Excerpted from the 2014 Longhorn Football Prospectus: Thinking Texas Football.
Check out the Optimist's view here.
The Pessimist's View
Oversteering is, without question, a fact of life in just about every regime change. Oversteering makes for a fine explanation of how Texas managed to find itself wandering the college football wilderness for the better part of twenty years. And oversteering might have even been the culprit behind Texas’ repeated failures to make a championship hire despite our myriad advantages. All those built-in bonuses of being capital-T Texas that are so numerous and so obvious that everyone has to acknowledge them…except for all those top recruits who seemed to miss the memo from roughly 1984-1997. That's a sobering thought right there – the idea that the kind of elite talent that is any championship program’s lifeblood could gaze towards our hallowed 40 Acres, see the history and legacy and wonders contained therein and say, "Nah – I’m good."
You know what makes it especially sobering? The fact that it’s happening again.
The Optimists are calling on all those recruits to behold the majesty of Charlie Strong, Real Football Coach, and be overcome with awe. But are those recruits supposed to be more impressed than Texas’ own power base? Dissension and factionalism among the good ol’ boys and money men may have unduly hindered Texas’ fortunes during those wilderness years. But all you have to do is hear Red McCombs – yeah, the guy with the whole blessed BUSINESS SCHOOL named after him – allow as to how Charlie Strong might make a good coordinator to remind you that that dissension and factionalism and good old fashioned petulance are alive and well. McCombs may have quickly taken a Public Relations 101 tack to walk those comments back, but you’re taking a graduate-level Mythology course if you think that they weren’t spurred by a grievance both deeply held and likely shared by some other members of the Billionaire Boys’ Club.
For some of those guys, the grievance is simply that Mack is no longer around to warm their box seats with his bonhomie. For others, it’s that their pet candidate didn’t get the gig. If you want to denounce the Mackolytes, be my guest. Plenty of Mack’s coaching "qualities" begged to be oversteered away from, and when it comes to developing talent that’s all well and good. When it comes to getting talent in the door in the first place, though, in 2014 Texas needs a better sales job than even the one Mack managed on arrival.
When Mack got off the plane in ’98, Texas was down…but the surrounding landscape was all but barren of elite teams for a thousand miles in any direction, and for all of 1997’s woes Texas had still bagged two conference titles in the past three seasons. By contrast, Charlie Strong is walking into a hornet’s nest of resurgent conference foes, an entrenched SEC presence in the state and a program that’s grown stale. You’ll never get any objection from the Burnt Orange faithful when you hold up DKR as an exemplar of all that’s great and good about coaching, and we can all cheer the echoes of DKR that we see in Strong. But like it or not, we’re (at least) thirty years past the point where square jaws, shirt sleeves and single-bar facemasks were the currency of game-changing, difference-making recruits. In 2014, the currency that those guys trade in...is swag.
We can all find it refreshing that Charlie Strong’s race just kind of "is," in the same way that Kevin Sumlin at A&M is thought of as a coach first and a black coach later (if at all.) But the biggest factor in Texas' recruiting landscape today isn’t a black coach. Instead, it was college football’s biggest black swan event in the past thirty seasons. Namely, a three-star recruit who was half a safety and half a criminal becoming history’s first freshman Heisman winner for an in-state rival. What's more, he bagged the Heisman in the same season that said rival moved to a conference which ESPN just so happens to have a billion-dollar incentive to hype. While a goose might lay a golden egg, this particular black swan deposited a bank vault’s worth of swag on the Ags. Kevin Sumlin is currently swimming in that swag. Rolling in it. Sliding pantsless down piles of it like Scrooge McDuck. And oh, by the way, he’s also scattering it throughout the state to lure the lion’s share of top talent on both sides of the ball.
If you’re scoring at home: the Ags have the swag, Baylor and Oklahoma State are blowing out bulbs on the scoreboard on a weekly basis and the SEC now considers it open season on Texas high schoolers. And that’s simply too much for square jaws, shirt sleeves and single-bar facemasks to overcome. Right now, the state’s elite talent pictures A&M as four years co-piloting the Swagcopter and pictures Texas as four years of Charlie Strong standing over them like the D.I. in Officer and a Gentleman, demanding fifty more pushups in a driving rainstorm. Will some guys embrace the challenge and relish the fact that Strong’s relentless grind will bring out their best as players and men? Sure. But not enough guys to counter the procession of elite talent following swag’s siren call.
Strong possessing a massive coaching edge over Mack Brown isn’t that hard to believe. A massive coaching edge over Mike Gundy or Art Briles or Kevin Sumlin probably doesn’t exist…at least not in sufficient proportion to counteract a growing talent advantage in their favor. Texas’ 2014 recruiting class had its bright spots, but it’s not the stuff from which title contenders are made. The 2015 class looks more promising…until you compare it to the hauls that Baylor and A&M are bringing aboard. Or until you consider that we’re one David Ash injury away from a 6-6 campaign that knocks even more luster off of an ailing Longhorn brand.
If that happens, we add a second straight ho-hum class to a fifth straight sub-par season. And all those good ol’ boys start whispering bad ol’ things in their luxury boxes while holding tight to the dollars that they’d earmarked for Foundation donations. And the good buzz dissipates, and the bad buzz builds, and that 2016 class doesn’t blow anyone away, either. And THEN we’re fighting an uphill battle with three straight years of average talent forming the heart and soul of the team. And for all of Charlie Strong’s estimable qualities, there’s just no way to beat enough toughness into or coax enough excellence out of guys who face that kind of talent deficit relative to the competition. And then we’re all just marking time until the end of Strong’s tenure.
And then all those fractious, fractured factions lunge for the wheel, looking to steer us someplace else.
If the Pessimist has you feeling down, don't worry - the Realist will be along in Part III to get things back on an even keel.
This introductory excerpt represents just 4 of the 201 pages of our 2014 Texas Football Preview. If you're a serious Longhorn or Big 12 football fan who values smart writing and even-handed analysis, it's well worth your time.