Howard Schnellenberger forever changed the game of college football, and he doesn't get his due credit. Before Schnellenberger (BS), the head coach was God of college football, and you could build a program pretty much anywhere. Even in the middle of the desert. Frank Kush would show up with a station wagon full of starving west Pennsylvania kids just trying to get away from bleak future in mining. Later in, he learned to steal kids out of LA and Dallas to supplement, along with making sure there was no stone unturned in places like Morenci and Ajo and Florence. A coach could do that back then because there were plenty of secrets to be kept, and could be kept.
After Schnellenberger (AS), we have an oligarchy of programs with the most money, centrally located near the best recruits, supported by recruiting staffs that are the envy of corporate headhunting culture. It's a science now. And there are no secrets that can be kept. If there's an athlete in some desolate Kansas town, he's in a database somewhere and he's going to be sent a letter from someone.
Miami was about to kill their football program when Schnellenberger stepped in. He noted that Alabama was winning national championships with Florida players, many of them right out of Miami's backyard. And Schnellenberger would know. He was Bear Bryant's offensive coordinator at Alabama in the early 60s and a big-time recruiter -- he recruited Joe Namath to Alabama. He also brought with him a pro-style passing game, honed as Bob Griese's offensive coordinator during Miami's undefeated season, but that's another story.
Schnellenberger's rapid turnaround because of keeping Miami recruits home in Miami forever changed college football culture. ESPN, a new thing, made sure of it. It's the kind of inside info they knew the fans wanted. Suddenly the average fan began to become aware of Dade County recruiting. Then they became aware of SoCal, east Texas, Ohio, etc. People everywhere started to learn about how Penn State thrived on recruiting New Jersey. Kids of Louisiana dockworkers were no longer looking for opportunity wherever they could get it -- every school in the country knew who they were and wanted them to come to their school.
This is a different game now than when I first started following. And ASU is much less of a sleeping giant. Why? Because:
- They don't have a built-in home-state recruiting advantage, partially because it's still not big enough, and partially because you have to large athletic programs feeding on it. Compare that to, say, LSU, where they're the alpha dog in a state with comparable (or often better) talent, and you get a different picture.
- That weather advantage I often hear about? It's an awesome sales pitch to a kid in Chicago, who would love nothing more than a free trip to Tempe while he makes his college plans for Notre Dame, where his family can still come see him play. It's actually a DISadvantage within the region ASU needs to make a pitch, like San Diego or LA County, where they see us as slightly crazy for wanting to live here.
- The name ASU built in the 70s and 80s is completely washed away. Think about this: The kids ASU is recruiting right now were born in 1994. They were 3 years old when Jake Plummer was leading ASU to the Rose Bowl. They have no idea who Danny White or Frank Kush is. There are likely only three things they know about ASU football right now: They have cool new uniforms, the girls are unbelievably hot, and Dennis Erickson just got fired.
ASU has to start over. Right now, it's name is on-par with mid-majors. It's a secondary or tertiary thought on the minds of the kids they need to steal from SoCal to get the program even close to where we want it to be. There are no built-in advantages to ASU other than MAYBE facilities, where it enjoys some status for the next few years.
Here's something else to think about: ASU is offering what has become the middling price for a head coach, about $2.5. That's pretty much mid-major money for a head coach. Sure, it's still probably in better half of all salaries, but not if you consider what it would take, say, Washington to replace their coach right now. If they wanted Sarkisian right now, they would have shelled out about $3.5 million. We are not even in the same area code as the Top 20 programs. That's the cost of doing business, and we're not capitalized well enough to expand into that kind of competition.
ASU has to go young, even if it means hiring a coordinator. That's what ASU can afford, and it's what it really needs, because this program is starting over. We can pretend it's still 1984 and ASU really is a sleeping giant. Or we can really look long and hard at reality and accept the failure started about 30 years ago, and we've merely been repeating that failed history over and over ever since.
It's time to do something new and bold.