During Mack Brown's tenure as Longhorn head coach, there wasn’t a ton of stress that came along with National Signing Day. By the time February rolled around, Brown and his recruiting staff had most of their ducks in a row and the Longhorns were sure of which top picks would be faxing in their letters of intent.
Now with Charlie Strong as the trail boss of the Longhorn cattle drive, UT fans are preparing for a change in atmosphere and attitude, beginning with National Signing Day on February 5. While there were some jitters on Tuesday, this year's higher stress level has less to do with a new regime and more to do with how such a profound structural change can throw a wrench in the recruiting machine.
Strong says that he’s committed to reminding everyone that UT is the “flagship” university of Texas, and that it’s important to “control the state.”
In addition to his duties as coach, Strong has spent the first few weeks of the year trying to win over certain alumni and, ahem, outspoken boosters. The pressure of coaching, recruiting and campaigning is something Strong echoed in Tuesday’s press conference, describing it as “a very intense couple of weeks.”
Mack Brown’s retirement aside, with former defensive line coach Bo Davis also leaving the staff, several recruits took the opportunity to look at other schools. Lucky for the Longhorns, at least one defensive lineman wasn't swayed by Davis' departure.
Defensive tackle Poona Ford of Hilton Head, South Carolina provided the first major win for Strong's debut recruiting class, announcing his commitment to Texas live on ESPNU. Along with the signing of Chris Nelson from Lakeland, Florida, it appears that the middle of the defensive line can rest easy for now.
Strong and company also felt pressure trying to retain John Bonney of Houston. The defensive back swayed between Texas, Baylor and Auburn down to the final moments, but he stuck with the Longhorns in the end. In his press conference, Strong said that it felt like he had to persuade Bonney’s dad more than anyone else, something that is just part of the art of recruiting.
Strong needs to forget about trying to beat Kevin Sumlin in the state’s recruiting pool and just focus on keeping them out of Art Briles’ hands.
And that’s what Strong’s primary mission was with recruiting this year. He needed to not only introduce himself and his staff to the 2014 class, but to other high school players and coaches in the state. Strong is committed to reminding everyone that UT is the “flagship” university of Texas, and that it’s important for the Longhorns to “control the state.”
Longhorn fans will likely be despondent to see Texas A&M near the top of the rankings — ESPN ranks the Aggies at no. 4, but we should remember to keep things in perspective. The Longhorns, no. 17 by ESPN, are ranked among fellow Big 12 teams. And now that the recruiting storm has passed, Strong can continue rebuilding the program and vying for the position as the top recruiter in the state. Strong needs to forget about trying to beat Kevin Sumlin in the state’s recruiting pool and just focus on keeping them out of Art Briles’ hands.
Sure, the 2014 recruiting class could have been better, but the Mack Brown damage control was good enough to keep it perfectly respectable. It was the first step by Strong to step out of the shadow of Brown, something he will hopefully continue to do all season long.
By 2015, we expect Strong will be on firm footing to take the state by sheer force.
For a complete list of the 2014 class recruits, head over to the Texas Sports website.