with Fenves that runs through the 2017-18 school year) - because Plonsky has simply been in athletics the longest. But Plonsky's management style has been described by several within the department as "bullying," "unpredictable" and more about her own control rather than what's best for UT athletics.
I’ve reported previously in HD ONLY that Charlie Strong attempted to put together imaging for recruits that featured Kevin Durant prominently during the 2016 Summer Olympics. But Strong gave up on the idea after - at Plonsky’s urging - Strong was told he should feature a female Longhorn having success at the Olympics as prominently as Durant, multiple sources told HD.
Strong also wanted to send out imaging to recruits the Sunday after last season’s win over then-top 10 Baylor but was told by the marketing department (overseen by Plonsky) that marketing staff wasn’t working on Sunday but could help on Monday, sources said. Sensing the momentum of the win would be diminished by then, Strong again gave up on the idea, sources said.
Tom Herman demanded during his job interview with school president Greg Fenves and Perrin that football be allowed to bypass Plonsky’s approval on imaging sent out to recruits - instead giving final say to football director of operations Fernando Lovo. The result has been rave reviews for football’s imaging using the Longhorn logo and copyright video on social media.
In fact, athletics marketing, overseen by Teri Pierce, who answers to Plonsky, has begun to mirror the imaging being produced for football by the graphics team of Tommy Lakes and Matt Lange.
While no one disputes the excellent job Perrin did in taking over athletics from Patterson and stabilizing the department by restoring confidence among employees as well as big-money donors, there have been questions about why Fenves hasn’t gone ahead and hired a big-time, experienced athletic director to start laying out a long-term vision for UT athletics?
One reason, sources said, is the likability and political savvy of Perrin’s wife, Melinda, a very well connected Longhorn herself and the daughter of John Hill, a former Texas attorney general and former chief justice of the Texas Supreme Court.
Melinda Perrin has close relationships with Nancy Brazzil in the president’s office as well as Randa Safady in the UT System office. Multiple sources have said - jokingly or otherwise - the people with the most influence over athletics right now are Brazzil and Plonsky.
While a search for a new athletic director is likely to begin accelerating toward the end of the year, those in the UT president’s office say Perrin’s term as AD will run through the 2017-18 school year - as agreed.
The names of AD candidates mentioned by power brokers the most are former West Virginia AD Oliver Luck, a finalist when Patterson got the job, TCU AD Chris Del Conte as well as Houston Astros president Reid Ryan.
Sources told HD when a new athletic director is named, Plonsky will be required to answer to the AD, instead of her current arrangement of answering to the president’s office on some matters and to the men’s AD on other matters.
BOB STOOPS WOULD PROBABLY AGREE TEXAS FOOTBALL SEEMS TO BE ALIGNED
National signing day is eight months away - plenty of time for the usual unexpected twists and turns that come between now and the first Wednesday in February.
But if the last four days are any indication, the Red River Shootout, which lives year ‘round, has had an April to remember - on the recruiting trail.
First-year coach Tom Herman, who got the best of Bob Stoops in last year’s season opener between Houston and OU - is still getting the best of the two-time defending Big 12 champion Sooners.
The current tally:
Texas 3 ... OU 0
And it's not just any three 2018 prospects.
It's BOTH the Sooners' top two QB recruits - 4-star dual-threats Cameron Rising, who decommitted from OU and announced he's going to Texas on April 22, and Casey Thompson of Southmoore (Okla.), the son of former OU QB Charles Thompson - as well as 4-star DE Ron Tatum III, arguably the top 2018 defensive prospect from the state of Oklahoma.
According to Scout's Bob Przybylo, publisher of SoonersIllustrated.com, OU offensive coordinator Lincoln Riley offered both Rising and Thompson and said the first to commit would be the Sooners' QB in the 2018 class.
Rising committed to the Sooners in August.
During a Junior Day visit to Austin in February, Thompson developed a bond with Longhorns' sophomore QB Shane Buechele, who, like Thompson, has strong family ties to Norman (three of Buechele's four siblings have attended OU) but wasn't afraid to step out on his own.
Herman told Thompson then he planned to take two QBs in the 2018 class. On April 13, Thompson put hats from 10 schools on a table and ended up putting on the one in burnt orange.
