The first semester for the Texas Longhorns football program under new head coach Tom Herman is complete and the attrition is mounting.
Remember the departures under former head coach Charlie Strong early in his tenure? The attrition right now is happening for slightly different reasons, perhaps, but it’s clear now that there were at least a few players who didn’t fit under the new coaching staff.
Some of the departures have been rather standard — wide receiver Jake Oliver is moving on from football after spending four years in the program in order to pursue a career opportunity outside the game, while sophomore quarterback Matthew Merrick left the team this spring in order to focus on his academics.
Redshirt freshman tight end Peyton Aucoin also transferred after dealing with injuries. And while his departure was harmful due to an overall lack of depth at the position, it wasn’t surprising when considering that the Louisiana native doesn’t bring much, if anything, to the passing game.
Others have been more concerning.
In a flash, Texas lost two defensive linemen last week when the news broke that sophomore Jordan Elliott was transferring and redshirt freshman Marcel Southall had left the program.
Then, on Tuesday, multiple outlets reported that sophomore linebacker Erick Fowler had also left the program, though a school spokesperson said there was no change in Fowler’s status with the team.
Due to the difficulties recruiting defensive linemen, the losses of Elliott and Southall were concerning in a vacuum.
Elliott, in particular, possesses enormous talent that he was able to flash on the field last fall. As he worked back into shape following a PCL injury last fall, the Houston Westside product was expected to compete for serious playing time this fall.
And despite the fact that Elliott committed and decommitted a number of times during the process, there weren’t any major red flags with his behavior or academics off the field.
That makes his decision all the more perplexing.
Was this just Elliott changing his mind about where he wanted to be yet again or indicative of larger problems with the coaching staff?
With Southall and Fowler, the potential reasons for their failures at Texas are much easier to discover.
Fowler struggled to qualify academically coming out of Manor and wasn’t cleared by the NCAA until midway through fall camp. As a result, he was behind his classmates when he got onto the practice field, though he also flashed on occasion in his limited playing time.
After several stints at middle linebacker, a position that did not seem to suit his edge-rushing talents, Fowler was a virtual non-factor on the depth chart upon the completion of spring practice.
However, Fowler was always a risk because of his academics — the definition of a boom-or-bust player. After less than a year in Austin, it appears that the former Rivals five-star prospect’s legacy in burnt orange and white is as a bust.
For Southall, the problems were similar. He struggled to qualify academically out of Duncanville, with his process playing out into the summer. There were concerns as well with his work ethic and motor in high school. He, too, was a player with a high ceiling and a low floor.
There are some different possible perspectives on what exactly is happening.
One perspective is that Strong and his staff clearly took calculated risks with Fowler and Southall, two extremely talented players who could have become valuable contributors had they taken care of business.
Another holds that Herman and his staff are conducting business much in the same way that Strong did upon arrival in Austin — pushing out malcontents who are having an overall detrimental effect on the program.
Still another posits that something is seriously wrong in Austin, that Herman and his coaches are alienating players in a way that is symptomatic of deeper issues that will ultimately result in more failures on fall Saturdays.
Whatever the reality behind the scenes, the bottom line is that the departures of talented players puts a tremendous amount of pressure on the coaching to hit in recruiting.
Otherwise, programs end up with the type of depth issues that have plagued Texas for years, a reality that is especially true at defensive tackle — the ‘Horns have now gotten only four players into school over the last three recruiting cycles, assuming that junior college signee Jamari Chisholm has no issues with his enrollment.
Right now, it’s not the time to panic or make sweeping generalizations about the state of the program in the early days under Tom Herman.
If the offseason includes several more players leaving who were pegged as key contributors over the coming years? If recruiting tanks in the Houston area with key targets there?
Well, that would be the time to become seriously concerned.