- May 29, 2001
We're still a month and a little change away from Tom Herman officially hitting his 500th day in office as the CEO of the Texas football program, but things are kind of quiet this weekend and that's pretty rare, so I'm going to take the opportunity to take stock of Herman's opening (almost) 500 days from a tall perch while I can.
Too often and too easily the conversation can lock itself onto something like the offensive coordinator position in such a way that it becomes impossible for the masses to see the forest through the trees.
A frustrating 7-6 season can do the trick, too.
Those moments on the field that turn wins into wins and losses into further depression stand so tall that when the end arrives, it's mostly the only thing anyone remembers. Yet, there's more that impacts that transition to more wins than that other despair-creating alternative than those 12 Saturdays in the fall.
The other 353 days per year matter quite a bit as well, which is why it's probably a good time to view Herman's work from 30,000 feet.
One by one, let's take a look at the state of this program now that Herman is knee-deep in year two of this program transition.
What was being said in 2017: I'm not going to BS, this was probably the most worrisome area of the program for most of 2017. I can probably count on two hands the number of players that weren't being mentioned as possible transfer candidates. For most of Herman's first season, he didn't have a happy locker room ... and blame doesn't really matter. It was what it was and heading into 2018, it seemed from my perspective the biggest single thing that needed addressing inside the program.
What is being said today: The drama seems to have completely subsided. Whether it was the win in the bowl game, the departure of malcontents, something that Herman did in bowl workouts or some combination of all of those factors, the mood on the 40 Acres is seemingly so much lighter now than it was just a few short months ago. Cohesiveness hasn't occurred overnight, but things are trending in the right direction, which represents one of the best developments of the 2018 calendar year.
What was being said in 2017: The jury was out on Herman and his staff, mainly because many of the members of his new staff didn't have a reputation of being elite-level, proven recruiters. The general thinking was that the recruiting treasure would arrive for Herman and Co., but only if the results in the season would create the momentum needed. Hell, it was only 11 months ago when there was serious concern about the fact that the Longhorns hadn't received an in-state commitment by the time April rolled around.
What is being said today: Herman and his staff not only pulled in a consensus top-five class, but they did it in a way that many didn't think was possible ... no on-field momentum to serve as the launching pad for success. Instead, his staff buckled down, sold the future and recruited its collective butt off.
Let's take a look at the various elements of the recruiting game.
I. In-state Recruiting
Herman and Co. dominated the state of Texas, landing eight of the state's top 11 prospects and half of the Top 20. Along the way, they landed the top players in East Texas, San Antonio and four of the top five prospects in the Greater Houston area. They landed the state's top running back, wide receiver, defensive tackle, cornerback, safety and athlete.
Heading into the 2019 recruiting cycle, there are zero concerns about this staff's ability to recruit inside state borders. The only real area of concern at this point is the limited amount of success that the staff has had in the DFW area, which is an area that received less attention in 2018 than normal because it was such a strong year in the Greater Houston area and the majority of the staff's recruiting roots were planted in that area.
II. Out of State Recruiting
For the first time since the earliest days of the Mack Brown era, the Texas program recruited like a true national power and went wherever the talent was, recruiting roots be damned. Overall, Texas signed eight players from outside of the Lone Star State, including players from California, Florida, Missouri, Oklahoma and Utah.
Oh, and Australia, I forgot about Australia.
Perhaps the most impressive aspect of the success the staff had in year one is that it was able to go into areas not normally known for being Texas hotbeds and it made them new hotbeds. In a year when there were limitations in Texas at quarterback, defensive end and linebacker, the Longhorns went wherever they had to in an effort to fill those needs.
I'm not sure you can ask for more in this area.
III. Multi-year focus
This was an area in which Mack Brown and Charlie Strong both struggled for different reasons, but their collective preference was to approach each class, one at a time.
You just can't operate a successful major program in 2018 without being able to juggle multiple classes at the same time. It requires multi-level planning, advanced scouting and a tireless appetite for the grind.
Most of the 2019 kids that were on campus for the first weekend of Junior Days had not only been on campus before as a visitor, but they'd been on campus multiple times, which is critical to the bottom line. One look at the current recruiting landscape sees Texas hosting as many 2020 prospects right now as 2019 prospects.
