Apparently, Rich Rodriguez can recruit. When Rodriguez left West Virginia for Michigan it became chic for everyone who wanted him to fail—bitter fans of WVU or nervous rivals, no doubt—to attack Rodriguez's recruiting prowess at West Virginia. Every coach at West Virginia should be able to out-recruit Michigan and Ohio St, right? This group must also be convinced that Pete Carroll could pull in the nation’s #1 recruiting class at Louisiana-Lafayette. Anyone with an IQ above 80—and most below—knows that this line of reasoning is idiotic. Now, there’s proof of the idiocy. In just a few short weeks, Rodriguez actually improved Michigan’s standing in various recruiting rankings from where it was when he took over. That wasn’t any easy chore, either, considering Lloyd Carr had already put together the makings of a formidable class. Michigan finished with the #10 recruiting-class according to Rivals. Only two schools in the country signed more 4 and 5-star recruits (Note: Michigan didn't sign any 5-star recruits but landed a whopping 17 4-star recruits. Those of you annoyed that Michigan is the only program in the Rivals top ten that didn't sign a 5-star recruit, no worries. Michigan already has a 5-star commited for next year's class.) More impressive is that Rodriguez was able to significantly bolster the class without Terrelle Pryor whose decision is scheduled to be made 10 minutes after never. Rodriguez didn’t need a mega-recruit to turn this class into a raging success as everyone and their brother had suggested.
There is no question that Rodriguez was brought to Michigan to catch up to Ohio St. Everything Jim Tressel said at halftime of the infamous Ohio St. basketball game seven years ago also applies to Rodriguez even if he didn’t actually say it. Bringing Michigan’s scheme and conditioning program into the 21st century is just one step in making that happen. The other is recruiting which almost always begins with battling Ohio St. for Ohio-recruits. Michigan didn’t land a single recruit from Ohio in 2007. The state of Ohio has one of the richest crops of high school football talent in the country in any given year (Ohio had at least 50 3-star or better recruits in the state this year. Michigan had 23). Getting shutout in Ohio is a disaster any way you put it. Although there are a number of impressive facts about Michigan’s Pryor-less recruiting class, the most impressive, in my opinion, is the way Rodriguez was able to attack the state of Ohio in just a few weeks. All told, Michigan signed seven players from Ohio. Carr had reeled in three before he retired and Rodriguez added four more. Of the top 17 players in Ohio, Michigan signed six. Ohio St. signed five. Last year, Ohio St. signed eight and Michigan signed zero. That is a huge one-year turnaround. Remember, the Ohio-recruiting scene isn’t anything like Michigan’s. It might sound impressive for Michigan St. to boast that it signed 11 of the top 26 recruits in the state of Michigan while Michigan only signed five. The difference is that Michigan doesn’t recruit players outside of the top ten in its own state. Michigan St. can pretty much have anyone it wants at that point. Ohio St. recruits players even outside of the top 50 in the state of Ohio. For Michigan to come in and grab seven Ohio players—six of the top 17—is a huge momentum-changer in Michigan’s efforts to recruit Ohio.
Rodriguez’s intention to sign a full 27-man class meant he had 8-10 scholarships to fill. Instead of haphazardly handing out scholarships to the same caliber player that he recruited at West Virginia or this guy, he took his time to target upper-echelon players and scored with a number of highly-touted recruits. Rodriguez—in the same way Luke Skywalker quickly picked up on the power of “The Force”—has quickly picked up on the far-reaching power of the block “M.” At West Virginia, Rodriguez didn’t even sniff the type of recruits he’ll attract at Michigan. And, it seems like he has already figured that out. He added five 4-star players and two late-bloomers who are expected to make major contributions at Michigan. Of the seven recruits Rodriguez has landed thus far, all are from Ohio, Florida, or Texas. Michigan only landed three players from those states last season. Rodriguez more than doubled that in one month’s work. In fact, Michigan hadn’t had more than five players from those states in any recruiting class since at least 2002 (Rivals only lists archives since 2002). Michigan has built its program over the last few decades by recruiting nationally. There were concerns that Rodriguez may not be able to recruit on a national-scale in the same way Carr was able to. Rodriguez’s early success should quash such speculation. More importantly, Rodriguez’s successful ventures into those states on such short notice may be a sign that Michigan is headed for even better recruiting classes than Michigan had been accustomed to under Carr.
I am not a big fan of de-commitments for a slew of reasons. A recruit should not declare his commitment unless he is willing to follow through on it. I understand that teenagers are fickle but that doesn’t mean it’s OK to lie. Clearly, this opens the door for the inevitable, “coaches lie too” spiel. That’s a different argument all together. When coaches leave, recruits should be allowed to transfer or de-commit without penalty. For everyone else, an “official” verbal commitment should be as binding as a written commitment. Now that I’ve gotten that out of the way, Michigan must lead the nation in de-commitment margin over the last few years. Sure, other schools lose de-commitments but they also get some as well. Michigan seemingly only loses them. That was until Rodriguez took over. In a total reversal of Michigan’s recent fortune, Rodriguez landed three de-commitments (one each from Penn St., Florida, and Purdue) on signing day alone. At the risk of making too much out of one recruiting class, it seemed as though recruits under Lloyd Carr who were otherwise interested in Michigan sought out reasons not to go to Michigan. It seems like the opposite is true under Rodriguez. Recruits who otherwise weren’t as interested in Michigan are seeking out reasons to come to Michigan. As good of a recruiter as Carr was, it seemed like big-time recruits were drawn to other big schools with more dynamic coaching staffs and schemes. Carr’s personality and Michigan’s tradition was always enough to build a solid recruiting class. Now that Michigan can boast a dynamic coaching staff and a state-of-the-art scheme, I think Michigan will be able to tap into a caliber of player that previously ignored Michigan’s not-so-flashy program.
Michigan has underachieved in the past because of coaching. Rodriguez was going to change that regardless of the level of talent. He proved at West Virginia that he didn’t even need Michigan St.’s talent level to build a powerhouse. Now that I’ve seen what Rodriguez can do on the recruiting-front, I’m more excited about Michigan football than I have ever been. I’m even considering giving up electricity for season-tickets. Electricity is in the lead right now but season-tickets are gaining-ground fast. If you don’t see a post from me by next week some time, then you’ll know my decision. Anyways, I believe Michigan football is about to embark on a trip to its apex. For all the success Michigan has had post-Bo—and maybe even during Bo—I’m not sure that it ever reached its potential. With each passing day, there is more evidence to suggest that is going to change. To recap, Rodriguez appears to be a kick-ass recruiter.