Now, both Thompson, Scout's No. 13 QB in the 2018 class, and Rising, Scout's No. 14 QB in 2018, are committed to Texas, and OU is scrambling.
Sooners' coaches immediately called Thompson after Rising's defection last Saturday. But Thompson's Twitter feed has been all Texas.
Tom Herman's 6-0 record as a head coach against AP Top 25 teams includes a 33-23, physical beatdown Houston administered to OU at NRG Stadium last fall.
Stoops himself called UH the more physical team after the game.
But Stoops has to be thinking Herman is carrying this scoreboard thing a little too far.
Sure, Herman and his staff have been wizard-like in remaking Texas' image, everywhere from social media to a new locker room to winter conditioning and spring football. But Herman hasn't coached a single game at Texas yet.
Consider what Stoops is selling:
- In 18 completed seasons as a head coach, Stoops has won 10 Big 12 titles, including the last two. Domination by anyone's math.
- The Sooners finished last season on a 10-game winning streak - 9-0 in Big 12 play as well as a 35-19 throttling of Auburn in the Sugar Bowl.
- OU had two finalists at the Heisman Trophy ceremony last December (Baker Mayfield and Dede Westbrook).
- And as far as things shiny and new, the Sooners last year completed a $160 million renovation to their football complex, including a new locker room, weight room, the works.
But in the last four days, Texas has gotten commitments from OU's top two QB recruits (Thompson and Rising) as well as the top defensive line prospect in the state of Oklahoma (Tatum).
Let's just say this week's events alone have made October's Red River Shootout truly must-see TV - on a national stage, where it belongs.
Stoops has been doing his part in keeping OU nationally relevant with his 10 Big 12 titles and a College Football Playoff berth a year ago.
It's Texas who has been a no-show from college football relevance nationally the past seven years.
On Oct. 14, the coach I call Hurricane Herman for all the change he's brought about in Austin - not just within the football program, but in the previously stuck-in-the-mud thinking of the athletic department - knows he must replace tweets about recruits with touchdowns and tackling inside the Cotton Bowl at the State Fair of Texas in the greatest-of-all rivalry games.
Speaking of Tom Herman and recruiting - perhaps the one, big question about Herman after his two years at Houston was if he is an elite-level recruiter (outside of landing freshman All-American DT Ed Oliver after hiring Oliver's high school coach at Houston Westfield Corby Meekins as TE coach).
Then, in building his Texas staff, Herman passed on former Texas assistant/recruiting machine Tim Brewster (currently the TE coach/recruiting coordinator at Florida State), who probably would've said yes to Herman.
And Herman also chose not to retain any UT coaches from Charlie Strong's staff, specifically offensive assistant/East Texas recruiter extraordinaire Jeff Traylor, a three-time state title winning Texas high school coach at Gilmer.
If recruiting for the 2018 class continues on this path for Texas, Herman and his staff will have answered the recruiting question emphatically.
With Ron Tatum committing to Texas on Wednesday, four of the Longhorns' six commits are from out of state (Rising - CA, Thompson and Tatum - OK, and Justin Watkins - FL) - and no one should care.
Talent is talent.
Sure, you want the best players in your state. But I dare someone to criticize stealing two of the best players out of the state of your hated rival.
And Rising's father, Nicko, played football at Cal Lutheran with Tom Herman. Herman's known about Cam Rising in the state of California since Rising was a kid.
Justin Watkins, of East Ridge (Clermont, Fla.), is projected as one of the nation's best slot receivers in the 2018 class - the critical receiver position in Herman's offense.
As far as in-state targets, the Longhorns are laser-focused on 2018's Houston (area) recruiting gold mine:
5-star CB Anthony Cook, Houston Lamar
5-star WR Brennan Eagles, Houston Taylor
4-star S B.J. Foster, Angleton
4-star CB Jalen Green, Houston Heights
4-star DE Max Wright, Katy Taylor
4-star TE Mustapha Muhammad, Ridge Point (Missouri City)
4-star DT Keondre Coburn, Houston Westfield
4-star WR Al'Vonte Woodard, Houston Lamar (who just got a Bama offer)
4-star WR Jaylen Waddle, Houston Episcopal
4-star CB D'Shawn Jamison, Houston Lamar
Texas Lands Tatum, But Recruitment Isn't Closed
Tom Herman has done it again. Texas has gone into Sooners' country, this time landing the commitment of four-star DE Ron Tatum. The Putnam City (Okla.) standout made his pledge to the Longhorns public afternoon, surprisingly many OU faithful.