Recruiting was checkers a decade ago, but it's chess in 2018 and Tom Herman has proven to be a nice chess player as it relates to recruiting.
This was an area of limited success for Herman and his staff upon arriving in Austin because those coaches weren't at Houston long enough for his first couple of classes to go through the process of either being huge successes or failures. It was quite different with Charlie Strong because his first Louisville recruiting class was outperforming national recruiting norms to wild extremes, as a large number of Strong's first class emerged as NFL drafted players, which earned him the benefit of the doubt in this area, upon his arrival.
Yet, while there's still a limited sample size for us to draw conclusions on, it has to be noted that a number of the staff's late editions to the 2018 recruiting class proved to be impact first-year players, many of whom had fairly small recruiting profiles.
Derek Kerstetter came out of nowhere to essentially start from Jump Street. Daniel Young was starting at the end of the season and he had few power conference offers when he flipped from Houston to Texas. Cade Brewer was a mid-three-star tight end prospect likely heading to SMU until Herman arrived, yet he was catching touchdowns at USC in the first month of his freshman season.
All three players were late, unheralded additions and all three made unexpected first-year contributions, which paints a good picture for the staff's ability to evaluate.
It's a mixed bag.
On the defensive of the ball, the likes of Poona Ford, Holton Hill, Kris Boyd, DeShon Elliott, Malik Jefferson and a number of others played the best football of their lives last season.
On the offensive side of the ball, it's much harder to find names for a roll call. It didn't happen at any position on the field with very many players to the naked eye, whether it was the quarterbacks, running backs, wide receivers of offensive linemen.
Going into the 2018 season, the challenge of the offensive coaches is to narrow the gap between one side of the ball and the other in this area.
It really is as simple as that.
Let's start with the biggest positives - Texas didn't kick off to start both the first and second half of any game this season and it's hard to remember a time in 2017 when I wondered if the members of the coaching staff could count.
The very basics of game management from the clock to the coin toss to game strategy were in much better hands than the previous three seasons, which represents important progress.
Still, there were a few questions that emerged in the 2017 season that will follow Herman and his staff into next season.
a. Offensive play-calling: I'm not going to get into it. You guys know what I'm talking about.
b. Players substitutions: The official stance on this is that position coaches were in charge of positional playing time, which some inside the program disputed to a degree, but the bottom line is that there were far too many times this season when the personnel on the field didn't match the situation/play-call on the field. From week to week, it just seemed like a guessing game of sorts.
c. Aggressiveness: Herman hates field goals and he really hates field goals once the offense has taken the ball inside the opponent's 10-yard line. There was a lot of discussion about the binder that Herman would reference when discussing his decisions to go for it on fourth downs, which on occasion meant that the Longhorns left points on the field. If calling a football game was a game of blackjack in Vegas, Herman would always be the guy that hits on 16. Some people are always going to tell Herman to take three points, but I'd offer that he subscribes to the Doug Pederson School of Aggressiveness. Personally, I like it.
I can't really speak about the things that happened in Houston or the relationship that he had with a media that certainly doesn't treat college football the way the media in Austin do.
What I can tell you is that I thought Herman made every attempt to pull off being both accessible and in total control, which is tough to do, but I'd give him solid grades in this area.
Hell, the media is always going to ask for more access, but I don't really have any issues with Herman's approach to the media.
He's no Urban Meyer and thank goodness for that.
Things are good here.
There's a lot of really good things happening inside the football program under Herman and it's impossible to close your eyes to that truth.
As someone who subscribes to the idea of the devil being in the details, I find Herman to be a very detail-oriented head coach and his ability to think three steps ahead of the game in numerous areas of the program is critical.
At the same time, there are areas that need improvement and it's easy to forget that Tom Herman had been a head coach for exactly two seasons before coming to Austin.
He's going to grow on this job and be better in future years in a lot of areas than he was in year one. Considering how well a lot of areas are already going, I think that should be viewed as a very exciting prospect.
It suggests the best days are ahead.
No. 2 - There's a reason why he was regarded as a five-star prospect ...
No. 3 - The three most important in-state recruits in 2019 ...
I'm not talking about the three best prospects, I'm talking about the three most important to the Texas program when you take the current roster and program needs into consideration.
