Before we talk about owning the state of Texas in recruiting, let’s define what it really means.
Look at a map of the great state.
Ah, the majesty of our beloved state. Drink it in. There is no better novelty ashtray shape known to man.
Now draw a line from San Antonio to Galveston. Follow that line up the Louisiana border and take a hard left before the Arkansas border to Dallas. Now connect Dallas south to San Antonio. Color it all in. That rhombus drawn by a 2nd grader comprises less than 20% of the geography of the state and 95% of the football talent. So that’s what we mean by recruiting the state, with apologies to the good people of El Paso, Harlingen, Dumas and Buffalo Gap. What we really mean, more precisely, is that UT should recruit a small part of the state and then ignore vast swathes.
I’m simply arguing we should do the same out West. Direct flights take us to every city we’d want to target.
Austin sits on the true Texas recruiting region’s central western edge. The best players are frequently 2.5 to 4 hours away by Ford F-150. Yet some fans pretend that a 2 to 3.5 hour direct flight to LA, Phoenix, New Orleans, Las Vegas, or Denver is a bridge too far. No other major college program thinks this way.
State borders are artificial constraints to tactical thinking. Written over a talent pool that’s variable in total and positional talent from year to year. Many assume that the Top 10 or 50 players in Texas are of similar quality every Fall. They are not. Texas parochialism ignores dramatic positional talent fluctuations from year to year, shifts in competitive landscape (Jimbo, Lincoln Riley, Urban and ESS EEE SEE!) or that some years offer greater character risks or wider proliferations of street agents opinionated 7 on 7 coaches and helpful informal advisors. Sometimes the state’s best QB just isn’t feeling Texas and second best option would be the #7 guy in California that year. So book that flight. Putting the program in thrall to random fluctuations because TEXAS 4EVER is absolutely foolish.
I think Tom Herman feels similarly.
Encouragingly, 13 of Herman’s 44 signees (29.5%) were from out of state in the 2017/2018 classes. I expect 2019 to hold or increase that ratio. Why? Because we now know that 2017’s class composition wasn’t just desperation. Well, some desperation. But Herman’s first true class in 2018 – a year where Texas dominated in-state recruiting and took much of what we wanted – featured 8/27 out of state signees. Just under 30%. That’s healthy. Win at home, but don’t reach at home. About what Kirby Smart is doing at Georgia.
The Dangers of Parochialism
I know the retort to all of this. Didn’t Mack Brown win a lot of football games in the 2000s with Texas heavy football rosters?
Sure did. Then he lost a lot of games doubling down on that tactic in a changing world.
Brown excelled in a world where A&M was irrelevant, SEC encroachment was when a Cajun lost his way on a pirogue, Alabama was going 6-6, Urban Meyer was kicking ass in Utah and not on recruiting trails in Texas and the Big 12 had some modicum of national respect. His success begat more success. Initially fueled by a Heisman winning RB from California. Oh, cruel irony!
Would you say that’s our current environment? No, it is not. Here’s how Texas parochialism played out with Mack’s recruiting classes between 2007-2013. The classes that formed the core of Longhorn decline.
2007 – 1/24
2008 – 1/20
2009 – 1/20
2010 – 3/25
2011 – 1/21
2012 – 4/28
2013 – 2/17
Look at those numbers. Mack Brown was more of a nativist than Bill The Butcher in Gangs Of New York. Out, Dead Rabbits! Over seven years, Brown signed only 13 OOS players. 8.4% of his recruits. Urban Meyer signed 21 out of state recruits in 2018 alone. Which staff showed more activity if we checked their Fitbits?
Encouragingly, Tom Herman has signed 13 OOS players in his last two years. Out of state recruits are no panacea, Texas athletes should be the core, and the argument is simply one of degree. I’m arguing 30%ish. If you’re arguing for 50%, I have concerns. If you’re arguing for 5%, I have much deeper concerns.
Mack’s recruiting class distributions were a symptom as much as a cause (OOS recruiting alacrity is a pretty solid proxy for diagnosing staff complacency) and I’m not suggesting that’s its solely or even largely responsible for our decline, but anyone who believes that we can go back to those numbers and maximize in the current environment is misguided. The game changed.