Texas Longhorns head coach Tom Herman reacts after a false start late in the second quarter against Oklahoma Sooners in an NCAA college football game at the Cotton Bowl in Dallas. [RICARDO B. BRAZZIELL/AMERICAN-STATESMAN]

Football

Texas’ loss of five-star quarterback Quinn Ewers reflects a larger problem for Tom Herman

Posted October 29th, 2020

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Recruiting is the sprinkles on an ice cream sundae: On their own, they aren’t much more than crunchy sugar pieces, but on ice cream, they’re the final piece of a delicious puzzle.

Recruiting is a luxury. Texas needs to win on the field before fans can expect the Longhorns to win recruiting battles on a national scale. Texas coach Tom Herman can no longer recruit hope like he did in 2018, which ranked third in the nation and included the majority of the state’s top prospects. That was his first full recruiting cycle at UT. He was able to sell hope. He could walk into a young man’s home and promise a turnaround at Texas. After all, he did a bang-up job at Houston. With more talent, imagine what could happen in Austin. 

Prospects believed. Targets signed.

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Five-star Quinn Ewers backed away from his Texas pledge on Wednesday night, less than one week after he reaffirmed his Longhorns commitment. He’s the top-ranked quarterback in the 2022 recruiting class. (Mike Craven/American-Statesman)

The Longhorns have inked three straight top 10 recruiting classes that ranked first in the Big 12. But it’s becoming harder for Herman to win on the recruiting trail with the same narrative. The recruits in the 2021 class, and the 2022 class, have results to judge. They don’t need to imagine what a Herman tenure will look like. They’ve now seen three-and-a-half seasons of what it looks like, and the returns are mixed. Texas’ 2021 class ranks 17th and trails Oklahoma’s in the Big 12. The 2022 class was dealt a major blow Wednesday night when five-star quarterback Quinn Ewers backed off of his pledge. 

Ewers was a transformational commitment for Herman, who could point to the recruiting trail as evidence that the young, bright stars in the state still believed in him and his vision. Sure, the 2021 class isn’t great, but that could be chalked up to COVID-19 pandemic restrictions and challenges with Ewers waiting to help land one of the nation’s top classes in 2022. Ewers is the top-ranked junior quarterback in the country. He threw for 4,000 yards and 45 touchdown passes to only three interceptions as a sophomore.

But fans’ optimism is waning. Early losses to TCU and Oklahoma ruined a promising season that began with Big 12 title expectations behind a senior quarterback and an experienced defense. Herman replaced both coordinators after last season. This was his chance to reset. Instead, the product on the field looked as inconsistent and undisciplined as ever before bouncing back last week in the win over Baylor. 

Success on the field is what ultimately breeds success in recruiting. There’s a reason that programs like Alabama, Ohio State and Clemson routinely land the nation’s top prospects. Those teams win. Consistently. Yearly. They win important games. They play on national television in January. They raise trophies. They produce NFL talent. 

Texas hasn’t done any of those things in a decade. Charlie Strong couldn’t recreate the magic that Mack Brown had. Herman has failed to find it through three-and-a-half seasons. And the proof is in recruiting. Ewers most likely would still be committed to Texas if the Longhorns were 5-0 and in the national championship conversation entering this week’s game at Oklahoma State.

The loss of Ewers was disheartening for Texas fans, but no more so than the losses the Longhorns suffer on the field. Until those losses become fewer, decommitments and missed targets will be the norm. Five players have decommitted from the 2021 class. Ewers was the first to back out in 2022. 

Hope is not lost for Herman, even after Sam Ehlinger leaves. Ewers won’t be on a college campus until the 2022 season. Texas still needs to play next year, and it’ll likely be without Ehlinger. The Longhorns do have two former four-star quarterbacks from the 2020 class in Hudson Card and Ja’Quinden Jackson. Ewers won’t be a major loss if one of those quarterbacks blossoms into a star. But the surface level issues remain for Herman. Fans are jumping ship. Now prospects are following. The only way to stop the mass exodus is with positive results on the field. 

Until then, Texas fans won’t be enjoying the ice cream or the sprinkles. 

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