On Aug. 14, the future of the Texas Longhorns program looked bright — it was a Friday evening that featured the commitment of 2022 No. 1 quarterback Quinn Ewers, a potentially generational talent, and the 2020 football season still possessed the opportunity for the Longhorns to finally win a conference championship and take a big step forward under head coach Tom Herman.
Two and a half months later, Ewers is back on the market after decommitting on Wednesday — he’s likely to make a quick decision with Ohio State as the heavy favorite — and Texas is sitting at 3-2 and unranked after a three-game stretch following the season opener that featured innumerable self-inflicted mistakes. Suddenly, the Big 12 title hopes are almost vanished.
Before the momentous Ewers news broke on Wednesday evening, Herman’s job appeared as if it might be on the line anyway with a trip to Stillwater to face No. 6 Oklahoma State this weekend. But now it seems questionable whether an upset victory and more wins down the stretch would even be enough for Herman to keep his job.
One major problem is that Ewers is a lifetime Longhorn who grew up cheering for the program and believed enough in the offensive vision laid out by Mike Yurcich that he was convinced to play for Texas. Now, not only do the Horns need to find another quarterback in the 2022 class, they also stand to miss out on all the prospects that Ewers could have brought into the fold with his talent.
Local wide receiver Caleb Burton, a consensus five-star prospect, may follow Ewers to Ohio State. Port Arthur Memorial cornerback Jaylon Guilbeau, who pledged to Texas last month, tweeted that he “has a lot of thinking to do” after Ewers decommitted. Hopes of landing other local and national prospects significantly decreased.
And the worrisome development for Herman is that the decision by Ewers isn’t the only sign that recruits aren’t buying into the future of the Texas program like they did in the 2018 and 2019 classes.
Longtime commit Billy Bowman, a two-way standout at Denton Ryan and a top-40 prospect, also decommitted less than two weeks ago. To make matters worse, he’s expected to land at rival Oklahoma.
Days before Bowman reopened his recruitment, another local product, 2021 safety Andrew Mukuba from LBJ, opted to commit to Clemson over Texas, despite proximity that, in particular, afforded him the ability to visit campus numerous times before making his decision.
No discussion of recruiting failures in the current cycle is possible without mentioning the elephant in the room — that would be the Crimson Tide and head coach Nick Saban, who landed pledges from the Brockermeyer twins back in July. The brothers are both Texas legacies and their older brother, Luke, is a linebacker for the Horns. Losing out on the Brockermeyers was a catastrophic failure matched only by the decommitment of Ewers.
Because of all those misses on the recruiting trail, Texas sits at No. 17 nationally in the team recruiting rankings, which would rank as the worst recruiting finish for Herman since his transition class in 2017.
Increasingly, the Horns are being forced into taking lower-ranked recruits to fill out the 2021 class, with three commits not ranked among the top 1,000 prospects nationally. Among those recruits is quarterback Charles Wright, who flipped from Iowa State after Jalen Milroe, the nation’s No. 4 dual-threat quarterback, joined the Brockermeyers in committing to Alabama despite his own longtime Texas pledge. So the poor national ranking is not just a result of the number of commits, it’s about the average star rating, too.
The recruiting woes only place more pressure on Herman to quickly turn things around on the field, but his own public statements about the expectations for this season and decision following the 2019 regular season to replace both coordinators and five other assistant coaches illustrate the extent to which this was always going to be a make-or-break season for the Longhorns. It was clear when Herman decided to completely remake his staff that he could only hit that reset button once. The roster is peaking with a senior quarterback and plenty of experience from those highly-touted recruiting classes.
A win over Oklahoma State and a strong finish to the season could convince athletics director Chris Del Conte to give Herman another season, especially with the program facing a cash crunch due to limited capacity at sporting events.
But the ongoing pandemic could also convince Del Conte that he can’t afford to suffer the potential monetary losses caused next season by a decrease in program interest if Herman returns. After all, one of the greatest issues that Herman faces is a fanbase increasingly convinced that he needs to go.
Coming up with the buyout for Herman and potentially for many, if not most, of his assistants may be a difficult task for Del Conte, but every misfire on the field or on the recruiting trail only makes it more likely that the donors capable of cutting those checks choose to do so.
So while wins on the field could potentially bring some fans back into the fold and convince recruits to buy into Herman’s vision, time is quickly running out because right now, both of those groups are increasingly voting no confidence in that vision.
And that state of affairs is untenable.