During last year’s National Signing Day, Charlie Strong waited on Chris Warren to flip a coin. The coveted running back, down to Texas and Washington, pulled one out during his signing ceremony and gave it a toss. Heads. So he signed with Texas.
This year, the Longhorns are basically going to endure 15 more coin flips.
With eight days left on the clock, Strong and his coaches are still chasing more than a dozen uncommitted prospects and trying to convince five or six more to flip to Texas.
Before the season, Strong said he needed one more great recruiting class to get the program rolling again. That goal is certainly within reach. Of Texas' remaining targets, as many as 15 are ESPN 300 recruits. This is one mad dash to the finish line.
That nearly all of those targets have taken official visits to Texas this month has created a sense of momentum, but there is too much time left. We’ll find out how real that momentum is next Wednesday.
Welcome to the antithesis of the old Mack Brown recruiting blueprint. Back in 2011, every single eventual Texas signee committed before September of their senior year. In 2009, 19 of 20 signees committed before the end of May. Same deal in 2008.
With so many recruits locked in for long-term commitments, Brown’s signing days were typically a breeze. Get the faxes, hold a news conference, move on to the next class. In 2012, for example, Texas unexpectedly swiped one player (defensive end Shiro Davis from LSU) and it was hailed as a gigantic day. Next week, a gigantic signing day for Texas just might mean 10 new commitments.
The philosophy Strong has demonstrated couldn’t be more different. Less pressure early. Encourage kids to take their time and all their visits. Don’t panic or give up if they make early commitments. Once they’ve seen it all, get 'em back to Austin and close the deal in January.
Back in Brown's heyday, of course, most kids were ready to commit as soon as they were offered at junior day. That’s no longer the case for the Longhorns. Their position in the state has diminished. Their rivals are better. When you aren’t winning, it takes more time and more effort to convince elite prospects to sign up.
Still, Strong seems to prefer doing things this way. He’s fond of comparing early commitments to dinner reservations. That’s how a lot of recruits treat their pledges these days. In Strong’s 2015 class, nine Texas signees had previously committed elsewhere.
The fact Strong is even in the mix for players like Chris Daniels today suggests he’s not wrong. Texas did not offer the ESPN 300 talent from Euless, Texas, until the day before his mid-December commitment ceremony. Too late, right? Daniels picked Oklahoma on his birthday. Even unveiled an Oklahoma cake. Still, he visited Texas this month and decommitted from the Sooners a few days later.
One benefit of taking the low-pressure approach early on: Texas coaches have had more freedom to evaluate players during their senior seasons.
"Remember this: A lot of kids, they develop late, too," Texas defensive coordinator Vance Bedford said this fall. "A lot of players have been missed here, and other places, over the last five years because of early commitments of guys who didn’t pan out."
Texas did enjoy another hot finish to recruiting last year, but that was a different deal. Malik Jefferson's commitment on Dec. 19 turned the tide. His popularity and his recruiting efforts made the difference for a class ranked No. 9 nationally. This time around, the guys atop Texas' board -- the ones who can swing a class -- are waiting until signing day.
"Oh there’s a top dog out there," Bedford said with a grin in November. "There’s a bunch of 'em. There’s about two or three guys out there that when they make a decision, I think other guys will follow."
Safe to say safety Brandon Jones and linebacker Jeffrey McCulloch are two of Texas' top dogs. The Horns will have to beat out Texas A&M, Baylor and Arkansas for Jones and hold off A&M, Stanford and Notre Dame for McCulloch.
Winning either battle would be huge for the Horns, but those are just two names at the top of a lengthy list of prospects still considering joining Strong’s rebuilding efforts in Austin.
None are currently expected to flip coins -- most should stick to their collection of hats -- but they are going to keep Strong and Texas sweating down to the last minute.