The Cougars signed the nation's 30th-ranked recruiting class, the highest finish ever for a school outside of a power conference (Power 5 currently or BCS previously). Houston also became the first non-power conference program to sign a five-star recruit since ESPN began ranking recruits in 2006.Khan goes on to explain how Herman and his staff forged relationships with high school football players and their coaches, focused their efforts on the talent-rich Houston area, and refused to accept that they couldn't recruit top-quality athletes simply because they weren't a "Power 5" school:
Coming off a 13-1 season that included an American Athletic Conference championship, a win over Florida State in the Chick-Fil-A Peach Bowl and a top-10 finish in the polls, it is yet another victory for Herman's budding power.
Still, without the resources and facilities afforded to Power 5 conference programs that battled with the Cougars for ESPN 300 recruits, how did the Cougars land their historic class?
When coaches were out in the city during the evaluation period, they feared no Power 5 program.UH's recruiting strategy seems very simple and logical, in theory. But it's not always easy to accomplish in practice; previous Cougar head coaches such as Art Briles (now head coach at Baylor) and Kevin Sumlin (now head coach at Texas A&M) never signed a class as talented as this one. But Herman and his staff were able to use this strategy to bring in a big "get" - a highly-rated, heavily-recruited five-star defensive tackle from Westfield High School by the name of Ed Oliver - and in turn build recruiting momentum:
"The mindset was we're going to go recruit these Houston-area guys and present something to them and not be afraid to compete against people for these local guys," offensive line coach Derek Warehime said.
Oliver valued the longstanding relationships he had and believed in the vision the staff sold. [Defensive line coach Oscar] Giles said Oliver called him often just to talk and he got to know Oliver's family well: "I knew who his girlfriend was, his brothers, mom, his great uncle...it was a relationship that was built over time."To be sure, the power schools of the SEC and Big 12 did not passively sit by while Herman and his staff made their recruiting push. The Washington Post's Chuck Culpepper explores how Houston had to stave off 'poachers:'
When Oliver verbally committed to the Cougars in May, there was no hat ceremony, no grand announcement on Twitter, just Oliver placing a phone call to the coaching staff. The news quickly spread, to the bewilderment of many who were surprised a prospect of that caliber pledged to a program in a non-power conference.
That moment, however, turned the "H-Town Takeover" from a simple hashtag and concept to a genuine, successful recruiting movement.
"I think it was like a big rock dropping into a big pool. Splash," Giles said. "Everybody knows the guy. They're like, 'They must be serious over there.' It gave us some credibility that we were doing it the right way."
Added [assistant coach Corby] Meekins: "That kind of broke the seal and made it OK to come here. When you get a player that's caliber and can go anywhere -- we have a lot of players in this class who could go anywhere -- but that made it OK."
That word can describe recruiters from other programs who, in the 147-year-old traditions of the sport, bring silver tongues and poaching arts and try to help players renege on prior commitments. That did foil Houston once, when the coveted Houstonian receiver Tyrie Cleveland changed his mind from Houston to sweet-talking, blue-blooded Florida, whose coaches jumped up and down upon learning the news.Other schools tried to sow doubt in the minds of Houston's commitments by using the by-now-tiresome trope that Herman would be leaving UH for a "bigger" program soon:
It did not derail Houston. Rivals ranked its class No. 44 in a sport with 65 top-tier programs. ESPN slotted it at No. 30. Representing the underlings fiercely, Houston held onto Ed Oliver, the Houstonian defensive tackle generally bestowed the ultimate five stars, and when Oliver didn’t budge, he became both the only one of Rivals’ top 100 players to sign with a Group of Five program, and the day’s biggest upset according to ESPN. Courtney Lark, the four-star receiver, also held firm to help redefine his hometown’s atmosphere.
For their second recruiting class, Herman and his staff had fostered relationships with their signees, then had gone 13-1 with a major bowl win.
“And I think what that was able to do, then, was to solidify our position a little bit when the poachers came calling,” Herman said.
They did come calling, and the process was “nerve-wracking,” Herman said.
The 40-year-old coach proclaimed a 7-1 record against Southeastern Conference poachers, even as every recruit asked Herman what every poacher put in every recruit’s mind: How long are you staying?Highly-rated local recruits looked at what the Cougars accomplished last season, and brought in to Herman's pitch.
“What I tell them is the truth,” he said, and then he went on a long, bountiful description of his pitch. It included that “in my opinion, the American Athletic Conference has undoubtedly separated itself from the other non-Power Five conferences” (what with Navy, Temple and Memphis also having successful seasons). It included a comparison of going 7-5 at some top-tier program — “It’s no fun going 7-5. It stinks, in fact. It’s really, really not fun” — set against this: “What’s really fun is when it feels like the whole city of Houston rushes onto the field, you’re kissing the trophy, holding it up, and there’s confetti falling, and you go to a New Year’s Six bowl game, and you’re playing one of the blue bloods, and you’re beating them by two touchdowns in the Peach Bowl.”
Obviously, getting these kids signed is just the first step in a process that includes their becoming and academically qualified, enrolled in school, and performing on the field. But if highly-ranked recruiting classes do correlate with success on the field, then the Cougars have a bright future ahead of them.
Which is why I just renewed my season tickets for 2016, even though kickoff is still over 200 days away.