The season ended gracefully on a victorious whimper.
But behind closed doors, discontent grew among the involved stakeholders. Disagreement, lack of vision, indecisiveness, all leaking to prominent media members — who were openly questioning both the approach and appropriateness of the football program’s direction while voyeuristic college football fans across the nation laughed.
Calls for firing coaches and complete program overhauls paired with rumors of hands-on billionaires writing blank checks with stringent stipulations littered social media timelines with conflicting information leaking every few hours.
It was, for all intents and purposes, what everyone expected from Texas after an embarrassing football season. A complete dumpster fire.
Except it was happening in Miami.
Down in Austin, things are — oddly enough — generally okay. Following a lackluster 5-7 football season, one that included the team’s longest losing streak in more than 50 years, hope surrounds a football program that only one month ago was getting embarrassed in central Iowa.
A few reasons for that optimism.
First and foremost, the typical “booster meddling” that has forever plagued the athletics administration after a bad season — big cigars pulling everyone in different directions — doesn’t appear to be an issue. This notorious bogeyman, one consistently raised by the national media, doesn’t fit with what is happening behind the scenes. Everyone is rowing in the same direction.
Sure, Texas isn’t winning the way it wants to win. But that doesn’t mean there is misalignment from leadership and the new era of donors. In fact, since the season has ended, Texas has taken all the right steps to advance within college football’s new landscape.
This month alone, two NIL programs have been introduced that will make playing college football in Austin a lucrative endeavor.
On Dec. 2, a group of prominent former athletes and donors introduced Clark Field Collective, a new initiative with an ultimate goal of creating the nation’s biggest fund for college athletes. It has an initial commitment of $10 million.
This week, a new non-profit organization, Horns with Heart, announced a sponsorship program that will guarantee $50,000 annually to offensive lineman to participate in charitable activities. College athletics expert Matt Brown, formerly of SB Nation and current publisher of Extra Points, called it the largest ‘guaranteed’ NIL deal he’s seen for a team so far.
It’s now totally possible that with all the NIL opportunities currently available, a Texas football player can enter the NFL and take a pay cut. And you can be sure Texas will continue to build on this. Orangebloods founder Geoff Ketchum suggested today that the NIL opportunity surrounding former five-star quarterback Quinn Ewers would rival NFL first-round draft pick money. Per Ketchum, the weaponization of NIL is here — and the Longhorns have some ammo.
Texas is now in a position to, well, be Texas, and not the one that has admittedly provided college football more than a little comic relief over the last decade.
With a conference move that will entice the best athletes in the state from leaving, NIL initiatives that will pay top-dollar for the best talent and the ability to fill immediate needs through free agency, uh, transfer portal, it’s never been a better time to be in Austin.
Think about this — Texas went 5-7 in 2021 and has a chance to sign a top-five recruiting class that includes the quarterback whose decommitment in 2020 kickstarted the ousting of the last coach (among other, more serious, things). Pair that with the best running back in college football, the best wide receiver in college football, a handful of returning playmaking seniors that can develop under the new coaching staff and an enticing opportunity for one-time/grad transfers, and it’s nothing but blue skies on the Forty Acres.
Meanwhile, the scene in Norman is one of optimism, but also one with a lot of questions and — more importantly — decommitments. While new OU coach Brent Venables is unquestionably an excellent hire, Oklahoma is about to go through something its never really seen before in the modern era: a transition recruiting class and doubt.
The scene in College Station is familiar and currently successful, but growing stale. A&M’s recruiting pitch will have to shift with Texas entering the SEC. It has the money to play the NIL game — but if Texas has the money and can offer essentially the same thing but at a better school in a better city — what is A&M’s distinct advantage?
I’m not disillusioned with the challenges ahead. Winning the offseason championship is something Texas does quite often. But it feels different right now. This is a legitimate shift with a recognition of what is needed to succeed and an overwhelming appetite to get it done. The iron is hot and Texas is ready to strike.
You want money and sponsorship opportunities? Go to Texas. You want to play in meaningful games in the best conference in college football? Go to Texas. You want to play for a proven coaching staff and have a shot at the NFL? Go to Texas. You want a nationally recognized degree from the best school in state? Go to Texas. You want to live in one of the country’s fastest growing and most popular destination towns? Go to Texas. You never want to work again? Go to Texas and win.
In the words of Longhorns icon Charlie Strong, the cake is baked. Now Steve Sarkisian just needs to put the icing on it.