HAS HERMAN CHANGED THE WAY UT RE­CRUITS?

In-state re­la­tion­ships help UT’s Herman nav­i­gate re­cruit­ing trail.

Austin American-Statesman - - FRONT PAGE - By Mike Craven mcraven@states­man.com

For­mer Texas coach Char­lie Strong was fa­mously crit­i­cized for his re­cruit­ment of out-of-state prospects. Strong signed five prospects from out­side Texas’ bor­ders in his first class, then in­fa­mously reeled in the “Florida 5” in the 2015 cy­cle. The high school coaches in Texas weren’t happy.

“Char­lie was a great man but a hor­ri­ble hire,” South Grand Prairie coach Brent Whit­son said in a Land of 10 story in 2017. “You get here and the first thing you do is go to Florida for re­cruits . ... All it did was cost him about 2,500 head coaches at Texas high schools.”

Tom Herman, who in­her­ited the class of 2017 much as Strong did in 2014, also signed five play­ers from out­side the Lone Star State in his first cy­cle. The sim­i­lar­i­ties in num­bers don’t stop there, though the per­cep­tion of the two coaches’ re­cruit­ing pri­or­i­ties couldn’t dif­fer more greatly around the state.

It was the 2015 class that drew ire from high school coaches in Texas. Strong leaned on his Florida con­nec­tions and signed 11 play­ers from out of state. Eight of them made it to cam­pus.

Herman wasn’t shy about re­cruit­ing out of state in his se­cond class. The Longhorns signed the third-best class in the coun­try in 2018. It con­sisted of eight out-of-state signees — the same num­ber Strong brought to cam­pus in his 2015 class that alien­ated so many high school coaches.

Strong’s last class turned out to be

2016 when he signed five non-Tex­ans. It was his third UT class. The 2019 class will be the third at Texas for Herman. Texas cur­rently holds 13 com­mit­ments, six of which hail from out­side of the state. Yet Herman isn’t get­ting the same heat from the coaches in Texas.

Num­bers can lie, and per­cep­tion is the key. Coaches thought Strong pre­ferred Florida re­cruits to those avail­able to the Longhorns. Texas coaches got to know Herman as a head coach at Hous­ton be­fore he took the most scru­ti­nized head coach­ing job in the state. He re­lied on those con­nec­tions to lure the top tal­ent from Hous­ton in 2018, sprin­kling in the eight out-of­s­tate prospects.

“Herman started his re­cruit­ing in Texas. Its base is here, started here and then went out­side,” said Kevin Goodwin, the quar­ter­backs coach and re­cruit­ing co­or­di­na­tor at Con­roe Oak Ridge. “Strong started here, but went out of state si­mul­ta­ne­ously. Made it look like the other re­cruits were just as im­por­tant. Re­mem­ber, Strong with­drew of­fers from Texas kids im­me­di­ately when he got there. That didn’t sit well with a lot of peo­ple.”

Herman fi­nessed the 2017 class, keep­ing the group to­gether, adding a few pieces and hold­ing the re­main­ing of­fers for a supersized 2018 class. The eight out-of-state com­mit­ments didn’t seem as big a num­ber since the team signed 27 play­ers. Still, the 2015 class that signed the Florida 5 also con­tained 27 mem­bers.

Sim­ply put: Herman built the clout in state to go out­side of it. Strong never did.

“Herman won’t re­ceive the same heat as long as his main pri­or­ity is Texas guys first,” said Theadis Rea­gins, who coached de­fen­sive backs at Hous­ton La­mar in 2017 and watched two of his play­ers sign with the Longhorns. “I’m think­ing with Texas A&M catch­ing a lit­tle steam with the in-state guys this cy­cle, Herman is look­ing to build a na­tional brand.”

Re­cruit­ing is about re­la­tion­ships. Strong, for sev­eral rea­sons, was never able to build a real con­nec­tion with the power bro­kers of the state, the high school foot­ball coaches. Herman built trust at Hous­ton. He re­cruited Hous­ton. He con­tin­ued to do so when he ar­rived at Texas, and he’s start­ing to build those same con­nec­tions in Dal­las.

“There will be enough Texas boys on the ros­ter,” said Chris Gil­bert, the head coach at Lan­caster, south of Dal­las. “You’re not a na­tional pro­gram un­less you can re­cruit na­tion­ally. Our guys are plucked left and right by Ok­la­homa. They needed some­thing to be mad at Char­lie (Strong) about. Heck, Ricky Williams is from Cal­i­for­nia.”

It was dumb to bash Strong for go­ing out of state, and it would be equally dumb to use it as a re­cruit­ing tool against Texas. Herman will fill his ros­ter with mostly Tex­ans. That’s what Texas does, even un­der Strong. He was from Florida. Herman is from Cal­i­for­nia, a state Texas is cur­rently re­cruit­ing with fer­vor.

It was a straw-man argument used to un­der­mine Strong. Win­ning would have muted the noise. It’s a non­topic for Herman, but he’ll still need to win to keep a stran­gle­hold on the state.

“As long as (Herman) wins, I don’t think he’ll get (crushed) like Strong did for re­cruit­ing out of state,” said Adam Har­vey, the de­fen­sive backs coach at Ci­bolo Steele. “No one will bat an eye if W’s are the byprod­uct.”

RICARDO B. BRAZZIELL / AMER­I­CAN-STATES­MAN

Texas wide re­ceiver John Burt, a re­cruit from Florida, fights for yardage against Kansas last sea­son. Prep coaches in the state thought pre­vi­ous UT coach Char­lie Strong pre­ferred out-of-state re­cruits.

NICK WAG­NER / AMERICANSTATESMAN

Coaches in the state got to know UT’s Tom Herman as a head coach at Hous­ton, and that re­la­tion­ship has helped re­as­sure them that the Longhorns’ first re­cruit­ing pri­or­ity is Texas.

JAY JANNER / AMER­I­CAN-STATES­MAN

Ex-UT coach Char­lie Strong never built up clout among Texas high school coaches.

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