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Recruiting Never Ends in the South

When it comes to college football, just ‘Google’ the phrase “recruiting is the lifeblood” and you’ll see a ton of results. The fact that quality recruiting is the number one key for long-term success in the big-time world of college football has never been more true. Swampland wrote about this in a review of Meat Market, an excellent account of how intense and stressful the never-ending chase for talented players has become. While we don’t want to minimize the importance of solid coaching, facilities or tradition, the reality of the modern landscape of SEC, ACC or Big 12 football is that your school had better be recruiting as well as your rivals or you face getting left behind. The ability to acquire talent affects coaching hires, results on the field, and the connection a school has to its fan base. Simply put, you cannot have average recruiting and compete with the big boys on a consistent basis. Some may think that it’s just coincidence, but there is a reason that the recruiting rankings look a lot like the Top 10 year in and year out.

For years, many in the national media have tried to blow off recruiting rankings and the passion of the fans for this critical process. Southern fans were frustrated by that fact and found alternate sources (Rivals network was acquired in 2007 by Yahoo for close to $100 million) of information that would cover the recruiting wars with the same intensity as the regular season. Our fans know that if you beat your rival enough times on Signing Day, good things will come in the Fall. Check out this blurb at the end of a typical national article from 2001 about how recruiting rankings are meaningless:

Now, word is that new LSU coach Nick Saban is about to sign a great class. Talk to me in four years. Until then, I don't want to hear about it.

Well, Saban did get that stellar class and a few others to win the National Title in 2003. He and his staff also left enough talent in the cupboard for another National Title for Les Miles in 2007. Meaningless, huh?

For more evidence on the importance of quality recruiting, all you need to see is this account of Florida coach Urban Meyer’s reaction to his first national title- mostly won with players recruited by Ron Zook. Meyer knew he had to continue to get best talent for another title run, and he was corresponding with many recruits on the day of that National Title game. For those of you that may think a coach would take a week away from recruiting to prepare for the big game, it’s quite the opposite. Of course, Meyer’s efforts were rewarded this season with a second BCS Title in three years. When Nick Saban lost ace recruiter Lance Thompson to Tennessee this offseason, he answered by stealing Auburn coach and AU alum James Willis from the Tigers staff. It may seem like an unusual move, but the Bama boss knew he had to have a quality assistant with Alabama recruiting ties, and he acted quickly (with National Signing Day closing in) to hire Willis.

Obviously coaches want to sign as many quality players as possible, but they also know the value of getting one Tim Tebow, Vince Young, or Peyton Manning is immeasurable. It’s amazing how smart a coach can look with a superstar leading their team, and the effect a player of that caliber can have on a program goes way beyond just the games they play. The recruiting of high school players (and their coaches/parents/etc.) starts early, and head coaches know they must maintain these key relationships as their staff experiences turnover. There is no doubt that most coaching staff decisions in the modern college football are made based on recruiting prowess—it’s just that important.

With Signing Day approaching, we’re ecstatic that the fans in our Swampland footprint are savvy to the “lifeblood” that is the recruiting season. Smart fans know that if a coach is not bringing in quality talent, there is little chance for long-term success at that program. It’s always comical, if not sad, to see a national columnist or ESPN analyst questioning the fan reaction to a less than average recruiting year. For every “Boise State” they bring up, there is the list of Texas, Florida. Georgia, Oklahoma, USC, etc. that speaks to the contrary. And while coaching on the field is still very important, you must have the players to beat your rivals and win Championships over the long haul.


Patrick Snow

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