- Max Olson, ESPN Staff Writer
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Mack Brown prides himself on being a football connoisseur. He'll admit he watches more games, both college and pro, on any given weekend than your average coach.
But will he be watching the Heisman Trophy ceremony Saturday night?
But if Brown is watching, he might recognize one of the finalists, Texas A&M's Johnny Manziel. He could have been a Longhorn, you know.
So could have last year's winner, Robert Griffin III of Baylor. Heck, Texas even got Stanford's 2011 Heisman runner-up, Andrew Luck, on campus. Didn't offer.
Any one of them could have been the next great quarterback at Texas, the guy who followed in Young and McCoy's footsteps.
Instead, the Longhorns once again are facing a crisis at the game's most important position. After all this time, David Ash and Case McCoy (Colt's brother) are still battling for the job. Texas now is looking into the once-unthinkable shortcut of recruiting junior college quarterbacks.
All this could have been avoided had Texas just landed one of the many program-changing signal-callers. But it's not that easy.
"I wish we had a crystal ball in our staff room, and we could all go there and watch," Texas recruiting coordinator Bruce Chambers said in an April interview with HornsNation. "All we'd have to do was give it a name, and it would tell us what that guy would be like in three years. But we don't have that."
You'd think that Texas, of all schools, could at least afford one.
Ever since Colt McCoy arrived in Austin in 2005, Texas has failed to sign and develop a suitable successor. Not that the Longhorns didn't have options.
Their home state is enjoying a veritable golden era for quarterbacks, and the Longhorns just can't seem to get in on it.
From 2005 to 2012, more than 180 quarterbacks from the state of Texas signed with Football Bowl Subdivision schools. The 2013 class will push that number to at least 204.
You'll recognize a few of the names in that group.
Andy Dalton. Matthew Stafford. Christian Ponder. Then there are the rookies: Griffin, Luck, Ryan Tannehill and Nick Foles. They're all NFL starting quarterbacks. Only Stafford and Griffin were offered by UT.
And then, of course, there's the record-setting Aggie.
Manziel, from Kerrville (Texas) Tivy, wasn't recruited as a quarterback by the Longhorns. He was evaluated as a defensive back but didn't land an offer.
Texas' baseball program, by the way, did offer the two-sport recruit. But Manziel's only in-state football options were Rice and, eventually, Texas A&M.
"Johnny dreamed of playing in Austin," former Tivy coach Mark Jones told the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. "He absolutely loved Texas I guess from when he was a little kid. If Texas had offered him a scholarship even as an offensive lineman, he would have taken it."
Jones does let one Longhorns coach off the hook. Secondary coach Duane Akina fought for taking Manziel as a QB. He believed in "Johnny Football." But he couldn't convince Texas' offensive staff.
How did RG3 get away? Brown puts that one on former Texas defensive coordinator Larry Mac Duff. Copperas Cove, Texas, was in his recruiting territory.
"I don't remember what the conversations [about Griffin] were," Brown said last year. "Which is bad."
Texas actually did offer Griffin, but as an athlete. He had no interest in that label. In fact, that offended him. He's a quarterback.
When reached by phone to discuss how he'd let the Heisman winner get away, Mac Duff said he's not talking about his one-year tenure at UT. But he's not taking the blame for Griffin, either.
"I did not recruit RG3 because I was not part of that quarterback evaluation that year," Mac Duff said. "I saw him practice, and obviously he turned out to be a great athlete. Talk to somebody else on that staff."
Well, what about Luck? Some say the Houston Stratford product had little interest in Texas from the get-go. He moved around several times in his childhood and wasn't a born-and-bred Texan. He had his eye on out-of-state schools.
And yet, Texas did bring Luck to campus in February 2007 for a junior day. He left without an offer. The Longhorns didn't take a quarterback from the 2008 class that featured Luck and Griffin. They instead opted to go all-in on Garrett Gilbert for 2009.
That was no gamble at the time. Gilbert was the All-American from nearby Lake Travis. You don't pass on prototypical 6-foot-4, 195-pound local kids who break the state passing record.
Had Gilbert panned out, none of the misses would have mattered. He'd be a senior right now, one final start in burnt orange from the beginning of his NFL career.
That Gilbert was a bust who transferred to SMU doesn't make him the fall guy for all this. After enjoying six consecutive years of elite quarterback play under Young and Colt McCoy, Texas simply wasn't prepared for the possibility that Gilbert might fail.
The Longhorns got a brutal reminder that in many ways, yes, quarterback recruiting can be a crapshoot.
The Lone Star State produces, on average, more than 20 quarterback recruits annually. In each class, Texas has narrowed down its choice to just a few by the time the players reach their junior seasons.
That leads to difficult decisions based on limited research. It's one of the few burdens of having the pick of the litter year after year.
Today there are 97 quarterbacks playing FBS football who hail from the state of Texas. Exactly 20 of them are listed as QB No. 1 on their respective team's depth chart. Texas can't take them all.
All a Texas recruiter can do, Chambers said, is what's best for the program at that particular time. You pick who you like and who fits the system, and you hope for the best. There's no room for second-guessing.
"I don't think that's something that, as a coach, you should even listen to," Chambers said. "Most of the time, you're going to have more information than they have. We have more information."
That information through evaluation is critical, but it can curb only so much risk. Talent is hard to miss. The concept of the "best fit" is a bit more of a moving target.
Manziel, remember, could be a backup quarterback preparing for baseball season or even a wide receiver had Kevin Sumlin not taken over A&M. Not a Heisman finalist. His talent, like Griffin's, was maximized by the scheme in which he played.
Second-year Texas offensive coordinator Bryan Harsin didn't recruit Gilbert, Ash or Case McCoy. Since taking over the Longhorns' offense, he has primarily recruited dual-threat quarterbacks. They are what best fit his plans for the future.
"How many plays did Colt and Vince make when it was third-and-4, people were covered and they ran for a first down?" Brown said this fall. "The better defenses have gotten -- everybody can run on defense -- you've got to have a guy who can make plays with his feet."
The solution to the Longhorns' quarterback problem might be incoming four-star freshman Tyrone Swoopes. Or it could be freshmen Connor Brewer or Jalen Overstreet. It might still be Ash or Case McCoy, or some hired gun from the juco ranks.
One year later, all we really know is this: The desperate search for Texas' next great Heisman-caliber quarterback isn't over.