Thus, you're not going to find any wide receivers or defensive backs listed. You always need more elite athletes, but I'm not sure those areas qualify as biggest needs, which makes it hard for them to be the most important.
Got it? Here we go.
Humble Atascocita offensive tackle Kenyon Green
The Longhorns have a lot of work to do in securing Green, but Herb Hand definitely has Texas in the hunt. I know some of you cringe at the thought of highly-rated offensive linemen after the slew of busts that have come through town in the last decade. Believe it or not, highly-rated offensive linemen that haven't attended Texas over that time have actually done pretty damn well. The math says that this guy is better than a 50-50 chance of emerging into a pro prospect.
Converse Judson defensive end/tackle/lineman DeMarvin Leal
I think this kid is going to be a Longhorn, which is a good thing for Texas because he might very well end up being a national top-25 prospect before the next 11 months go by. There's no player in the state I want to see at upcoming Rivals regional camps more than Leal.
Houston Mayde Creek defensive end Marcus Stripling
The most underrated physical monster in Texas, with the possible exception of the Leal. As big and athletic as Stripling is, he's incredibly raw ... which I love. Texas needs about a half-dozen Striplings on the roster at all times, so he probably needs to be the first.
No. 4 – The elephant in the room ...
That was a damn good win on Saturday.
As someone who went into Saturday with a healthy appreciation for the job the Texas basketball team has done in being able to keep the season from sinking, despite the loss of one key player after another in recent weeks, I didn't give the Longhorns much of a chance of winning two of their final three games once the Eric Davis Jr. story came out nine days ago.
Even after besting Kansas' daddy at home a week ago and hanging in tough against Oklahoma State's son on Big Monday, I felt like the trap door was going to meet this team's feet against a West Virginia team that absolutely obliterated it earlier in the season.
Whether Mo Bamba played or not, I expected West Virginia to beat Texas on Saturday morning. Period. That Bamba wasn't in the line-up made that even more certain in my mind an hour before tip-off.
So, what happens?
Shaka Smart's team pulled one more rabbit out of a hat with one of its most complete performances of the season, complete with high-level performances from players that have been role players for much of the season.
Suddenly, the season that so many gave up on months ago is alive and well in the early stages of March, as this team appears to be on the inside track towards an invite to the Big Dance. In a weird way, it seems like this team plays its best basketball right at the moment when its back gets pressed against a wall. In finding that level of fight inside of themselves, the Longhorns have given everyone slight pause towards how this season will ultimately be remembered.
Whatever pressure awaits this team in the Tournament won't hold a candle to what it has already dealt with.
No. 5 – Speaking of damn good coaches ...
Sometimes you just need a fresh start.
Rick Barnes is a perfect example.
By the end of his marriage to Texas, things had just grown to be a little stale. It's not that Barnes forgot how to coach or wasn’t giving maximum effort, it's just that it wasn't happening for him in Austin any longer.
Suddenly, in a new place and a chance to have all of his ideas be new all over again, Barnes is thriving. I don't know about the rest of you, but I was damn glad to see Barnes win a piece of the SEC title this year. The end of his run at Texas didn't change the fact that he's the greatest men's basketball coach in school history and that a lot of great memories were created while he was here.
Rick's good people and I like to see good people do well.
No. 6 - One step backwards, three steps forward...
I still don't know what to make out of the Texas baseball team, but I will say this about the Longhorns ... they're resilient.
After embarrassing themselves on Friday night against a Northwestern team that shouldn't be outclassing Texas at the Disch over nine innings, the Longhorns responded like a team that demands more of itself.
In the process, they paid the Wildcats back with a constant bludgeoning over the course of the next 25 innings in the series. In this case, you mess with the bull, you get the Longhorn.
Both of them.
Amazingly enough, we're two weeks away from the start of Big 12 play, so this team better figure out what it is going to be pretty quickly.
The team's resiliency might be the thing I like about it the most.
No. 7 – Buy or Sell …
BUY or SELL: Spring game attendance this year will surpass last year because of fan excitement coming off a bowl win, and because we finally moved it to a night game?
(Buy) You forgot to add that it isn't Easter weekend or competing with the Final Four.
BUY or SELL: CDC with Herman gets over 40k attendance for spring game.
BUY or SELL: There are 15 players on campus now that together will average at least 7 year NFL careers?
