When Texas Longhorns head coach Tom Herman held his introductory press conference in November of 2016, he quickly took a cue from his mentor, former Longhorns head coach Mack Brown, and addressed Texas high school football coaches.
“I also want the high school coaches of the great state of Texas to know that this is their football program,” he said. “We’re the flagship university of the best high school football playing state in America. And I want to continue to do a great job of recruiting our fine student-athletes produced by Texas high school football coaches.”
Behind the scenes, however, Herman made an even more important promise, one that had a tremendous impact on how the program handles recruiting.
“We’re very diligent,” Herman told me on Thursday. “I made that promise to the high school coaches in this great state when I first got the job and that has not changed. If we say the word ‘offer’ to a kid, especially in the state of Texas, if he wants to say yes right there on the spot, we better be doing cartwheels and jumping jacks and handsprings because we’re so excited.”
Other schools take a different approach, leading to discussions about which offers are actually committable — Alabama has offered 283 prospects in the 2019 recruiting class, compared to 135 offers by Texas.
“So we are a little bit more deliberate than some schools that throw that word around maybe a little bit loosely and then maybe try to backpedal if it’s not something that they really wanted.”
The evaluation process starts with the on-campus support staff — people like Director of Player Personnel Derek Chang and Director of Recruiting Bryan Carrington. Since Herman recently decided not to offer players during their freshman season, the staff now waits until there are several games of film on potential targets during their sophomore season to make an evaluation.
For instance, the Longhorns haven’t offered any current freshman — the members of the 2022 recruiting class. Alabama has already offered five players in that class.
The support staff starts the process by gathering information on those players and then the assistant coaches watch that sophomore film.
During the spring, the assistants travel around the state and country to conduct in-person evaluations and talk to the high school coaches to gain more background information on those players.
So far, the current group of sophomores in the 2021 recruiting class are still largely under evaluation, as only nine players across the country hold Texas offers in that cycle.
The next step is trying to get recruits to camps the summer between their sophomore and junior seasons to provide the coaches a chance to see how prospects perform in a setting that they control and to see how they respond to coaching. The staff begins to feel confident about their evaluations by early that fall, several games into the junior season for prospects.
Of the players at that point in the process, 59 of them have earned offers from the Longhorns. By comparison, Florida has already offered 202 players in that class and Alabama has offered 144.
Support staff personnel like Chang also help manage the overall numbers and devise a plan across multiple cycles, as in the 2017 transition class, when Chang suggested taking a smaller class due to the large number of immensely talented early enrollees in the following cycle.
“Last year, when it became apparent it was going to be very difficult to speed date the kind of person and athlete that we needed in our program in such a short amount of time, [Chang] said, ‘Coach, we don’t need to sign guys just to sign them. The 2018 class has a bunch of really good players that are slated to graduate early. If we don’t sign a full class in 2017, we can then count as many early enrollees as we have back towards that number, as well as sign a full 25 for 2018.,” Herman said on National Signing Day last February.
Texas ultimately signed nine early enrollees that cycle, including both quarterbacks, the nation’s top safety, Caden Sterns, and the nation’s No. 3 safety, BJ Foster.
Patience with evaluations and not taking early commitments from players with questionable talent also leaves room for late-developing prospects. Herman specifically cited the example of 2018 defensive tackle signee Moro Ojomo, who was only 16 years old when he turned in a spectacular senior season.
Entering that year, Ojomo only had a handful of offers, but because he took such a huge leap as a senior and because the early signing period increased the value of recruits still available leading into National Signing Day in February, his stock went through the roof.
Texas offered in early December, followed later by Texas A&M, Tennessee, Oregon, Notre Dame, Nebraska, Virginia, Oklahoma, Miami, and Alabama.
“I mean, you look at the senior year he had, you look at the necessity for quality D-linemen across the country, and then when early signing day came in December and Moro didn’t sign with anybody, I mean, he was the hottest thing since sliced bread because he had such a great senior year, and we’re proud to have him,” Herman told me.
When the Horns offered, Ojomo was ranked as the No. 68 defensive tackle in the country and the No. 128 player in Texas. When he signed with Texas two months later, he was the No. 27 defensive tackle and the No. 55 player in the state — and probably still underrated.
After all, in late August, 247Sports argued that Ojomo might be the best 17 year old in football.
So the due diligence done by the entire staff and the roadmap laid out by Chang was instrumental to the construction of the 2018 recruiting class and will continue play a huge role in the program’s future moving forward.
And it’s all informed by an important promise Herman made nearly two years ago.