Tuesday, February 12, 2008

The Difference Between Recruiting & Recruiting Services

Looking around I once again notice that some fans simply cannot tell the difference between recruiting and recruiting services. If you criticize recruiting services, they reply back with the strawman that since schools such as Southern Cal, Florida, and Texas are continually winning on the field with top rated recruiting classes, the recruiting rankings have to be right.

Is that true? Or is it the reverse? In other words, are their recruiting rankings based in part on the coaches' reputation in identifying and recruiting talented players, as evidenced by their performance on the field?

Based on the recommendation of Corn Blight over at CornNation, I picked up a copy of Bruce Feldman's book "Meat Market", where Feldman spends a year following Ed Orgeron's on the recruiting trail for a year. Orgeron's reputation was built on his reputation as Pete Carroll's recruiting coordinator at USC, and Orgeron's focus at Ole Miss was definitely on recruiting. And it showed on the field, as Orgeron only won ten games over three years and was fired last November. Orgeron's plan to recruit his way out of the SEC cellar sure sounds familiar, and worked about as well as it did in Lincoln.

Orgeron had decent recruiting rankings under Orgeron (#30, #16, and #27 according to Rivals), but it simply never translated on the field. And in the book, you soon learn that even a recruiting focused coach like Orgeron doesn't believe in the recruiting services either. In fact, many of the observations that Orgeron and his staff made in the book were echoed by the new Husker coaches in Sunday's Omaha World-Herald.

Why are the internet recruiting services flawed? Simply put, they only evaluate part of the player. They focus on measurables: height, weight, speed. They don't evaluate the person, the work ethic or character of the player. Orgeron learned that the hard way when he had to boot several key players from his squad in the fall of 2006, and thus began to place a greater weight on character in his recruiting process.

But the services have to be solid on the other aspects? Sometimes. ESPN's Feldman reported that high school prospects commonly misrepresent themselves to these recruiting sites, and the recruiting sites just pass it on. Okolona (Mississippi) running back Robert Elliott struggled in his season opener, rushing for 43 yards on 14 carries. However, Scout.com reported that Elliott ran for 121 yards on 11 carries after talking to Elliott. Isolated case? Hardly. A couple of weeks ago, Fernley, Nevada's Kevin Hart called an in-school press conference to announce his selection of Cal over Oregon a couple of weeks ago. Except that Hart lied about the scholarship offer from Cal. He lied about the offer from Oregon. Turns out he so desperately wanted the attention he made it all up. And for several days, everybody ate it up.

I think new Husker coach Bo Pelini kind of summed it up best to the Lincoln Journal-Star:
“I think you have to temper what the expectations are. Everybody wants to talk about what the No. 1 recruiting class is. They want to put numbers on it and talk about who had a good class and who didn’t have a good class. It’s hard to say. Talk to me two, three years down the road and I’ll tell you how good a class it was.”
Remember the 2005 Husker class, and how it was supposed to bring us "unprecedented talent" the likes of which we hadn't seen before? Well, the class imploded with 11 players leaving the program for one reason or another, and now Steve Octavien laments what might have been:
"With the caliber of players we had, we wanted a BCS game. Now we're known as the worst [three-year] class that came through Nebraska."
Recruiting is simply the first part of the equation. Coaches have to develop players and take them to the next level. If you can't do that, you'll find yourself in the company of Bill Callahan and Ed Orgeron, who've proven that it takes more than recruiting to win.

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