South Carolina head coach Steve Spurrier makes everyone in the room smile when he talks about the sport we all love. Because of his tone and personality, many write off his comments as the old ball coach just doing his thing. But make no mistake, Spurrier told you everything you need to know about modern college football in one line at Tuesday’s SEC Media Days, calling Nick Saban the best recruiter in college football history.
Regardless of how much money the Big Ten conference distributes, how many square feet the Nebraska weight room is or how many seats the renovated Kyle Field will have, the success and failure of a college football program is directly tied to the ability to convince high-quality players to come to campus.
As a former walk-on it is difficult to admit, but rosters that are filled with players that are undersized, slow and effort-based do not play at the top tier of college football. It’s the rosters that consist of athleticism, size, speed and God-given talent that will find themselves in the thick of conference title hunts in late November.
Considering Alabama’s recruiting record and propensity for winning championships, it is hard to argue with Spurrier. The Tide have taken the top spot on many recruiting rankings in six of the eight years Saban has been in Tuscaloosa. In fact, Bama is on pace to finish first in recruiting for the fifth year in a row come 2015. This, more than anything else, is why Alabama is the preeminent program in America and has been named national champs three of the past five years.
But finding the perfect recruiting platform is like chasing a tornado: Everyone can see the funnel, but only a select few know how to get right in the middle of it in order to find out what makes it tick. So many factors are involved that listing them out would be impossible. However, here are a few of the most critical:
At some point the head coach is going to have to sit in a living room with the player and his family, and the ability to close that room becomes paramount. I call it the Mariano Rivera effect, and it is crucial to approach each “save opportunity” with the same laser focus that the All-Star displayed on the mound for the Yankees.
The perfect closer is dynamic — personable but not ordinary, funny but not a comedian, motivating but not cheesy, stern but not overbearing, confident but not arrogant. At the same time, he has to know that not every player is going to commit – after all, even Rivera blew some saves.
Building around an identity
I am a big believer in the adage “You have to know who you are to know where you want to go.” Recruiting the right type of player for your city, university, program, team and system is underrated. Stanford is a great example of a program that has reached a very high level by knowing exactly the type of people and players who will flourish with the Cardinal, and they’ve won back-to-back Pac-12 championships with those guys.
Saban does it as good as anyone in the country. AJ McCarron, who won two national titles with the Tide, was the perfect type of quarterback for a team that stressed playing a clean, smart, disciplined game while holding onto the ball and putting your defense in a position where it can be aggressive and successful without it.
Having a unified plan within the institution is critical. The head football coach at any university is only going to be as good on the recruiting trail as the president and chancellor allow. Most of the time battles have to be fought behind closed doors, but once those doors open the administration has to give the football program a chance to succeed.
Factors from admission standards to contract length are weighed by high school players when making their decisions, and a coach that knows he has the support of his bosses is going to be much more effective than one that doesn’t.
You can’t do it yourself
Having a great coaching staff is so important and keeping them is even more critical because these guys are on the front lines of the recruiting battle. If the head coach is the closer, then the rest of the staff is the team that puts him in a position to finish the job. These are the guys who need to have great relationships with high school coaches all over their recruiting territory and are responsible for identifying players and evaluating them before making calls when the NCAA permits.
They have to be savvy with social media and get the recruit to the point where he wants to take an official visit. The schools that make it a priority to hire quality recruiters and give them multi-year deals with competitive salaries are the programs that you will find at the top of the recruiting rankings every year.