Thursday, July 24, 2008

Recruiting efficiency should improve under Rich Rodriguez

Much has been made of Michigan being better under Rich Rodriguez in a multitude of areas including conditioning, scheming, and preparation; and for good reason. Another area that I think RR can improve is recruiting. Lloyd Carr was a very good recruiter. He put together classes that were among the best in the country. I’m not necessarily talking about RR bringing in higher-ranked classes. That might happen but it’s pretty hard to beat what Carr accomplished. I’m talking about being more effective at identifying strengths and weaknesses before recruits are offered scholarships regardless of their star-level. While Carr certainly brought in highly-touted recruits, all too often he didn’t see those recruits materialize on the field. Carr was good at getting four-star recruits to commit to Michigan. What he wasn’t good at was picking the right four-star recruits to come to Michigan. Four and five-star recruits are important because they are what make Michigan "Michigan" and not, say, "Michigan State."

Recruiting services aren’t perfect. Braylon Edwards—perhaps Michigan’s best offensive player of the last 60 years—was only a three-star recruit. A.J. Hawk and James Laurinaitis—two of Ohio St’s best players ever—were also only three-star recruits. For the most part, though, four and five-star recruits turn out to be better college players and, in turn, make teams who routinely get commitments from those players the upper echelon of college football.

Carr signed 64 four-star recruits or better from 2002-2007 according to the Rivals database. Of those 64, a whopping 20 left the team for non-NFL related reasons so far. None of the 20 had careers that could even remotely be considered productive. My point here isn’t to blame Carr. Players see their football careers end early for a litany of reasons. My point is that there is major room for improvement in maximizing the effectiveness of recruiting. Just think about the significance of 20 four-star recruits amounting to nothing. Just to compare, Michigan St. only signed 25 four-star recruits total over that same time period. Michigan has essentially wasted enough four-star prospects to supply the entire Michigan St. football program.

Michigan’s Four-Star duds from 2002-2007

YearPos. PlayerStarsReason for leaving
2002QBMatt Gutierrez4Transfer to Idaho St.
2002DLLarry Harrison4Legal issues
2002DBQuinton McCoy4Academic issues
2002RBPierre Rembert4Transfer to Illinois St.
2003DBRyan Mundy4Transfer to West Virginia
2003LBJim Presley4Academic issues
2003QBClayton Richard4Professional baseball
2003OLJeff Zuttah4Health issues
2004OLBrett Gallimore4Retired
2004RBMax Martin4Transfer to Alabama
2004OLAlex Mitchell4Medical issues
2004LBChris Rogers4Transfer to Penn St.
2005WR/QBAntonio Bass4Medical issues
2005DLEugene Germany4Legal issues
2005DLJames McKinney4Transfer to Louisville
2005OLJustin Schifano4Retired
2005DLMarques Slocum4Academic issues
2006OLJustin Boren4Fat issues
2006LBCobrani Mixon4Transfer to Kent St.
2007QBRyan Mallett5Transfer to Arkansas

If you go down the list of 20, each has a plausible reason that exonerates Carr. For instance, Ryan Mallett transferred because Michigan moved from a Pro-Style offense to a Spread offense under Rich Rodriguez. Larry Harrison was dismissed for exposing his peeper. Antonio Bass had a freak-injury that ended his career. Just about every instance seems reasonable/unavoidable. However, what doesn’t necessarily seem reasonable is the big picture. Carr is ultimately responsible for picking the right players. The fact that he has seen so many scholarships wasted inevitably falls on his shoulders. Sure, some it has to do with bad luck but a lot of it has to do with not recognizing needs and potential. That’s where Michigan could see a big change under Rodriguez.

One can only imagine how much better Michigan would’ve been if either a). Carr was able to get more out of those 20 four-star recruits or b). Carr recruited different players who would’ve actually contributed. Rodriguez knows his system. Hopefully, that means highly-touted recruits will have more defined roles once they get to Ann Arbor. Rodriguez also recruits a different kind of player; one who is more athletic and explosive than bulky. That increases the likelihood that a player will make some impact down the road either at his initialy position or via a position-switch.

Unexpected attrition is a given in college football. There is no way a coach can expect to run a college football program without losing a few players along the way. However, I do think a coach has the power to minimize such occurrences. Ironically, Ohio St. had exactly 64 four-star recruits or better from 2002-2007.So far, Jim Tressel has only seen 10 of those players leave the program for non NFL-related reasons. That is a significant difference from what Michigan has seen. I don’t know if that difference can be attributed to Tressel’s ability to identify players who fit his system or Ohio State’s strength and conditioning program but I highly doubt that it’s simply “luck”.

Ohio State’s four-star duds from 2002-2007

YearPos. PlayerStarsReason for leaving
2002TER.J. Coleman4Retired
2002DBE.J. Underwood4Transfer to Campbellsville University
2003DBIra Guilford4Legal issues/Transfer to Troy
2003DBDareus Hiley4Academic issues
2003TELouis Irizarry4Legal issues/Transfer to Youngstown St.
2004WRAlbert Dukes4Seeking Transfer
2004TEChad Hoobler4Transfer to Ashland University
2004DBDevon Lyons4Seeking Transfer
2005QBRob Schoenhoft4Transfer to Delaware
2005DERyan Williams4Transfer to San Diego St.

Again, I realize recruiting is not exact. Michigan and Ohio St. lose a number of three star players for various reasons as well. Those losses can be equally important. However, Michigan and Ohio State’s big advantage over Wisconsin, Michigan State and the rest of the Big Ten is that they have the liberty of recruiting better football players. Michigan has struck out way too many times on those “better” football players. Were some overrated coming out of high school? Of course. But, that doesn’t alleviate Michigan from responsibility. It’s part of the job to identify talent and skill-sets. Unfortunately, Michigan has done a pretty terrible job at doing so over the last 5-10 years.

This is an area that I believe Michigan and Rodriguez can make up ground in. Just about everyone expects Michigan to be in better shape and be better prepared. Almost everyone expects Michigan to maximize talent and be less predictable. This is an area that might get overlooked but has the potential to be significant down the road. It sounds a lot like maximizing talent but it’s clearly different. Maximizing talent refers to getting the best out of your players once they get to campus. This refers to picking and choosing the right players to focus on early in the recruiting period without necessarily improving your recruiting rankings. More efficiency in recruiting should yield better results.

Michigan can afford to strike-out on a number of four-stars and still keep up with Michigan St. It’s much more damaging when two schools bring in the same caliber of talent and one sees twice as many elite recruits amount to nothing as the other. In an "arm’s race" between elite college football programs—especially when it’s between two bitter rivals like Michigan and Ohio St.—that difference is substantial. That is an advantage that Michigan can’t afford to keep giving to Ohio St. RR has given Michigan a facelift in so many areas but the likely increase in recruiting efficiency might be one of the most dramatic changes.


Anonymous said...

What was Rich Rod's fall out rate at WVU?

Jake said...


Believe it or not, West Virginia only signed eight four-star recruits from 2002-2007. Even more amazing is that five of them were in the 2007 class. So, from 2002-2006, Rodriguez signed three four-star recruits. None of the three lasted very long at WVU. West Virginia does not often catch the eye of four-star recruits. The ones that Rodriguez did get were likely players who scared other teams away with character and/or academic issues.

So, as far as utilization of highly-rated recruits, there isn’t much information to go on. However, he did manage to turn eight two-star recruits into First Team All Big East performers. Michigan only signed six two-stars from ’02-’07. So he knows what he’s looking for. Hopefully that translates to similar success at Michigan. Here is a little more information about RR at West Virginia…


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