The moment Texas’ recruiting rivals have been fearing has arrived.
Despite all of his success on the recruiting trail and a top-10 finish this past February, Charlie Strong’s 2017 class had been stuck in the mud for months because prospects weren’t sure whether he would return to the sideline in Austin next season. That question has now been answered, as the University of Texas fired Strong on Saturday and announced the hiring of former Houston coach Tom Herman.
"If you thought H-Town Takeover was big, just wait until Tom gets to Austin,” a Big 12 assistant said. “It's going to be an entire state of Texas takeover. He's recruited at such a high level everywhere that he's been, so it's realistic to expect immediate success. You saw what he did at Houston without half the resources he will have at Texas. It's kind of scary to think how well he might do."
Texas currently has seven commitments, including five ESPN 300 recruits: QB Sam Ehlinger, defensive ends Ta'quon Graham and Lagaryonn Carson, and receivers Damion Miller and Montrell Estell. As another Big 12 recruiter said when he first heard the news about Strong’s departure, the move could be the best thing to happen for the Longhorns’ recruiting effort in years.
“I was rooting for Charlie to stick around because he’s a good guy, but also selfishly because I didn’t want to see the beast awoken again,” the Big 12 recruiter said. “We knew what we were recruiting against with Charlie Strong. With all of the uncertainly that surrounded him, it was easy for us to do damage going head-to-head against them. They weren’t going to beat anybody, but I’m afraid we’re going to get caught up in a wave of excitement that nobody will be able to stop.
“They just hit the reset button on the all of the recruiting wars in Texas.”
A Big Ten assistant who recruits in Texas agreed. He said few schools in the country can match what UT brings to the table from a tradition, facility, academic support and fan support standpoint. The only thing that has been missing from the Longhorns’ recruiting efforts for 2017 has been excitement, but he believes that’s going to quickly change with a new coach on board.
“We’re going to get steamrolled by that momentum,” he said. “… Texas already has so many advantages over every school it recruits against, other than maybe Ohio State and Alabama. But now they’re going to have all those advantages, a fired-up fan base, and high school coaches throughout the state that will likely be willing to bend over backwards to help the new guy bring the Longhorns back to the top.
“I told our coaches in a staff meeting on Monday, the best way to look at it, is that no commitment is safe in Texas if the Longhorns’ new coach comes knocking on their door.”
Don’t be shocked if several of Texas’ top recruits initially rule out the Longhorns, because Strong was very popular with prospects and their families. But one SEC recruiting coordinator said even the best players will get caught up with the hype around Herman and the Horns and will eventually give Texas a strong look.
“Experience tells me there will be a handful of top prospects that will drop Texas because of this,” the SEC coach said. “But they almost always come back around once the new guy gets into the living room. Players are drawn to a place like Texas, not just because of who the coach was, but because of so many other reasons. I wouldn’t be surprised if they pull of some shockers in late December and January.”
That’s where Herman comes in. The 41-year-old’s ties to the Lone Star State are extensive. He was an assistant at five different schools in the state and coached in the Big 12 at Iowa State.
And Herman’s success recruiting the state has proved how much those connections matter. As an assistant at Ohio State, Herman landed Dontre Wilson and J.T. Barrett out of Texas in the 2013 class. At Houston, the #HTownTakeover energized the Cougars’ recruiting and impressed recruits. That energy helped Houston land its best-ever recruiting class, including Ed Oliver, the only five-star prospect to ever sign with a Group of 5 school.
Now it’s up to Herman to bring all that together and unleash it in Austin.
"If there ever was anybody that was ready to recruit at this level and under the microscope that you're under when you're the coach at Texas, it's Tom Herman,” an SEC assistant said. “He showed me when he was in Ohio State that he was not only a very good coach, but a dynamite recruiter. He pulled some guys at Houston they had no business getting.
"He so charismatic and full of energy. He's going to get a lot of prospects and moms and dads fired up about the Texas program in a way that we never saw under Charlie Strong."