(Sell) I might buy the idea that there are 15 future pro players on the roster, but the league average for length of career is about four years. There aren't 15 players on this roster that are going to have that kind of career.
BUY or SELL: 85% of OB doesn't understand what the Texas Basketball program has had to deal with throughout the season and is taking their frustrations out on Coach Smart which is unjust?
(Sell) While I think Shaka's performance is underrated, he's paid a lot of money to win a lot of games and that hasn't yet happened in year three. The buck stops with him, which means that he's the guy to take frustrations out on when the expected success isn't there.
BUY or SELL: Football has a better chance of winning the conference next year than basketball next year or baseball this year?
(Buy) Yeah, I'll go with that.
BUY or SELL: Tom Herman lands more than 6 OOS players in the 2019 cycle?
(BUY) Yeah, I'll go with that, too.
BUY or SELL: Malik Jefferson is drafted early in the 3rd round?
(Sell) Somewhere in the 50s overall.
BUY or SELL: Is Sandra Locke the worst actress ever to have at least 10 films to her credit?
(Sell) How dare you say such a thing about the woman who gave us Lynn Halsey Taylor.
No. 8 – Eternal Randomness of the Spotty Sports Mind …
... So,it's Texas and Baylor in the Big 12 women's Tournament final?
... That Michigan loss actually turned out not to be such a terrible one by the end of the season. That team will be dangerous in the Tournament.
... Central Florida linebacker Shaquem Griffin doing 20 reps of 225 at the Combine with a prosthetic left hand might be one of the most impressive things I've seen from an athlete in a long time. And then he ran a 4.38 40-yard dash, which is the fastest time for a linebacker in the history of the combine.
... Seriously, a Rockets/Warriors series has a chance to be the best NBA playoff series in the last three decades. That's probably hyperbole and I don't even care.
... I never thought I'd see the day when Kawhi Leonard's name was in a story about not being
happy with his place in the shoe-brand world.
... PHIL MICKELSON, LADIES AND GENTLEMEN!!!! See you guys at Augusta.
... Leo Messi has a chance to be really good in the future if he can keep his head down, stay focused and not little things like his 600th goal sidetrack him. I see a high ceiling with that kid.
... No offense to Harry Kane or Kevin De Bruyne, both of whom have been sensational, but with nine games to go in the EPL season, Mo Salah is the EPL Player of the Year.
... Arsene Wenger is basically in the 2013 Mack Brown stretch of his career. Will there soon be a Red Banquet?
... It's only one game, but the Houston Dynamo looked absolutely fantastic in its thrashing of Atlanta in its season-opener. That game could have easily been 7-0 or 8-0. That team has my attention.
No. 9 – Scattershooting on Oscars Night…
... I thought Jimmy Kimmel was solid and safe, but I know a few of you probably hated it.
... Sam Rockwell was great in Three Billboards, flawed character development or not. Big fan of his, so I was happy to see him win.
... Not even Mary J. can save the middle part of the Oscars.
... Moral of the Supporting Actor categories? Playing a horrible person will set you up to win.
... I'm down for the Rosanne comeback.
... Mark Hamill with the worst joke of the night.
... Academy Award winner Kobe Bryant. Take that Mike.
... Armie Hammer with the hot dog cannon is the weirdest Oscar moment of all-time.
... Tiffany Haddish & Maya Rudolph need to host the Oscars next year.
... Good for Jordan Peele.
... Christopher Walken walked out and got a standing O. Hell yeah.
... Gary Oldman wins. Chalk.
... Frances McDormand wins. Chalk.
... F***ing Dory wins. I loved the movie so don't @ me. Good night.
No. 10 – And Finally …
Thirty-four years ago this weekend, Prince recorded "When Doves Cry."
While listening to the Purple Rain album on Friday, I felt like a very controversial opinion formed in my brain. When I was a kid, there was always a lot of Prince vs. Michael Jackson debate, especially when it came to the virtues of the album Purple Rain vs. the album Thriller. When I was a kid, I was always Team MJ.
All these years later, I'm not only 100-percent Team Prince, but I think Purple Rain has lapped it as a superior album. If "Beat It" or "Thriller" feel like authentic great 80s pop, the music that Prince made for the movie that he starred in feels even fresher and more transcendent than it did when it was released.
Purple Rain >>>>> Thriller.