Texas Head Coach Tom Herman speaks during a press conference as he updates the local media about his coaching staff on Thursday, Jan 5, 2017. RICARDO B. BRAZZIELL/AMERICAN-STATESMAN

Cedric Golden

American-Statesman Staff

Column

Golden: Leitao decision signifies change in Texas football philosophy

If incoming tight end Reese Leitao slips up again off the field, it's Tom Herman's reputation that'll be on the line.

Posted June 1st, 2017

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Story highlights
  • Leitao was arrested on a felony drug possession charge, but pleaded down to a misdemeanor.
  • Herman's decision contrasted with the philosophy of Charlie Strong, who had little tolerance for drug offenders.
  • Texas AD Mike Perrin, who met with Leitao and his family, said he believes Leitao is contrite.

Reese Leitao deserves a second chance.

But not at Texas.

When the Jenks tight end got caught with 20 Xanax pills and $1,300 in cash and, according to the arrest affidavit, admitted to selling drugs, he would have forfeited any chance to play for me had I been the University of Texas’ head coach, athletic director or president. He would have had to re-enter the recruiting game and convince some other football program to take him on.

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Jenks football player Reese Leitao (36) (make sure this is correct player, Barry Lewis). Taken on Tuesday, May 17, 2016. CORY YOUNG/Tulsa World

Luckily for Leitao, Texas coach Tom Herman is taking a different approach, a risky one at that.

Longhorn Nation is split on whether the 2017 Longhorns signee should be allowed to be a part of the program, and it’s understandable. Where do you draw the line? Was this simply a case of a young man making one mistake or was this merely the first time he was caught?

Herman would not have pursued a talented tight end prospect who was facing a felony drug charge, but a talented tight end prospect who pleaded down to a misdemeanor was enough for him to pull the trigger with the blessing of UT athletic director Mike Perrin and the apparent approval of UT President Gregory L. Fenves.

RELATED: Texas officials will allow Jenks TE Reese Leitao to keep scholarship

“All indications are that he’s a young man with a history of good character and behavior who made a poor decision,” Perrin said in a statement. “I recently met with Reese and his parents and found him to be contrite, sincere and accountable for his actions. He has taken ownership of his mistake and the consequences that come with it.”

This would never have happened under Charlie Strong’s watch because Strong’s stance against drugs was well documented. Leitao would have gotten the gate without a second thought.

Guess what else didn’t happen under Strong? Wins. And that’s part of the reason Herman is taking this gamble. He’s here to win games first and influence people second. Don’t get it twisted. When Strong got hired, I said on more than one occasion: If he loses, he will be that real nice man who used to coach at Texas.

Texas Longhorns Head Coach Tom Herman during the Orange and white spring football game on Saturday, April 15, 2017 RICARDO B. BRAZZIELL/AMERICAN-STATESMAN

Strong parted ways with players who weren’t able to follow his rules for one reason or another, but wasn’t able to get enough victories with a locker room full of solid citizens to keep his job.

Herman has brought a new excitement to the program even if some fans aren’t on board with this move.

“We knew it was a new era when we started taking drug dealers,” one fan commented on our Facebook page Wednesday.

Someone with Leitao’s baggage would never have made it to Austin over the last three seasons once the news of his arrest became public record, but this is a new Texas regime and Herman is risking his reputation on a position that hasn’t been a reliable part of any UT offense since Jermichael Finley left town.

He took some heat for bringing in Casey Horny from Baylor and if Leitao slips in any area off the field, it’s Herman’s reputation that will be on the line.

Hopefully the kid has realized the error of his ways. This is a tremendous opportunity, one that would not have been afforded to others his age who have committed similar offenses.

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