Perhaps the most telling aspect of Friday’s abject recruiting failure for the Texas Longhorns was its long-time virtual inevitability — when Fort Worth All Saints offensive tackle Tommy Brockermeyer and his twin brother James, projected as a center in college, committed to the Alabama Crimson Tide, there was no surprise.
The Crimson Tide led for the twins at least throughout the late spring and into the summer as Texas head coach Tom Herman and offensive line coach Herb Hand tried to salvage those two key recruitments.
Missing on the Brockermeyer twins was not only the biggest recruiting catastrophe since Herman arrived in Austin in late 2016, it also put into perspective the program’s lack of linear progress to compete in recruiting with college football behemoths like Alabama or Clemson or LSU. It also marked a huge hit to recruiting efforts in a loaded in-state offensive line class in 2021.
The limited utility of hope
The 2021 recruiting class reflects a key inflection point for Herman’s tenure — after going 8-5 and turning over seven of 10 assistant coaches, Herman is no longer in position to sell hope or the apparent positive trajectory after 2018’s 10-win season that included a berth in the Big 12 Championship game and a Sugar Bowl win over Georgia.
But while it’s fair to point out that linear progress is not necessarily a fair demand for a rebuilding program that went through years of malfeasance on every level, Herman holds himself to a higher standard and so should the administration.
The current Texas head coach brought most of his Houston assistants to Austin with the belief that their alignment with his culture would allow the Longhorns to bounce back quickly. Instead, Herman was forced to terminate both of his coordinators and other longtime colleagues after the 2019 regular season — an admission that his initial vision failed.
The value of results
Having to admit a failure of player development last fall that helped spur all the coaching changes surely didn’t play well for Herman on the recruiting trail — negative recruiting from opposing coaches through direct quotes is about as easy as it gets in the popularity contest of recruiting that typically spares no available punches.
The problems also go deeper than the coaching changes.
At the offensive line position, for instance, Texas can only boast one single NFL draft pick since 2008 — second-round selection Connor Williams in 2018. And it’s notable that Williams was already considered a potential first-round selection when Herman and his staff came to Austin.
The position coach for Williams in 2017, Derek Warehime, was re-assigned after that year when the addition of another on-field assistant allowed Herman to keep Warehime instead of firing him, as Herman did less than two years later.
Even a positive reading of Hand’s development of Cosmi and Derek Kerstetter, a more highly-rated consensus three-star recruit that Herman added late to the 2017 class, must bow to the acknowledgement that Alabama just landed right tackle Jedrick Willis as the No. 10 draft pick in 2020.
Texas hasn’t had an offensive lineman selected higher than Willis since Mike Williams was the fourth selection in 2002, the year that current high school seniors were born.
In 2019, Alabama tackle Jonas Williams was picked No. 11. Cam Robinson went in the second round in 2017, as did Cyrus Kuandijo in 2014. Over 13 years, Nick Saban now has a deep record of developing offensive line prospects.
So far, the reality in Austin is that Hand and strength and conditioning coach Yancy McKnight simply haven’t been able to approximate the high standards produced by programs like Alabama — graduate transfer offensive linemen like Calvin Anderson and Parker Braun came to Texas hoping to become NFL Draft picks. It didn’t happen for either, and perhaps it’s unfair to blame Hand and McKnight for those results, but those results are also the bottom line for families like the Brockermeyers looking to maximize their chances for success.
College football, after all, is a bottom-line business.
The biggest recruiting misses of the Herman era
One key characteristic of Herman’s time in Austin is that his recruiting efforts rank among his most successful overall in navigating the program, along with his demands that the administration support the renovation of facilities and coaching staffs that often include former head coaches or coordinators among the personnel department.
From finishing out the 2017 recruiting class with an eye towards the future and an understanding of the dangers posed by transition classes, Herman now has a first-team preseason All-Big 12 quarterback and a projected first-round pick at left tackle from his initial class. Of the 18 signees, 13 are still on campus or exhausted their eligibility. One never qualified, two retired from football, and three more transferred.
Over a three-year period from 2012 to 2014, Power Five transition classes averaged attrition of 35 percent. Heading into the fourth year for those 2017 signees at Texas, 72.2 percent are still on campus. That’s a success.
