Sunday, February 3, 2008

The Annual Misconceptions About Recruiting Post

I haven't done this in several years. At least I don't recall doing it in several years. Every year, when I read the boards, there's always about 10 cats jumping to wild assumptions based on their preconceived notions about how college football recruiting works. Here's a primer list of misconceptions:

1. Recruiting is just like they show it in the movies.

- Not even close. For one, they have no way to show the endless hours coaches spend watching film, talking to coaches, talking to parents, and especially talking to players. Furthermore, recruiting is not about SALESMANSHIP it's about RELATIONSHIP. I don't want to get into a chicken vs. the egg issue, but Mack Brown did not suddenly become a superstar recruiter at Texas. He was hauling similar classes at North Carolina, too. This leads to my next point, and probably the most important:

2. Winning always means great recruiting.

- Way off. Great recruiters recruit greatly regardless of the program. Never, ever forget that. Pete Carroll isn't a great recruiter because he's at USC. The man could have recruited almost as well at Washington State, he just wouldn't have had the added benefit of being in the heart of one of the most fertile recruiting grounds in the country. Winning does not recruit. Winning opens doors to recruits you did not previously have access to. This is always what trips up fans. Putting three or four successful years can definitely have an impact on getting recruits, but in the end it's about the people you have recruiting, not really about the product you've previously put on the field. There's also a side misconception that the offensive line coach recruits the offensive linemen, the secondary coach recruits defensive backs, etc. Not true. Staff members are given a geographic region and direction towards which recruits to focus on. They're also responsible for attending games in that region and spotting previously unknown talent. So it's more common, for example, to have your secondary coach recruiting Fresno to be working with a wide receiver, a tight end, and a linebacker. Those kids may not even know the names of their position coaches until they come in for an official visit.

3. Head coaches must be great recruiters to have a great recruiting class.

- Not entirely true. What is true is the best recruiting staffs start with a great recruiter at the top, but it's not entirely necessary. What's most important is each staff has two or three people whose most special talent is developing trusting relationships with teenagers, preferably starting at, say, 16-years-old. Then it's important that the head coach can close, or at least come off genuine enough with the parents to not damage the work the star staff recruiters have done. At most programs, the staff does 80 percent or more of the hard work in recruiting. Head coaches tend to focus on the impact players, but if it comes down to the wire on any player the staff wants, the head coach will almost always get involved there.

4. Recruiting rankings aren't important.

- This is going too far, IMO. The bulk of people involved in ranking recruits: (a) have no playing or coaching experience at any level; (b) know much less about football than they think they do; (c) are almost entirely reliant on the opinions of their peers to justify their rankings. That said, all of those people can't be that far off about the overall group of players. They may whiff hard on a top-rated quarterback or running back. That makes sense. There's too many variables there (type of offense, stability of staff, surrounding talent) to expect them to accurately project every skill player. They'll usually puff up a few players that are workout warriors but have shown real football ability. But the overall rankings ... if a school lands three jumbo athletes with skill-type speed, what are the chances those kids won't produce in big ways? If USC recruits 10 Top 100 players, that's a high-ranking class that deserves the props, because it will be a success if 5 or more of those players have big impacts on the field. What's the difference between the No. 5 class and the No. 20 class? It could be a huge chasm or nothing at all depending on attrition, injuries, and how many kids from the No. 20 class stick around for four or more years. Also, if a program has one No. 5 class surrounded by three classes in the 40s, the program that regularly recruits in the Top 20 is likely to out perform the other every year. Or at least it's fairly safe to say the the team the recruits the most consistently has more available talent.

5. If my coaching staff can't land high rated classes, they should be canned

- I will never understand the hostility from fans regarding recruiting classes. Most of them never seem to see the bigger picture. Recruiting is always, in the end, about performance. If you have a program that is stuck on 6 wins and the coach elevates you to an 8+ win plateau, is there a reason to gripe? Ten years of 8+ wins puts you in a very elite class -- the annual Top 20 -- and a program that has the respect of other coaches, if not national worship. It also puts the program in the position to take another step up with luck and pluck. College football is an endurance sport. Keep your winning coach on the sidelines for a long time and make a financial committment. It's not how a coach recruits in ONE SPECIFIC YEAR. It's how a coach (and his staff) recruit for the duration of their stay at a program. That defines a coach's recruiting. Always. If a coach lands, say, a No. 30 class for four straight years, there's plenty of talent there to be successful and possibly exceed the ranking of the classes with a little luck and a few players who improve. It's even better if the attrition rates mean keeping those playres in school. Solid attrition almost always = winning football; never underestimate a team with a consistently stable second team.