Wednesday, February 03, 2010
Woelk: Good coaching more important than rankings
By Neill Woelk
February 3, 2010
Thank goodness. The most overrated day in sports. The day that 18-year-old football players all over the nation sign letters of intent -- and otherwise normal, responsible adults become blithering idiots as they celebrate (or berate) their schools` recruiting classes.
No doubt, recruiting has become a business unto itself. In this economy, I`m all for any kind of business that provides a few jobs, and there are certainly jobs to be had in the recruiting industry.
When I first had the misfortune of being forced to pay attention to college recruiting (I still haven`t forgiven former sports editor Dan Creedon), there were a couple of "experts" out there who printed a couple of magazines a year rating high school recruits.
Today, that has expanded exponentially. There are Web sites with analysts, gurus and insiders. ESPN has joined the fray. Pony up a few bucks a month, and you too can receive continuous updates from your favorite expert concerning the whims and musings of 18-year-olds everywhere. Find out who has verbally committed, who has de-committed and whether you should be committed for worrying about it.
There is even a vocabulary particular to recruiting (seriously, if I hear an 18-year-old kid has given a "soft verbal," I`m making sure he`s not getting anywhere close to my niece. But that`s just me).
And, there are the rankings. Grown men and women who are usually level-headed in most circumstances lose all touch with reality when it comes to recruiting rankings.
If your favorite team has atop-10 class, it`s reason to celebrate. Drop into the 30s (or 40s or 50s), and it`s reason to seek tall buildings with ledges.
There are those who swear by the rankings, those who swear at the rankings and those who believe the rankings can be used as one small piece of the puzzle when evaluating the overall health of a program.
Put me in the last group.
Revelation time: Great programs recruit great players. The cycle is self-perpetuating.
But the rankings are by no means a guarantee of anything.
Case in point: Michigan`s last four recruiting classes have been ranked Nos. 2, 9, 10 and 6. Yet four years of the best players in the nation last year produced a 5-7 record for the maize and blue.
Then there`s Cincinnati, which last year finished 12-1 and ranked eighth in the nation. Somehow, the Bearcats managed this despite not having a single class in the last four years ranked better than 51st (with two of those classes ranked Nos. 70 and 80).
Yes, I know. Texas has a top-ranked class -- and Texas will be good next year and the year after and the year after that. Ditto for Southern Cal, Alabama and Florida.
But I don`t need to look at recruiting rankings to know that Texas will be a top-10 program just about every year in the forseeable future. I don`t need a guru to tell me that Alabama is likely to be pretty doggone good for the next half-dozen years.
Don`t get me wrong. I know recruiting is important. I was around when Bill McCartney was signing classes that had names like Hagan, Bieniemy, Flannigan, Williams and McGhee. I remember when Mac signed a running back out of Southern California who played 8-man football in high school -- and Mac predicted great things for the kid. (Rashaan Salaam did turn out to be a pretty good player.)
But I`ve also seen plenty of kids with no hype attached to their name turn into very good players.
It`s simple. As my good friend Joe tells me -- at least once a week -- "Coaching makes the difference."
Pair great recruiting classes with a bad coach and you won`t have a good team.
Pair average recruiting classes with a great coach and you`ll have a good team.
Pair great classes with a great coach -- and you have Alabama.
Which is why I`ll be neither excited nor disappointed today when Dan Hawkins announces his latest Colorado recruiting class.
Rather, I`ll wait until spring ball and fall camp to see what Hawkins is doing with the players he`s recruited.
Stars and rankings? I honestly don`t know how much stock to put in them. Kirk Ferentz`s last three recruiting classes at Iowa were ranked Nos. 37, 40, 44, yet the Hawkeyes finished No. 7 in the nation last year. Who could have predicted that?
But this much I do know for dead certain: "Coaching makes all the difference."
It`s time for Hawkins to make that difference.