In the three full cycles since then, Herman signed the No. 3 class, according to the 247Sports Composite rankings, in 2018 and 2019, then inked the No. 8 group in 2020 that included the nation’s top running back and two of the state’s best quarterbacks.
Of course, there have been misses during that time, most notably in the 2017 class — LSU edge rusher K’Lavon Chaisson and Stanford left tackle Walker Little stand out — but also including Alabama wide receiver Jaylen Waddle, one of the nation’s most dynamic players. Throw the flip of Purdue wide receiver Rondale Moore in there, too.
The concern is that losing third-generation Texas legacies in a key recruiting class reaches a new level of failure for Herman and an offensive line coach who was supposed to resurrect a position group that underachieved for most of a decade prior to his arrival.
The Longhorns simply haven’t dealt with the magnitude of recruiting misses like not landing the Brockermeyers since Herman made the short move west from Houston.
Texas checked almost all of the boxes
There’s already a Brockermeyer on the Longhorns roster — third-year linebacker Luke, who passed up a scholarship at Rice to walk on at Texas, where he was quickly rewarded with a full ride last fall.
The father of Tommy and James, Blake Brockermeyer, met his wife Kristy at Texas, where he was a first-team All-American in 1994 and an eventual inductee into the UT Hall of Honor. Blake also played nine seasons in the NFL and is now a defensive quality control analyst for SMU.
Blake’s father, Kay, was an offensive tackle for Texas in 1959.
In other words, imagining a family with deeper ties to the Longhorns is extraordinarily difficult — absent concerns about on-field success or player development or the strength and conditioning programs, recruiting the Brockermeyer twins should have been easy, even with their high national rankings and premier offer lists. Slam dunks, even.
Let’s state this clearly, then — the Brockermeyer twins are headed to Tuscaloosa precisely because all the advantages possessed by Texas ultimately didn’t matter when the family looked at what was in the longterm best interests of their youngest sons.
And that’s a damning indictment of Herman and his program heading into his fourth year on the Forty Acres.
The frustrating outlook for the 2021 Texas OL class
The recruitment of the Brockermeyers comes during arguably the most talented cycle of in-state offensive linemen in the modern recruiting era.
Tommy Brockermeyer is the state’s top recruit and the No. 5 prospect nationally, making him the highest-rated offensive line prospect in Texas since Allen’s Greg Little was ranked as the consensus No. 3 prospect nationally in the 2016 recruiting class.
Ohio State commit Donovan Jackson, the nation’s top offensive guard, is a consensus five-star prospect from Houston Bellaire.
Duncanville’s Savion Byrd is a top-50 player nationally and currently considered an SMU lead.
Katy Taylor offensive guard Bryce Froster isn’t far behind in the rankings. Oklahoma and Texas A&M are his perceived leaders.
No. 17 offensive tackle Reuben Fatheree is committed to Texas A&M.
Texas does hold a pledge from Hayden Conner, a consensus four-star prospect who is close with Foster and ranks as the nation’s No. 25 offensive guard, but right now, the Longhorns are set to suffer some huge losses in key recruitments along the offensive line in the 2021 class.
Pulling Byrd away from SMU and executing what might be a miracle with Foster are the only current avenues for Hand to avoid an abject disaster in what might be the most important recruiting cycle of his career as an offensive line coach.
And the possibility of that abject disaster is the direct result of losing out on the Brockermeyer twins, arguably the most important recruitments of Hand’s career as an offensive line coach.
Is there any hope now that losing out on the Brockermeyers won’t significantly harm a recruiting class that still ranks No. 11 nationally and No. 1 in the Big 12, according to the 247Sports Composite team rankings? The inescapable reality is that not landing the Brockermeyers is arguably reason enough to declare the entire class a failure without even accounting for secondary effects.
From the big-picture perspective, the concern is that the Brockermeyers will serve as a bellwether for other recruits who remain unconvinced by the Herman era. That Herman and his largely new staff will struggle to continue selling hope as concerns continue to mount about the plausibility of playing college football this fall. That those top recruits that Herman landed in previous classes were merely the result of the boost coinciding with a highly-visible national program hiring an up-and-coming young head coach.
Only time will tell if those concerns are founded, but losing the Brockermeyer twins on Friday was at the least a founding moment for extremely significant concerns about the upside of Herman’s Longhorns.