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Charlie & The Commitments - When does honoring the past's future promises end?

When does Charlie Strong get to run his own program? Answer: the day after signing day 2014.

Erich Schlegel

When does a new head coach escape from the promises of a previous regime?

That question was raised recently when the Texas staff informed Brown era early 2015 DB commitments Jalen Campbell and Johnny Shaw (reducing the Longhorns to 8 verbal commitments for 2015) that their current offers were non-committable, subject to re-evaluation, and would need to be re-earned in the Fall.  Some Longhorn fans didn't like that.

If you're an SEC fan, the answer to the commitment question is that no head coach has any obligation to honor his own commitments - much less those of a prior staff - up to and including signing day itself.  While that strikes many of us as unseemly against the backdrop of the classic student-athlete model, it distills the recruiting process to its base elements - the never-ending attempt from both recruits and coaches to find the best situation available.  Sometimes, this is also referred to as "the real world."

Texas fans are the rare college fan base that gives more than lip service to propriety while still demanding elite results. Unfortunately, the moral crusading can take on an eye-rolling dimension when fans apply the model of the old regime, often just laziness dressed up as morality, including the operating assumption that 17 and 18 year old young men competing for scholarships are fragile "kids" made of fine porcelain and that their having to go to Texas Tech or Arizona to play football instead of Texas is a brutal attack on their self-esteem and a lifelong sentence to marginalization.

When Strong took over the Texas job weeks before 2014 signing day, he promised to honor all scholarship offers from the previous regime.  Part of that decision was purely practical, but some of it was ethical.

Strong's decision included honoring a commitment from Newton's Kevin Shorter - an injured prospect unlikely to be cleared to play football ever again.  He also honored the commitments of a few athletes that, to put it kindly, would not have been on his recruiting board and are unlikely to contribute at Texas.  If he were purely mercenary, we'd have jettisoned them, banked a few scholarships for 2015 for his own signature mega-class, or added some late additions more to his liking.  Recall that the Texas staff added late commitments from South Carolina DT Poona Ford, DT Chris Nelson, promising OL like Alex Anderson and Elijah Rodriguez and in-state stud Edwin Freeman.

It's not infeasible to think that he could have added more. Or simply kept his powder dry for 2015.

Instead, Strong honored every promise made by the prior regime.

Which brings us to 2015.  The year 2015, it turns out...IS HAPPENING IN 2015.  Right now, it's April, 2014.  These are juniors and there are senior seasons left to play. The notion that Strong must blindly honor scholarship offers made by a prior regime 10 months out from signing day is mind-boggling.  The players have plenty of time to find new suitors or prove their value to Texas.  This isn't a late-in-the-process horse switch.

If anything, Strong is guilty of a lack of calculation and Machiavellian best practices.  Most coaches wouldn't free the birds in hand until they had the position upgrade safely snared from the bush.  Cut them in August when you have their four star replacements in hand.

Clearly, this isn't purely about talent.  Strong also rescinded the scholarship offer (and acceptance) of 2016 WR Reggie Hemphill from Manvel - widely considered the best receiving prospect in his class.  Why?  Probably because Strong didn't know him and wanted to do his own evaluation beyond the film room.  Strong is recruiting mindsets and attitudes as much as 40 times and vertical leaps.  Perhaps Texas offended Hemphill and he's gone forever.  Or maybe Strong sent a message that's bigger than any one recruit and will win Hemphill back on his own terms.

Does this mean Strong's approach is correct in terms of pure win optimization?  I have no idea.  Perhaps he'll deeply offend high school coaches who can't bear to see their athlete hung out to dry a mere 300 days from Signing Day. Perhaps Shaw and Campbell go on to superstardom and it's a bad eval on Strong's part.  But the notion that it's any way unseemly is brain dead.  This is Strong's program.  He gets to choose who is in it.  We get to evaluate him on the final merits of those decisions.  That's how it works.

We don't get to hold him to the long-term promises made by a regime that was one game over .500 (18-17) in Big 12 play and lost 21 games overall over the last four years while evidencing the collective urgency of a sloth riot.

Does anyone really have a problem with that?