If you won’t judge a book by it’s cover, don’t judge Tom Herman by the historically underwhelming 2017 recruiting class for the Texas Longhorns.
Skim through the pages and you’ll see a story that was essentially forced into publication within a matter of three months since Herman’s arrival from Houston, in which a significant portion of potential additions had written the Longhorns off following the combination of a season devoid on on-field success and the subsequent departure of Charlie Strong.
As is often the case, coaching changes are typically followed by reduced recruiting hauls — both in terms of quality and quantity — and Texas isn’t any exception.
“We were not going to fall into that trap,” Herman said of pursuing targets the staff couldn’t evaluate or develop relationships with. “That happens when you go and chase stars and chase these people that you don’t know.”
For a multitude of reasons, such as the noted on-field struggles, the coaching change and the lack of time to develop relationships that accompanies it, as well as national powers plucking talent from The Lone Star State, Texas finished with its worst recruiting haul since the services started tracking prospects in 1999.
Texas finished No. 26 nationally and No. 2 in the Big 12, according to the 247Sport Composite rankings.
Texas recruiting class rankings vs. previous worst, per services:
- ESPN: No. 33 vs. No. 16
- 247Sports: No. 29 vs. No. 17
- Rivals: No. 31 vs. No. 24
- Scout: No. 28 vs. No 23
However, because of the low number of commits, Texas ranked behind six schools with lower overall class ratings, perhaps a better indication of quality compared to the raw measurements that reward bigger classes.
As Herman has since his arrival, he pointed towards the importance of relationships in recruiting.
“As much as we have to sell here — from the coaching staff to the academics, to the coaching staff, to the style of play, to the championships that we’re going to win, to the city of Austin, to the rich, storied tradition and history — what we don’t have is relationships with a lot of these guys,” Herman told 247Sports. “That makes it very, very difficult to get in.”
Despite the odds, a top-20 finish was still possible until Wednesday morning saw Stephan Zabie head West for UCLA over Texas and K’Lavon Chaisson boast purple and yellow instead of burnt orange.
The pair on in-state products didn’t commit to the Longhorns, however, and Texas concluded with its worst class rankings in recorded history, though Herman’s ‘Horns still finished with the second-ranked class in the conference, which speaks in equal parts to the conference’s recruiting struggles and the standard in Austin.
The Longhorns did land a pair of National Signing Day commitments from three-star receiver Jordan Pouncey and three-star JUCO defensive tackle Jamari Chisholm, but Texas finished without landing a top 100 player nationally and a top 10 player in the state first the first time ever, per 247Sports Composite rankings.
This isn’t to suggest that there aren’t a handful — at the very least — of quality prospects and potential impact players from day one. Top-ranked JUCO linebacker Gary Johnson will likely start during the season opener, Sam Ehlinger will compete for the starting quarterback job with Shane Buechele, and the ‘Horns hauled in a dynamic pair of running backs in Toneil Carter and Daniel Young — Herman raved about Young and Longhorn legend Emmanuel Acho even drew comparisons to Ricky Williams.
The 2017 group isn't a class headlined by star power if you consider the recruiting services, but there’s without question several legitimate Power 5 talents set to enter Austin.
"I am proud of the calculated nature in which we went about attacking this class,” Herman said.
Texas is all done for the day after landing 3-star WR Jordan Pouncey. pic.twitter.com/23ujfblp6p— Max Olson (@max_olson) February 1, 2017
After back-to-back top-10 recruiting classes that saw Strong reel in 58 total commits — three members of the 2015 class didn’t make it to the Forty Acres — Texas’ 18-man 2017 class marks the lowest number of additions since 2013’s 15-man group. As noted, much of that as to do with the lack of on-field success from the previous regime.
"We can’t go pick guys anymore,” Herman said of recruiting at Texas now, as opposed to how it was during the Mack Brown era. “We have to fight, claw, scratch, battle with teams.”
To Herman’s point, Texas lost out on prospects to schools like Colorado and Utah.
Herman and his staff didn’t enjoy the luxury of spending a year and a half pursuing their top targets during a partial 2017 cycle. That’s no longer the case as the focus quickly shifts towards the 2018 class and Herman already has a point of emphasis in mind.
“Our mission has to be to keep the best players in the state of Texas in the state of Texas,” Herman said during his press conference on Wednesday.
Looking forward, the staff has put themselves in position to at least play a factor in key in-state prospect’s recruitment prior to next February. Of the 38 ESPN 300 prospects from Texas, 20 currently hold Texas offers — a number that will increase — and of the 18 that don’t, 11 are already committed elsewhere. Only two of the 11 already committed hold Texas offers, and they’re heading to Alabama and LSU.
Tom Herman on not signing a top-10 class this year: "Are we gonna be there next year? Absolutely. Absolutely we will."— Max Olson (@max_olson) February 1, 2017
Following just 16 wins in three seasons in Austin under Strong, Herman made note that the winning tradition that many witnessed during the Vince Young and Colt McCoy era isn’t applicable to the current and upcoming generation following the program’s lack of success for the last half decade.
“You have to win. These kids have seen four seven-loss Texas teams,” Herman said. "Since they were 10 years old, they’ve seen two winning seasons of Texas football."
Tom Herman's parting statement at NSD presser: "We're gonna get it back to where it belongs really, really quick."— Max Olson (@max_olson) February 1, 2017
In a sense, Herman’s partial 2017 class is just a prologue to the recruiting narrative he indicates is on its way to the Forty Acres.
If it doesn’t happen, he’s going to be held accountable after his bold promises on Wednesday. Charlie Strong knows how that goes.