05 Feb

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Back in the Saddle Again: Why Charlie Strong & Texas Longhorns Won National Signing Day

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Friends, the reports of Charlie Strong's death have been greatly exaggerated and the future is wide open for a Texas team that not only lived up to, but exceeded the expectations of any recruiting pundit on National Signing Day. Some other teams may have grabbed more five-star prospects but there is no doubt that the Texas Longhorns are the winners of National Signing Day, for a number of reasons.

This is the second year in a row that Charlie Strong has worked his magic in recruiting. There's a saying in reporting that goes, "better to be right than to be first." It's a quote that should probably be put on a plaque and gift-wrapped to the many writers who were pouring dirt on the coffin of Charlie Strong. Strong and the Texas football program were being questioned well into last summer about their 2016 recruiting class and that second-guessing only grew with more fervor, as the Longhorns sat outside the top 40 in team recruiting rankings less than a week ago. Now Charlie is the toast of the town and being lauded for his technique. We can only imagine this puts a smile on his face.

The Longhorns boast the Big 12's top-rated recruiting class for the second year in a row. The class, made up of 19 players from Texas, four from Louisiana and one from California, will likely make an immediate impact. This 2016 recruiting class not only put Strong on the map with national media and recruits. It also filled holes at key positions for Texas. Per our own Steve Habel, the recruits are made up of six defensive linemen, four offensive linemen, four linebackers, four wide receivers, three defensive backs, a tight end, a quarterback and a running back. Strong turned heads by landing four-star dual-threat quarterback Shane Buechele, Brandon Jones (the nation's No. 1 safety), explosive outside linebacker/defensive end Erick Fowler, receivers with potential like four-star 6'6, 205-pound wide receiver Collin Johnson (who will be asked to help fill the losses of Daje Johnson and Marcus Johnson), and a serious amount of depth in the trenches.

It's fascinating to witness Charlie Strong's recruiting approach, especially after years of former head coach Mack Brown's style at Texas, which was a polar opposite. The former Texas coach placed importance on landing recruits early in the process, massaging his relationships with Texas high school coaches and getting out ahead of his competitors. He was known, dubiously, as Mr. February before winning the 2005 National Championship but even his moniker indicated he was on another level when it came to landing talent. Strong is living up to that reputation and eclipsing playoff contenders like Baylor, Oklahoma, and TCU. He is getting the most with a lesser (at Texas, at least) resume and he is doing it by emphasizing patience, core values, and choosing players who peak in their senior year. For all of Mack Brown's great recruiting, the fact is that he missed on a number of players (quarterbacks, in particular) because he had exhausted his scholarship availability by the time February came around. It's impossible to go hard at players in the final week who emerge as studs when you have nothing left to give. Compare that to Strong's philosophy, which netted 11 commitments in the last week, and you can see why patience matters.

Strong's ability to land such a talented and deep class in the face of the team's record the last two seasons is perhaps the most remarkable note of all. No other team in the top 11 recruiting rankings had a losing record. It's easy to land recruits when you're winning but it takes a special person to be able to sell a recruit on the vision alone. Nick Saban, head coach of Alabama, can walk in with championship rings and the glare alone will blind many players into following him. Strong isn't afforded that ability and you can only hang your hat on the 2005 title and the name of Vince Young for so long. In an industry that lives and dies by a "what have you done for me lately?" attitude, Strong is changing the rules and getting players to buy into a "what will we do in the future?" mentality.

Charlie Strong's late-game theatrics also drew national attention. He displayed personality and an lighthearted attitude that players gravitate to, and both the players and families of said players respect him for it. Watch this video of Strong dabbing after landing five-star linebacker Erick Fowler and focus on the people around him. It's clear that they enjoy Strong's presence and the players are there cutting it up with him.

Strong is armed with a 2016 crew of prospects that appear committed to the cause, and he should now be given a reasonable amount of time to see this team grow. He has also effectively silenced the critics of his recruiting tactics and is finally getting the players he wants for his system. Now all there is left to do is work his magic on the field. Charlie Strong won February. We're hoping and betting that he is going to own fall soon enough.

James Schleicher is the publisher of Horns Illustrated magazine. He's also a fifth generation Texan and lifelong Austinite. Follow @HornsIllus twitter to keep up with all things Horns Illustrated.