Memo to Mack Brown: Don’t Feed The Animals. The recruiting monster that has been created by the likes of Tom Lemming, rivals.com, scout.com, and various other college football recruiting sites has grown so enormous that I don’t see any way to tame it. Choosing not to feed it might be Mack Brown’s only chance at a return to glory in Austin. Too much hype, too early, is the culprit for the downfall of Texas Longhorns football.
Despite throwing his previous coaching staff under the bus and blaming them for mediocrity in 2010, the fact is that the Texas Longhorns are 13-12 over the past two seasons, and likely not in the national title hunt this season despite a soft schedule, because they missed badly on recruits. That same staff that helped Mack Brown lead Texas to the 2009 BCS Championship Game didn’t suddenly forget how to coach in 2010. I have a hard time believing that they got lazy. It’s pretty clear to me that they simply have dropped the ball in recruiting over the past three or four years, at a minimum.
Texas is set up not to fail. They have one of the largest fanbases in the nation. Boosters who write checks are abundant. The stadium seats over 100,000…and it stays full. The Longhorns have the state-of-the-art facilities that are a prerequisite for success now. Austin is an attractive city, and Brown’s staff basically doesn’t have to leave the state to recruit. They have decades of tradition, and despite the epic fail that the LHN has become (from ESPN’s perspective at least), the Horns are in the national spotlight. Fair or not, the baseline expectation is to be in the National Title hunt every year. So what’s the problem?
The Horns have relied heavily on targeting premiere prospects too early. Essentially, Brown has 90% of each of his recruiting classes identified and verbally committed 13 months prior to National Signing Day, at a minimum. They’ve targeted guys and earned their commitments, without factoring in character, maturity, and whether or not the guy had peaked early.
We see feel good stories every year about kids that were “late bloomers”. Not highly recruited out of high school, they end up at a mid-major, or a 1AA or D2 program, and then we see them making a name for themselves in the NFL. But rarely does anybody discuss the opposite end of that spectrum…the guys that peak early. They dominate at the high school level as sophomores and juniors, physically they are already incredibly athletic, ripped, and appear ready to step on the college playing field immediately. And then they hit that wall and never take the next step.
I have no scientific data to fall back on here, but I think it’s pretty obvious looking at the on-field production, the number of alleged “Four Star” and “Five Star” recruits that have fizzled in Austin, and the number of guys with that “Four Star” and “Five Star” label who’ve ended up transferring out of the program lesser schools. For whatever reason, Brown and his staff have identified an unacceptable number of guys that peaked early.
Instead of targeting kids and beginning the recruiting process before they have a driver’s license, it might be more prudent for the Texas Longhorns to sit back and observe these athletes and see how they handle themselves after their junior season and leading into their senior season. None of them can sign on the dotted line until the first Wednesday in February after their senior season anyway.
Boise State, TCU, and Baylor have been superior programs to Texas over the past two seasons, and their rosters are mostly comprised of young men that didn’t get the mega recruiting hype from the services, weren’t committed by December after their junior season, and certainly weren’t conducting many press conferences on their high school campuses to discuss their ”decision”.
In theory, every game on the schedule this season is winnable for Mack Brown. But if the end result is something more along the lines of 8-4 or 9-3, who will he blame?