You may have heard about this, but last fall Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel became just another bullet point in a growing data set suggesting that the Texas Longhorns have struggled mightily evaluating quarterbacks since the 2008 recruiting class.
You may have heard the "Mack Brown recruited _____ as a safety" meme, making fun of the Texas head coach for his lack of prowess as an evaluator.
But now the narrative is changing. It started with all the offseason exploits, as the more judgmental in the Texas fanbase started to turn against the hard-partying A&M star when pictures started to pop up of him partying with cash in a casino and with a bottle of Dom and a sparkler in his mouth, among various other images.
By the time he got kicked out of the Manning camp for sleeping through meetings and was later asked to leave a Texas frat party, Longhorns fans started to feel a little more smug about the lack of an offer for Manziel. The accusations of receiving payment for signing autographs just put things over the top for many -- Manziel is trouble and Brown vindicated for not offering him.
Since so many still don't understand the true story of what happened with Manziel during his recruitment, it's worth taking a look back at the guy Texas supposedly recruited as a safety.
The narrative really starts back in the spring of 2009, when evaluations of the quarterbacks in the 2011 class started in earnest. At that time, it was Denton Guyer's JW Walsh and Belton's David Ash who were receiving most of the focus after showing off their impressive skill sets as sophomores. Manziel, meanwhile, was coming off a season in which he spent enough time at wide receiver to catch 19 passes, while still playing enough quarterback to attempt 88 passes and record nearly 1,000 rushing yards.
In the midst of what appeared at the time to be a strong recruiting stretch at quarterback that saw Texas land top target Garrett Gilbert in 2008 as the center piece of the 2009 class and then the top in-state quarterback in 2010 in Houston Second Baptist's Connor Wood and a back-up option in Graham's Case McCoy, the Longhorns were merely trying to add to an embarrassment of riches in the 2011 class, honing in on Ash after a strong performance at a Texas summer camp that essentially locked him in as the top target in the class.
When Walsh committed to Oklahoma State before the February Junior Days, Ash became the sole target, committing in the middle of February and essentially ending recruiting at the position for the class, though the 'Horns did offer a grayshirt opportunity to Lake Travis quarterback and Texas legacy Michael Brewer, who chose a full scholarship from Texas Tech instead. If anything, the grayshirt offer made it clear that Texas did not believe they had room for another scholarship quarterback on the roster.
Manziel had Texas near the top of his list after attending numerous Longhorns games in 2009, but his recruitment had yet to really take off at the time the 'Horns took Ash, even after a breakout junior season that saw him rack up more than 4,000 yards of total offense. During the spring and early summer, even Baylor was recruiting him as an athlete. Yes, quarterback guru Art Briles missed on Manziel's tremendous talent, too.
But then Manziel's recruitment changed with an offer from Oregon that June after a strong camp performance that led to his first commitment.
Eventually, the Kerrville Tivy head coach was able to convince Texas A&M quarterbacks coach Tom Rossley to offer Manziel, selling Rossley on the idea that Manziel could become the next Drew Brees. Then Rossley went to then-A&M head coach Mike Sherman and got approval from Sherman to offer the eventual Heisman winner, who switched his pledge shortly thereafter.
There are several key points to make here. The first is that even the Aggies weren't completely sold on Manziel. It took the hard sell from Tivy head coach Mark Smith to Rossley for Manziel to even get the offer. The second is that Texas never offered Manziel as a safety. The Longhorns never offered him at all, so did they really recruit him as a defensive back? Will Muschamp told his team they did, but it was during a motivational speech, so it's kind of hard to trust that as being the unvarnished truth. At the least, the way the story often gets told is disingenuous.
Plus, as Smith tells it, Manziel would have taken the Texas offer at any position.
The third point is the most key -- Texas liked Manziel as a quarterback. Actually, it was area recruiter Duane Akina, himself a college quarterback, who thought that the Tivy product could play behind center for the 'Horns, but he was never able to convince Mack Brown, who apparently thought that Manziel was too short, even though he's nearly the same height as McCoy.
And in any case, the Longhorns didn't exactly need to take another quarterback in the class with so many already on campus (Sherrod Harris was with the program until fall 2010). More than anything else, the takeaway is that Manziel just wasn't a great fit at Texas at that time, especially as the Texas was trying to move away from the Greg Davis spread to a more ground-based attack, though it's possible to make the argument that the questionable take of McCoy kept Texas from having a spot available for Manziel.
Of course, Manziel wasn't exactly a great fit in the Sherman offense, either, but he did receive a major break with the hire of Kevin Sumlin and Kliff Kingsbury, who were collectively able to mold Manziel into a dangerous quarterback in their Airraid offense.
Much like Robert Griffin III at Baylor, the Texas A&M offense was a better for Manziel's unique skill set than he would have found in Austin at the time.
Ever revisionist, some fans have been wondering recently if Brown flagged Manziel's behavior as a potential concern. Now, that's something that Brown would never reveal publicly, making such an exercise one in speculation. Based on stories coming out of Kerrville after Manziel went to A&M, in high school he was much like has been in college -- someone who liked to party and would occasionally get himself in some trouble.
Moving forward, with an offense that would better suit Manziel's talents than previous versions, the Longhorns should be more careful about using size as the only measuring stick to evaluate quarterbacks, something they appear to be doing judging by the offer to undersized Allen quarterback Kyler Murray.
At the same time, from an evaluator's perspective, Manziel is much like Brees -- an anomaly, the exception, the type of player who confounds projections and achieves despite some limitations and unorthodox tendencies. And those type of players are much more likely to get assistant coaches fired than they are to become Heisman Trophy winners.
For all the mistakes that Brown has made in recent years -- and the list is a pretty long one -- not taking Manziel is hardly at the top of the list after a measured assessment of the situation.
Manziel ended up at the best place for him to thrive as a football player, if not as a person. Sometimes that should be enough, even with the benefit of hindsight.
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