Searching for any positives throughout a second straight losing season in 2015, Texas football fans begged for some recruiting momentum, but were forced to go months without much of any.
Yet surprisingly, it was Charlie Strong and not recruits that killed the buzz.
More revealing than he normally is, Strong, giddy on national signing day, opened up about his staff’s methodical approach to recruiting and admitted he stonewalled some players from announcing their decisions during the season out of fear that competing schools would take aim at Texas‘ struggles on the field.
“Because of the season we had, I didn’t want them to attack us,” Strong said.
Instead, Strong laid low and waited for the offseason to go on the attack, landing nine players over the final 24 hours leading into signing day and converting early skeptics. The class, ranked just No. 45 nationally following a win at Baylor to close the season, and No. 25 on the morning of signing day, finished off at No. 11.
Strong and his recruiting coordinator, Brian Jean-Mary, offered additional insight into their calculated approach to recruiting, including:
Off of the top of his head, Jean-Mary counted nine of the program’s 24 newcomers who Texas did not extend an offer to until the spring before their senior season. Another four got an offer only after Texas approved of film from their senior season. The latter group includes Euless Trinity defensive tackle Chris Daniels, who got his Texas offer on Dec. 17. He committed to Oklahoma the following day.
Back off, but only briefly
Daniels also fits into this approach. Strong says he tells his coaches to back off of players who commit to another school and then wait a week to see if the communication picks back up. Often, Strong said, the player will then reach out to Texas and restart the recruiting process.
Strong said Texas never wrote off Daniels even after he committed to Oklahoma.
“The day before he committed to Oklahoma, I called him and I said ‘I know you’re gonna commit tomorrow, but I’m gonna keep recruiting you, and it’s gonna be hard for you to tell me no because I’m gonna stay on you.’”
Strong said unless he’s told to go away, he won’t stop pursuing a recruit.
Don’t be pushy
This one is best summarized by this Jean-Mary quote: “If someone can force you to make a decision, it’s very easy for another person to come in and make you change your mind about what you just did.”
Of the 24 newcomers, five were once committed elsewhere. Conversely, Texas lost just two commitments — Navasota receiver Tren’Davian Dickson to Baylor, and Southlake Carroll cornerback Obi Eboh to Stanford.
Make visits count
The NCAA caps the amount of official visitors a program can bring to campus at 56. Texas had hosted just 33 visitors and signed more than 70 percent of them. Jean-Mary said there is danger in bringing too many recruits onto campus because those who are not serious about signing with the school could “water down the process of someone who is interested.”
Those who visited Texas but did not sign with the Longhorns were Fort Worth All Saints defensive tackle Michael Williams (who signed with Stanford), Silsbee guard Patrick Hudson (Baylor), Manvel safety Deontay Anderson (Ole Miss), Aldine MacArthur defensive end Isaiah Chambers (TCU), Cibolo Steele defensive end Mark Jackson (Oklahoma), New Orleans defensive tackle Stephon Taylor (South Carolina), Michigan linebacker David Reese (Florida), New Orleans tight end Irvin Smith (Alabama) and Florida safety Devin Studstill (Notre Dame).
Relate to everyone
Jean-Mary said Strong is a master in living rooms and is able to adapt to any demographic. For example, Strong went to the home of Houston Westside defensive tackle Jordan Elliott and was greeted unexpectedly by Elliott’s great-grandmother, whom Strong did not know. No need to fret, the two of them struck up a conversation about Western films.
“I don’t think there’s a home he goes into where there’s a subject he can’t touch upon,” Jean-Mary said.
Strong said it’s important to identify the “brokers” who might have influence over a recruit’s decision. For Elliott, it was the great-grandma.
“That was someone who was important to him,” Strong said. “If she was at the house, it was important for her to be there. It’s all about finding who that decision-maker is and just working them.”