Catching up with the Joneses.
It was the buzz phrase in these parts as soon as it became apparent just how far behind Texas had fallen in the recruiting and personnel arms race currently engulfing the top tier of college football.
On Monday, Texas Longhorns head coach Mack Brown borrowed a buzz word from the environmental movement to describe the goal for recruiting practices moving forward, while providing a brief overview of the state of recruiting:
We had a good recruiting class last year even though it was small. We feel like we are on the verge of a good one this year and maybe a great one next year. So we are trying to go back and build for sustainable recruiting so we can play the USCs and the Notre Dames and our conference as we move forward.
Sustainable in the sense that the Longhorns are engaged in the best practices made apparent by numerous other major programs in the areas of early offers, evaluation techniques, and decreasing the load on coaching staffs with a personnel staff dedicated to recruiting.
Over at Barking Carnival, Scipio Tex characterized Brown's discussion of the potentially good 2014 class as expectation management, inherent in that the admission that the staff still wasn't fully prepared to confront recruiting realities as little as a year ago, when the staff told Abilene Cooper wide receiver Lorenzo Joe that he couldn't take his commitment public, a last little bit of absurdity before entering the Brave New World of recruiting much too late.
When we got here, we were the change. We made a lot of changes in the landscape in recruiting in the state and this area, and then that changed and it worked for us a long time. So, If it got off track some, it's our job to figure out what's the best way to do it and fix it, and we think we are doing that. We are in the process. I'm really excited about our changes. I'm tremendously excited about the response we are getting from the 2015 kids. I didn't know how that would work [with] the coaches. We are really back on track, and we have momentum going forward in recruiting. I think our evaluation process is better, too. We are doing a better job of making sure, regardless of who else likes him, regardless of what the evaluation process of someone else has been, we are taking the guy that we really like and our coaches are watching very closely in spring practice. They have seen most of them in the fall and then they watch them in camp, and we are slowing down and going much slower with our evaluation process than we ever have.
There's plenty there to dissect, but the fact that Brown claims the team is slowing down with the evaluation process while still offering 2015 prospects would seem to be contradictory. In some ways it's not -- Stacy Searels just now extended the first offensive line offer in the 2014 class after Demetrius Knox's decommitment, to La Grange's Zach Ledwik, a surprising and under-the-radar move that came about from Sunday's mini camp, while a decision still hasn't been made on what to do with in-state recruiting at running back, though several in-state targets were at the camp for evaluation.
Looking forward, as unfortunate as all those failures were that Brown mentioned, the 2015 class in many ways holds a major key to the future of the Texas football program. The small 2013 class didn't fill all the needs, despite what Brown maintained on Signing Day, leaving the coaches scrambling in 2014 more than they had been already. But Texas isn't behind on the 2015 kids after Mack decided the program could fully stop hamstringing itself for no particular good reason:
What we felt like this year was that a lot of people were offering sophomores, which we didn't want to do, and we felt like that the game was going fast and people were saying, "Texas is too arrogant, and Texas isn't working very hard and they just don't want us." And that wasn't true. We knew who the sophomores were, but we didn't want to disrupt the high school coach or the team. And everybody else was doing it, so we felt like if we were going to do it, let's do it first.
Brown alludes to the negative recruiting that has been going on against Texas in a rather obtuse way, but it's not an insignificant point -- not offering early was detrimental in its mere nature, but other schools were taking it the next step and attempting to play on a popular meme about the Longhorns in the accusations of arrogance. Negative recruiting always happens, but it becomes more potent when success on the field lags because of clear program flaws.
And disrupting the high school coaches sounds like the type of garbage Mack-speak that can probably be ignored for most intents and purposes, though the jarringly disingenuous thing about it is that the job of high school coaches is to handle the recruiting demands placed on them by colleges interested in their players -- that's a service that is and always will be a part of their job requirements. By nature, baseline job requirements shouldn't be disruptive.
So we had the first sophomore day, and we felt like we are not being disruptive to the high school coaches. We talked to a lot of them and at the same time we know more about the sophomores in recruiting than ever before. We are way ahead. We have got great momentum with that class and think it will be a great class and can't wait to get them here and coach them in camp on Sunday.
Hey-O! No disruptions! Pleasant surprise that. Being frozen into inactivity by fear turns out to be rather non-productive, it seems.
The Sophomore Day in particular was hugely important for the future of the 2015 class and had signifiant ramifications back into 2014 as well, in part simply as the point at which the Teuhema brothers seriously emerged on the radar. Younger brother Maea, the early five-star prospect by 247Sports, was rather the leader in sharing with his brother his affinity for Texas after the visit, at which he received his offer, while his older brother picked up his offer at the same time and had a game-changing film session with Oscar Giles watching former Texas star Brian Orakpo.
