Great Recruiting, Great Teams?
By John Antonik for WVUsports.com
January 18, 2012 03:27 PM
|WVU's Dana Holgorsen talking to LSU's Les Miles before West Virginia's game against the Tigers in Morgantown last season.
|All-Pro Photography/Dale Sparks photo
Hey, did you hear? Jupiter Pluvius has just been moved up in the running back rankings ahead of Marcellus Shale. A couple of SEC schools caught wind of Jupiter’s out-of-this-world talents and have made offers, thus his meteoric rise.
Naturally I’m kidding, I wouldn’t know a Jupiter Pluvius from a Marcellus Shale – they do say Jupiter is a lot harder to reach than Marcellus - but it does make you wonder sometimes whenever the subject of recruiting comes up.
Like many, I once followed this stuff like a Bear Stearns broker used to follow the stock market (with a similar results, I might add) before I came to realize that recruiting is a lot like shoveling smoke and chasing squatches.
Ask any coach worth their salt what they think of recruiting rankings and you will get a roll of the eyes and a shake of the head.
Years ago, former USC football coach John Robinson used to call the recruiting experts and asked them to lower the rankings of his players because he didn’t want the fans to have unrealistic expectations the following season. Today, some schools factor in recruiting rankings in the performance bonuses they pay their coaches.
It makes you wonder what John Robinson would think of that.
Don Nehlen once told me every single recruiting report Bo Schembechler ever received at Michigan went right into filing cabinet No. 9 – that’s the small metal canister right underneath his desk that the janitor emptied every night.
And reading Mark Schlabach’s fascinating tale of how quarterback Jay Barker ended up at Alabama
only reaffirms how absurd this stuff can be.
But who am I to criticize how some people choose to make their living? If fans are willing to dole out their hard-earned cash for some recruiting information, then more power to them.
And, many times these rankings are spot-on. I remember when everyone made a big fuss about Tavon Austin when he signed with WVU. Same thing with Geno Smith, or Devin Ebanks, and all three of those guys turned out to be really good players.
Part of my job requires that I scan the various message boards from time to time to see what is being posted about West Virginia University athletics. Sometimes informative, sometimes accurate, but always entertaining, I particularly enjoy reading what fans have to write about recruiting.
I have one buddy who reads this stuff religiously and can recite chapter and verse the 40 times, heights, weights and vertical jumps of all the top prospects. He knows the blue chippers, the cow chippers, the sleepers and the reaches. I will ask him how many of them he’s seen in person and he says none, before quickly adding that he’s watched most of their YouTube videos though.
Oh, I say.
So how do you know if they are really any good, I ask? Look at their offers, he says.
In a way I suppose he’s right. If Alabama or LSU, Duke or North Carolina is after a player then he must be pretty good. Would Nick Saban or Les Miles, Coach K or Roy Williams waste their time on bad players? No. But does that provide the complete picture?
Of course not.
There is so much more to it than that. Does a player fit into the system? Can he grow and improve? Is he smart? Is he willing to work hard? Is he coachable?
Perhaps even more importantly, can he become a good teammate?
Don’t underestimate for a minute how unsettling a few bad apples can be to a program. I came to realize this after visiting with some of the former Mountaineer basketball players who were back on campus for the Varsity Club reunion last weekend. I was stunned to learn how disruptive just one bad teammate can sometimes be to a team.
Good players and good teammates don’t necessarily go hand in hand, and the greater good can sometimes suffer because of it. I can remember one former coach telling me that chemistry is among the most important – and fragile – attributes any team can have. If you have great team chemistry – to go along with all those great players - then the chances are really good that you will have a great team.
If you don’t have great chemistry then a team can only go so far. How many blue chippers did Butler have on its NCAA tournament final team last year? Or the year before that? I don’t have the slightest idea where Butler has finished in the basketball recruiting rankings the last couple of years, but it's pretty evident those Bulldog coaches are bulldogs on the recruiting trail.
So for you star gazers out there, keep counting all those stars and all those offers.
I will stick to the coaches. They’ve done their homework – they’ve talked to the players, talked to the parents, talked to the guidance counselors and talked to the coaches.
And yes, they’ve watched all those YouTube videos, too.
Follow John Antonik on Twitter: @John Antonik