"I feel bad (leaving Oklahoma), but I feel like it's the best fit for me." Tatum said of his commitment to Texas.
A Scout 300 prospect, Tatum has been impressed with the Texas staff, and the overall vibe he has felt during his visits in Austin. Tatum made his decision final last night surrounded by family, but the defensive end said he is still going to listen to other schools.
"I will (start recruiting for Texas), but my recruitment is still open," he said. "For other schools to come visit me, it's still open."
Player Attrition Headed To Texas
As Chip reported in last week's HD Only, Texas is anticipating some attrition following spring football exit interviews. I caught up with a few sources close to the situation, and have confirmed the attrition could be announced as early as this week.
We are hearing two names - one offense and one defense - that are expected to announce their transfer from the program.
Out of respect for the players, we are going to protect their names at this time, but news of at least one could drop as early as this week, according to sources close to the situation.
2018 4-Star Safety/Texas Target BJ Foster Says More Texas Commits on the Way
Allen Perkins: HD Contributor
According to scout.com, Foster’s top six schools are: LSU, Michigan, Ohio State, Stanford, TCU and Texas (random order).
Foster, an Angleton product who has growing relationships with former UT Angleton products/brothers Quentin Jammer and Quandre Diggs, grew up roping and wanting to be a cowboy.
Foster said, “From what I'm seeing, the 2018 Texas RevolUTion is starting to look great. Big time commits and soon to come commits.”
The 6-foot-2, 180-pound safety is devoted to his craft, committing countless hours to football on and off the field.
Foster said, “Coach Herman knows how to let you have fun while playing the game. He will make practice more interesting by joking with you or dancing. Simple stuff like that, to make you enjoy being out there.”
BJ Foster told HD he will graduate early.
Foster said, “Angleton has already sent two DBs to Texas (Quandre Diggs and Quentin Jammer), so I keep that in mind. The new staff is great. They treat you like family, not just another recruit.”
Foster is also interested in LSU.
Foster said, “LSU is known for having and producing great DBs. Every year their defense is always great and the coaches there are going to be 100 with you. They’re not going to sugarcoat you. That's what I like about LSU.”
SHAKA SMART HAS THREE SCHOLARSHIPS AVAILABLE FOR 2017 - MAYBE FOUR
While there is plenty of anticipation regarding Shaka Smart's 2017 recruiting class, which includes 4-star PG Matt Coleman, 4-star SG Jase Febres and 4-star PFs Royce Hamm and Jericho Sims as well as the eligibility of Tulane transfer PF Dylan Osetkowski (who sat out last year), there is still no word yet from 5-star big man Mo Bamba, who is considering Kentucky, Texas, Duke and Michigan.
And at least one source said Smart's decision to offer 2018 forward Brock Cunningham of Westlake (a player Smart wasn't all that sure about six months ago, according to sources) could be a sign that Smart doesn't think he'll get Bamba.
"We were told Shaka probably wasn't going to extend any more offers until he knew what Bamba was doing," the source said. "But he went ahead and offered Cunningham on Wednesday."
I'm told Smart's interest in Cunningham may have increased, because OU coach Lon Kruger thinks Cunningham, a tough, 6-foot-7 wing who can bang inside or shoot from 3 in addition to being a great passer, is one of the best 2018 recruits in the country.
There may also be growing concern that sophomore-to-be guard Andrew Jones, who elected to enter the NBA Draft process without an agent, may end up staying in the draft. Two sources close to the situation said they think it's 50-50 that Jones returns to Texas and much will depend on some upcoming workouts Jones has with NBA teams.
Smart has three scholarships still available for 2017 and would have four if Jones didn't return to UT. With Texas losing out to Texas Tech for G Zhaire Smith two weeks ago, the Longhorns' options to fill those scholarships without landing Bamba might be looking bleak.