Texas Longhorns head coach Mack Brown and his staff opted to enter a Brave New World in recruiting on Thursday by extending close to the 20 offers to the top 2014 prospects in the state, as well as a handful of out-of-state players.
The early returns? Four significant commitments, including guys in Aldine Eisenhower's Donald Catalon and Fort Worth All Saints' Daniel Gresham who secure the post-Malcolm Brown and Joe Bergeron future, continuing also the stellar run of running back talent headed into and through the program. Major Applewhite, take a bow, sir.
On Sunday, at the opening fall press conference, Brown spoke about the change, how it went down, and how the revised recruiting process will play out in the 2014 class and, likely, beyond:
We are constantly reevaluating everything we do after 14 years on a daily basis. Someone said that there was a big change in our recruiting of younger recruits before the 2014 class the other day, and what you did, you can't be afraid of change.
The problem for Brown is often recognizing the need for change, rather than actually being afraid of it, but the point is a salient one. One that a number of Texas fans would probably be wise to inculcate.
From the sound of it, the overall talent level in the class was a significant factor in forcing such a reaction from the coaches:
[Twenty-fourteen] seems to be a great class. A number of those young men wanted to go ahead and commit and all of the guys were worried that we had not offered them.
A short quote from Brown, but there's a lot going on there.
The 2014 group is indeed a strong one, in several specific areas, but most especially at defensive back, where there are a handful of legitimately elite talents. Three clear, elite defensive ends, a handful of really good receivers. Other positions, like offensive line and defensive tackle? Not so much, but that's also the case in some area for every class.
No doubt that Lorenzo Joe was ready after trying to give his commitment to the coaching staff back in June and having to keep that silent pledge a secret from friends and the media. Whether newest pledge Daniel Gresham really fits in there is up for debate, but Roberson and Catalon probably do, given the statement.
The bolded section is even more important though -- kids like Joe and Catalon and maybe Roberson would have waited and Texas probably would have been fine in the end. It would have been difficult for them, especially Joe and his big secret, but they were the core, the group of kids in every class who have known nothing but a desire to play at Texas.
Where the decision to change tactics matters the most is with those prospects still out there, the kids like Lancaster safety Nick Harvey, who already have a sense of their top schools, but can't include Texas because of the lack of an offer.
It needs to be said again -- Texas was falling behind. In some cases, irreparably behind. Alief Taylor cornerback Chris Hardeman already committed to LSU, even though he was given the "wink-wink" offer by the Longhorns. Had named a leader during the spring evaluation period, when offers were rolling in basically daily for him. This is the definition of falling behind. Sure, Hardeman wasn't a huge loss, but that's only because there are six or seven guys as talented as he is. In other classes, that won't be the case. Isn't the case in the 2013 class.
As harmful as it might have been for a number of budding recruitments, it sounds like the coaching staff wouldn't have dove into this Brave New World without all the necessary information in terms of scouting due diligence:
And then you get into the approval, the offer, how long do you wait and it's six months' difference, and we felt like we had a great hold on the evaluation process and we had about a two-week discussion. Very honestly that was a pretty big change for us, and we felt like it was best for the time and moved forward and did it and feel good about where we are and moving forward with it.
There aren't any accusations out there about Texas running into his blindly, asgeneral nature is enough to know that he didn't want to make the change in an ideal world, but really didn't have a choice.
A major key here is how far along the evaluation process was for the 2014 class after the 2013 group mostly came together so quickly, freeing up the coaches to take advantage of spring evaluations. The fact that many of the top guys offered also attended a summer camp made it even easier and significantly increased the odds that those massively important evaluations will hit.
And that six-month time difference? That's a long, long time to lag behind. Roughly 25% of the kid's serious recruitment. There was no way it was going to work this year. Denial of that is a useless emotion. One that Brown and his staff had to discard, no matter their reticence in doing so.
The key concern, besides holding onto the commitments in general, has been about kids who are already maxed out and then coast through their final two years in high school, content with a secured spot. Texas isn't going to unceremoniously dump any commitments SEC style while Brown is in charge, but what about when there are legitimate reasons?
The Longhorn head man indicated that there is a plan in place to protect the program from such instances:
There are still requirements that have to be in place for young guys like that going into their junior year. If their academics drastically change to a negative, you wouldn't take them. If they got in trouble, you wouldn't take them. And obviously if they are not competing for their [high school] if they call and say the guy is not trying anymore and you shouldn't take him, and we have a right and we have explained that to the young men that we have offered at that time.
"We have a right." Strong and clear words -- this is a mutual exchange, a two-way street, where Texas holds a spot and the early commitments reciprocate with effort in the weightroom, on the field, and in the classroom, with a low tolerance for those who do not.
It's not the Nick Saban trapdoor, it's an honorable trapdoor that won't be used without clear and overwhelming evidence of it's necessity. Mack Brown won't change in that regard.
And if the staff was correct in their evaluations, it won't be necessary, leaving the possibility of committed players taking visits as the most significant hurdle. Brown has already relaxed his policy in this regard, notably with Hassan Ridgeway in the 2012 class and Daeshon Hall in the 2013 cycle. Earlier commitments significant increase the likelihood of pledges wanted to take one or two, so communication and honesty by the prospect with the coaching staff will be paramount.
It's a Brave New World that came into existence outside the control of the coaching staff, which is forging ahead, trying to negotiate a place in it. One that clearly includes some flexing of that familiar Longhorn recruiting power -- there was no way that was going to get left behind except in the case of continued denial of this new world's existence.