Had Texas not offered Maea at the Sophomore Day, and taken advantage of the same event to offer his older brother, the two probably would have committed to LSU last Thursday. And make no mistake -- as it currently stands, and should throughout the process barring something remarkable happening -- Maea is the massive building cornerstone on which the rest of the class will be built, even if he was the fourth commit of the group.
At the risk of sounding repetitive, merely consider the statement from Maea's head coach about his young star -- "He's got everything."
It's hard to say how many of the changes have directly come from new personnel director Patrick Suddes, but Brown believes that he is making a difference, the overall results are positive, and Texas finally opening up the summer camps to media, an unprecedented move for a program that has almost always instinctively limited access by the media appears to bear significant Suddes fingerprints, though lab results are still pending.
He's the details guy, which relieves the rest of the staff from having to concern themselves with those same details, and this is essentially his life right now, as Suddes himself pointed out at his introductory press conference and Brown echoed Monday minus mention of Suddes' self-deprecatory reference to his single hobby, which is playing basketball poorly:
We hired [director of player personnel] Patrick Suddes as the head recruiter from Alabama from a couple months ago, and it's working out really well for us. Patrick is hands-on at 33 years old and single. A lot of nights I'll get text messages from him about what's happened during the day and what he's read on the internet that kids have said; or maybe it's a birthday of a young man I wouldn't have known about, or something like that. He's also very involved in helping with our coaches clinic already for next year. We think we'll have our best clinic ever. He was very involved in our camp yesterday and coming up, and he's really been involved in the day-to-day recruiting. We just went through spring recruiting where he and the coaches would sit down and decide which seven [coaches] are on the road every day, which is a difficult thing to do, where they need to be to make sure that we see all the kids.
The changes come at a time when recruiting accelerated to the tipping point even for Brown, who was so slow to make those adjustments. Never has a dedicated personnel staff been more necessary than at a time when the coaches are essentially forced to deal with three recruiting classes:
If you look at it right now, we are dealing with three different [recruiting] classes. We are dealing with the 2013 class right now to make sure they are all admitted and get them to summer school. Then you're dealing with the 2014 class for next year's recruiting class. We have already had a sophomore day. We'll have a lot of the 2015 kids coming in for the camp on Sunday and then some coming for our lineman and skill camp next week. But we are dealing really with three recruiting classes the one time, so that's why it was vital to add new staff.
As much as the 2013 class is no longer a time suck on the coaching staff, the logistics of juggling three classes does indeed require the type of man power that Texas simply didn't have months ago. But Alabama did.
One odd note on that personnel staff, though -- Riley Dodge was supposedly brought on as one of the two quality control assistants Texas posted during the spring, but only Bob Shipley ever had an official release issued and Brown didn't mention Dodge on Monday and said that he wasn't sure whether the 'Horns would add any more positions until some of the possible NCAA rule changes regarding recruiting come into effect.
Why so odd? Check out this tweet from Dodge, who lists "Univ. of Texas" as the only three words in his bio and his location as Austin:
It's possible that Dodge has a position pending once the rule changes are ironed out and Texas can be sure that they will be able to keep him on staff, but right now it seems as if he is in some sort of odd limbo -- not quite on the staff and not quite off the staff. What seems apparent is that he left Texas A&M for Texas, but isn't official in any sense yet.
Note as well that Brown specifically said that Shipley would be working with the defense, while Dodge would fit easily into the same role offensively because of his upbringing as a quarterback in his father's successful spread systems, part of what made him seem like such a strong fit when the news broke.
To sum things up, this bears repetition -- the Longhorns have been trying to catch up with the Joneses since starting to recognize the problems and take action some time in July of last year. In that time, they've added (at least) four members to the personnel department, brought their recruiting philosophies up to date, and fired a salvo in the direction of rising recruiting rival Texas A&M with the positive start to the 2015 class.
Turning a juggernaut can take some serious time, especially once it becomes unnecessarily bloated and overweight, but Brown and his staff, newly expanded, are now leveraging the mighty resources that caused athletic director DeLoss Dodds to call Texas the Joneses in the first place.
Darrell K Royal told Brown that Texas can be a powerful place when everything is focused on a common goal and though the acuity of that focus may not be as strong as a magnifying class, the 'Horns are catching up with the Joneses.
Some time after that, they may really be the Joneses once again on the recruiting trail and on the football field in the fall.