FootballFootball Recruiting

Recruiting: Here we go again

Charlie Strong. (Will Gallagher/IT)
Charlie Strong. (Will Gallagher/IT)

Never afraid to piggyback off a stronger runner, Scipio’s piece today got me thinking more in depth on the state of recruiting under Charlie Strong. Before we get an idea of where we’re going, let’s understand where we’ve been.

We laid out the Charlie Strong recruiting approach pretty clearly last year. The most important aspects are as follows:

•Identify headliners relatively early; offer and pursue though maybe not as hard as others
•Hold your standard junior days
•Identify secondary targets relatively early; offer and keep warm
•Don’t spend much time focusing on the class ahead
•Hold camps like everyone else over the summer but don’t push hard for commitments
•Identify secondary and tertiary targets in Texas and out of state; offer some
•Concentrate on the season with recruiting on the backburner, though they don’t ignore recruiting
•Request official visits be taken after the season
•Pay close attention to senior film, pursue accordingly
•Ramp up efforts in November for all top targets; keep contingencies fully engaged; start pushing for commits
•Land Malik Jefferson
•Keep as many options open late as possible in order to fill slots
•Close like madmen
•Flip players at an impressive rate
•Finish with top 10-ish class

Keeping in mind Strong was the beneficiary of some luck in landing the class’s bell-cow, and that rainmaker doesn’t exist in this class, I was hoping to see more changes. There have been some, but not nearly as many as I thought there would be.

So what differences have we seen in year two?

•Strong has been more active with the class ahead (2017), but that just catches him up with the competition
•The level of communication between staff and prospects was stronger over the summer than the previous year, though not by a whole lot
•Texas is hosting more prospects at games

Other than that, I can’t think of much.

Where does that leave Texas with the class of 2016? Arguably in worse positioning than last year, but not all is lost, obviously. The Malik Effect exists as strong as ever and that will become evident down the stretch during OV’s. He might be the staff’s best recruiter not named Vaughn or Traylor. Assuming Heard is more oasis than mirage, that would have a much bigger effect than landing Malik.

Recruiting is a perception based business and perception starts with the quarterback position. Heard’s mean appears to be high, so even when he regresses to it, recruits will still flock to him like moths to a flame. Excitement sells and there’s evidence of Texas understanding that. Further evidence is the prevalence of Jefferson on LHN.

Those two rising celebrities are something Strong wasn’t able to pitch recruits until Jefferson committed late in the 2015 cycle. So they now have that going for them, which is nice. Jefferson and Heard need to be promoted ad nauseam, if that’s even possible. Seriously, someone start those two a Super PAC.

Strong also has going for him what he’ll always have going for him; confidence bordering on over-confidence when it comes to finishing a class. As he tells his coaches, “get players to campus and I’ll close them.” Never minding you don’t have to wait until Christmas to employ this philosophy, his success in the past is undeniable.

His self-confidence arises elsewhere; taking unheralded, raw athletes and turning them into NFL draft picks. While it’s a very rare skill to evaluate and develop like he can, is that the best and quickest path to winning big? I truly believe Strong sees 10 guys a cycle as must-haves and then 11-100 as interchangeable thanks to his ability to develop and deploy. For most coaches they’d see 25 must-haves.

Malik Jefferson. (Will Gallagher/IT)
Malik Jefferson. (Will Gallagher/IT)

The problem Texas is currently facing is many of the biggest need players are already committed elsewhere. Erick Fowler and Rahssan Thornton are committed to LSU, as is Eric Monroe. Justin Madubuike is committed to Texas A&M. Kendell Jones and Chris Owens are committed to Alabama after both were considered locks for Texas. Patrick Hudson is committed to Baylor. Which of these players can Strong realistically expect to flip at this time?

Complicating matters is Texas hasn’t done well with ‘back-up’ planning this cycle as @Helmet Boy lamented recently. Thornton was offered a day before he committed to LSU. Texas offered Isaiah Chambers and then immediately slow played him. The SDE – a huge need in the class – is likely to pick TCU on Friday. Chambers told me after he was offered rather late, “if Texas recruits me hard they’ll be right there.” By ‘right there’ he meant ‘I’ll go to Texas’. He’ll be a flip candidate but why let it come to that?

It’s September 23rd and UT’s current class consists of:

•One stud QB who will be a good fit for this or any system
•Three stud WR’s of complimentary skill who could play anywhere
•A LB who is a FB long-term
•A DT whose ceiling is at OG
•A blocking TE who has a fit with what Texas is doing but not a receiving threat
•A solid, intelligent OG with real upside
•A solid CB

Here is what Texas still desperately needs:

•A bona fide LT and RT (ideally but not necessarily likely: Delance and Hudson)
•Three DT’s, two need to play early (Jordan Elliott, Stephon Taylor, and Kendell Jones)
•A FDE and SDE, SDE needs to play early (Thornton and Madubuike)
•A homerun hitting RB (Devwah Whaley)
•A field stretching TE (Jamal Pettigrew)
•Two talented safeties (Brandon Jones and Deontay Anderson)
•At least two LB’s, one needs to be a run-stuffer (Dontavious Jackson and Jeffrey McCulloch)

Essentially Strong has already filled many of the most easy positions to fill while still needing the hardest pieces to acquire. Ever played Yahtzee? Strong’s collecting his ones, deuces and ‘chance’ ahead of his straights, full house and four of a kind. With that strategy it’s tough to finish out a game without scratching important boxes. You don’t want to rely on late YAHTZEES.

This isn’t me being concerned for anyone other than Strong. I trust he’ll finish with a good class – though not as good as it could have been – and I’ll be writing something similar a year from now.

If you’re looking for the ultimate silver lining, the staff has not carpet bombed Florida like it did last year. Either they’re disillusioned with where they currently sit with the top prospects, or they’re still confident. For their sake I hope it’s the latter.

I’d hate for Strong’s tenure to come down to the brain trust not knowing or understanding how his recruiting operates, but he would help himself tremendously by making more aggressive alterations to his approach. Mack Brown’s approach was perfect for those same recruiting agnostic decision makers as they could see all those purdy little stars lined up on that there Rivals page in mid-June, but certainly they don’t understand the cause and detrimental effect of that style of recruiting. Rather than seeing it for what it was – lazy – it was seen as Mack ‘out there killing himself’. Strong’s style is seen as ‘lazy’ by some when I could make the argument it’s calculating, in fact too much so.

From Scipio’s piece, appropriately bolded:

“Recruiting and player development was the key leading indicator for every rise and fall in Mack’s three distinct epochs. Wins were always a lagging indicator. It will be the same for Strong.​”

He’s of course correct, which is why many understand the importance of recruiting (and I don’t mean just stars). The sad thing is, the lagging indicator for Mack got him rightfully fired. That may not be the case for Strong if he isn’t given the proper amount of time to let his leading indicator – the immensely talented class of 2015 – actually lead.

2016 recruiting is incredibly important for Strong. The worse the team performs win/loss wise, the better recruiting needs to be for those who don’t understand or have the patience for his approach. That’s obviously a problem for Strong because the more losses you have, the harder it is to recruit.

Fortunately, I think the actual 2016 season is the most important year in Strong’s tenure, and I don’t have a problem with that. With the emergence of Heard and the young talent on defense, I doubt he does either.