Football

Where’s the buzz? Tom Herman faced challenges in his first Texas class

Posted January 31st, 2017

Story highlights
  • Mack Brown left Charlie Strong 22 commitments for 2014 and another nine for 2015. Strong left Tom Herman with nine for 2017.
  • Texas' current class has 16 players and is ranked 25th nationally heading into national signing day. Three key targets will announce on Wednesday.
  • This year's class will be small, but UT will get a quarterback, a running back, a kicker, two tight ends and a middle linebacker that might become an instant starter.

If it doesn’t feel like the Longhorns have any buzz going into national signing day, well, look at the situation that Texas coach Tom Herman inherited two months ago.

When Herman took over for Charlie Strong on Nov. 26, there were seven players committed for the Longhorns’ 2017 recruiting class. One of those recruits wasn’t going to qualify academically, several sources said, and chose to “decommit” to minimize embarrassment.

Compare that to what Mack Brown left Strong in December 2013, when Texas had 22 recruits lined up for the 2014 class and nine were already pledged for 2015, the highest total in the nation at the time.

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Strong’s staff spent this past October and November trying to save their jobs, so recruiting went on the back burner. Herman arrived and said his staff would “swing for the fences.” But they discovered a harsh truth — the UT logo just isn’t that powerful. Such is the effect of a 16-21 record.

Today’s high school senior was 5 or 6 years old when the Longhorns won the 2005 national title. Kindergarteners don’t remember what happened on fourth-and-5. Now as high schoolers, all they’ve seen is three straight losing seasons.

Galena Park North shore defensive end K'Lavon Chaisson chases Westlake quarterback Sam Ehlinger during the 2015 Class 6A Division 1 state championship. (Karen Warren/Houston Chronicle)
Galena Park North shore defensive end K’Lavon Chaisson chases Westlake quarterback Sam Ehlinger during the 2015 Class 6A Division 1 state championship. (Karen Warren/Houston Chronicle)

Herman will sign a full complement of players on Wednesday and address some important needs. He’s already added a quarterback, a running back and a kicker as mid-term enrollees. The Longhorns are expected to sign two tight ends, two pass rushers and a junior college linebacker who could become an instant starter.

Texas can still generate some heat on signing day. Three major targets have yet to announce their college decisions — Galena Park North Shore defensive end K’Lavon Chaisson, Westlake offensive tackle Stephan Zabie and Florida receiver Jordan Pouncey.

At the moment, the Longhorns’ class sits at 25th nationally in the 247Sports team composite rankings. Those three Wednesday additions would lift the Horns well into the top 20 on all the major recruiting sites.

This class was going to be small regardless, simply because of how many players Strong signed the last two years, which were both labeled top-10 classes.

In reality, the 2017 season has little to do with these recruits Herman is signing Wednesday. His entire first season will be about his ability to take an overwhelmingly young roster of players and coach ’em up. The cake simply needs to be iced, sliced and served, according to Strong, remember?

Brown was a firm believer in recruiting early, making national signing days something of a formality. Strong simply had to keep that first recruiting class together, pick up some odds and ends and start meeting Texas high school coaches. Strong just wanted to reach the finish line and start focusing on spring practice.

“I’m still 100 percent committed,” Corpus Christi Flour Bluff defensive back Jalen Campbell told the American-Statesman after Brown’s departure. He was a 2015 commitment. “Being a Longhorn is more important to me than the coach.”

Campbell ended up at Sam Houston State.

Texas head coach Charlie Strong announces his 2016 recruiting class during a national signing day press conference in the Moncrief Athletics Complex at Royal-Memorial Stadium Wednesday, Feb. 3, 2016. Stephen Spillman for American-Statesman
Texas head coach Charlie Strong announces his 2016 recruiting class during a national signing day press conference in the Moncrief Athletics Complex at Royal-Memorial Stadium Wednesday, Feb. 3, 2016. Stephen Spillman for American-Statesman

Strong eventually signed 17 players that had originally committed to Brown. That included Jerrod Heard and the Foreman twins, Armanti and D’Onta. The former was a two-star add-on nobody thought much about. D’Onta Foreman went on to win the Doak Walker Award this past season as the nation’s best running back.

Strong filled out the 2014 class with tight end Blake Whiteley, outside linebacker Edwin Freeman, offensive linemen Alex Anderson and Elijah Rodriguez, and defensive tackles Poona Ford and Chris Nelson. Of those six, only Ford and Nelson were key contributors last season.

That track record matches up with Herman’s comments about Ohio State’s first recruiting class under Urban Meyer in 2012. “There were 19 kids that signed on signing day, not counting mid-year guys,” Herman said in early January. “Of those 19, three of them played significantly.”

Ohio State wide receiver Michael Thomas, left, and offensive coordinator Tom Herman slap hands during practice at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas, on Saturday, Jan. 10, 2015. David Jablonski/Dayton Daily News
Ohio State wide receiver Michael Thomas, left, and offensive coordinator Tom Herman slap hands during practice at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas, on Saturday, Jan. 10, 2015. David Jablonski/Dayton Daily News

Herman said the metrics and analytics show that recruiting classes assembled during a coaching change “has the most misses in terms of guys who can’t play and it has the most off-field issues.”

Ohio State’s 2012 recruiting class had 26 players and was ranked fifth nationally. The group included two five-star players and 14 four-star recruits. The Buckeyes went on to win the 2014 national title.

Herman knows this class will have some whiffs; all recruiting classes do. He simply wants to minimize those. That’s likely why he went after players his coaches staff had come to know last season. UT will sign three players that originally committed to Houston, Herman’s previous employer.

Max Cummins, a defensive end from Fort Worth All-Saints, said assistant coach Oscar Giles watched practically all of his game film and wanted Cummins in Houston. Giles made the switch to UT, kept the dialogue going and now Cummins is set to become a Longhorn.

Herman is a huge believer in relationships. While this recruiting class may not be the talk of national signing day, Herman and his crew have already started working on the 2018 class. One year from now, UT fans will have more information to judge.

If Texas really wants to start winning in February again, the Longhorns need to start winning in the fall. The previous coach had it the other way around. And he’s gone.

Contact Brian Davis at 512-445-3957. Email bdavis@statesman.com.

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