With the addition of New Orleans (LA) Brother Martin TE Peyton Aucoin this weekend, the 2016 recruiting class gained commitment number eight. So far, the Longhorns ’16 class ranks a humble #44 nationally and only #5 in the Big 12 by 247Sports. For fans who have become accustomed to Texas permanently camping in the Top Ten, those rankings would be cause for concern.
Don’t worry. Charlie doesn’t sweat the rankings, and neither should you. After all, it was noted earlier this week that half of Strong’s 2011 Louisville recruiting class has been drafted by the NFL. Half. That’s astounding.
Making that accomplishment even more meaningful is the fact that recruiting experts weren’t knocked out by Louisville’s recruiting class that year, ranking just outside of the Top 25. Texas’ class ranked third and had a whopping three players drafted out of that class.
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It’s easy in our increasingly impatient society to get hung up on recruiting rankings. We fall prey to it every year. The “can’t miss” prospect. The “historic” class haul. High rankings give fans hope that help is coming immediately. While low rankings indicate a failure to obtain top talent, a potentially devastating problem for a top flight college football program.
Texas fans were spoiled by Mack the Master Recruiter and his always flashy, highly touted classes. Seeing the Longhorns sitting at fifth in the conference is shocking to say the least. Yes it is still very early in the process, but Mack often had his classes all but sewn up by this point.
To make matters worse, that school down in College Station has been bringing in those high grades and winning the head to head battles with Texas for several years now. If “losing” the recruiting wars hurts, losing them to A&M, especially when that’s the only way to complete with them, is sickening. Send up the flares and start pounding SOS on the telegraph, the Horns are in trouble.
Charlie Strong sees your recruiting rankings and dismisses them like Jason Hall dismisses OU running backs, with authority.
Strong and his staff work. And work. And work some more. They evaluate and review and analyze. They take their time. Sometimes, they may take too much time, falling behind the curve while other programs throw out offers like candy at a July 4th parade.
There’s a method to it all though. Strong and his staff know from experience that all of those stars beside a players’ name mean nothing once they suit up. Strong knows what he wants and he goes about finding it, wherever he can. He’ll take his time and scour the landscape looking for the right players. When you only have 25 scholarships to hand out, you have to be careful about where you give them.
Strong’s “historic” 2011 class included 0 five star athletes and only 4 four stars. It was an underwhelming class made up of two and three star kids. 50% of them now reside on NFL rosters.
The long term success of any college program will rely heavily on recruiting, but it also relies on having a plan, an identity. Mack Brown’s downfall started when he tried to turn a team, especially an O line, recruited to play spread football and turn them into a power running team. We know how well that worked out.
Charlie Strong’s teams have an identity and he recruits guys who fit that identity, not to “win” the recruiting wars. He understands how to recruit and trusts his skills and the skills of his assistants to identify the players who fit.
He also understands that sometimes you have to change. This became apparent in securing the 2015 class. Yes, to the fears of many Longhorn fans, he tried to import his West Coast style offense from Louisville and yes, it failed. Strong looked at the recruiting landscape in Texas and correctly identified that he needed to change. He understands that they have to recruit Texas and in Texas, everybody plays the spread. So he adjusts and lands a bevy of athletes who should shine in a spread system.
It was the absolute right move for his team and for the quarterbacks on his roster. When prospective pocket quarterback Zach Gentry decommitted from the Horns, the staff didn’t try to replace him with another pocket passer. Instead they landed Kai Locksley, another talented multidimensional QB who should fit fine in a spread.
Malik Jefferson is a true blue chip recruit but Charlie Strong has proven that he can win with less heralded prospects. Mandatory Credit: Jonathan Dyer-USA TODAY Sports
It seems to be a simple change and a common sense one, but how many coaches fail because of their inability to adjust and adapt? How many coaches recruit to the rankings and then try to find a role for them? Strong doesn’t try to make players fit his mold, he finds guys he knows will fit already.
By refining their focus on particular skill sets and potential usage, Strong and his staff land players who already have a basic understanding of what is needed of them and the physical tools to execute. This allows coaches to focus on development once they get their recruits on campus.
2015 will offer Texas fans their first full view of what a “Strong guy” looks like on the field, but we already got a sneak peak last year. Jason Hall’s signing didn’t make much of an impact on the recruiting Richter Scale, but his impact on the field was tangible. Hall proved to be an important piece of an improved Texas defense and were it not for a late season injury he might have score some post season accolades.
Imagine what a team full of Halls will look like. If it looks anything like it did in Charlie’s last two years at Louisville, Texas fans will soon learn not to sweat the rankings. In the end, all that matters are the results.