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Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Recruiting 101- Casting the Net

College football recruitment is an art, not a science.

It has been widely reported on the Notre Dame Blog/Web sphere that Head Coach Brian Kelly of The Fighting Irish has made over 100 offers to soon-to-be high school seniors to come to Notre Dame and play football. What exactly does this mean? The NCAA allows 85 scholarship players per team which translates into that you can normally recruit 20-25 incoming freshman per year. What the heck is going on?

Sure the SEC Teams get Letters of Intent from 40-50 guys but that is a whole other story and just another example of abusing the college football recruitment system. You hve to feel sorry for those guys that end up with no scholarship, no college, no prospects.

In 2010, Stanford Coach Jim Harbaugh made 170 offers to high school seniors. How the dickens did he get away with that?

Let’s look at some Notre Dame numbers to assess where ND was and where apparently Coach Kelly is taking us on the recruiting trail.

Notre Dame offers over the last 11 years:

2002 75 Davie/Willingham

2003 58 Willingham

2004 69 Willingham

2005 65 Willingham/Weis

2006 59 Weis

2007 64 Weis

2008 57 Weis

2009 77 Weis

2010 103 Weis/Kelly

2011 125 Kelly

2012 100+ Kelly (and counting)

So do you have to make that many offers to sign the 20-25 prospects that you require at desired/critical need positions?

With the “elite only” recruitment type system, it was obvious that both Charlie Weis and Tyrone Willingham ended up having position holes that showed up eventually on the field and on the scoreboard. Of course part of Willingham’s problem was that he made the offers to play at wonderful Notre Dame and star with the likes of Knute Rockne while spending most of his time playing golf and working on his handicap.

The Kelly philosophy now appears to be the “wider net” recruitment system that gives the coaching staff some breathing room. So long as you know what you're ultimately looking for, there doesn't seem to be much downside to casting a wide net.

With the Weis approach, apparently he missed out too many times and it was simply because he didn’t make enough offers. No back- up for when a long sought recruit spurned his offer and went elsewhere.

You often read when recruits pick a school they talk about who was recruiting them early. If you restrict your offers on the basis of "exclusively" and a recruit focuses on another school, you end up coming late to the table after having lost the recruit you wanted the most.

Well how does this “wider net” approach work? If you recruit ten linemen needing four and your tenth choice yells out first “hell yes, sign me up Coach,” what do you do?

First it is assumed that each player offered meets Notre Dame admittance standards and Kelly’s Right Kind of Guy (RKG) criteria. This means a whole heck of a lot of research, homework, frequent flyer miles, film watching and analysis.

So how do the ten linemen know and understand where they stand with the limited number of spots available at their position? They know who is being recruited, the number of positions and their chances. This is big business and effects playing time and NFL chances down the road.

Is the “wider net” approach a crap shoot? The more offers you put out, the better chance you get to fill your needs. Here are three things Kelly is probably doing.

First, get the recruits Notre Dame desires engaged early. They don't take anyone seriously until they have an offer and offering late means you have to play catch-up because your few recruit that were made offers went somewhere else. It creates pressure for them to sign with ND. They can see that ND is offering 10 recruits 4 spots at their position and ND are going to take the top first 4 that say yes.

Second, Kelly doesn’t just offer anyone; those 100+ offers are for recruits ND would take a commitment from and honor.  The RKG mold.  Over the years as Notre Dame wins more and more, we all are going to understand and appreciate the RKG.

Third, if he offers say 10 offensive linemen, (C, G, T), they are secretly ranked OL -1 to OL-10. ND only needs 4, Kelly probably tells the bottom 6 (OL-5 to OL-10) since you have an offer, "we gave out 10 offers for four spots, the first top 4 that verbally commit and end up recruited will be honored by us, just hang in their".

Apparently too an "offer" isn't really anything but an offer of interest. If OL-7 jumps on an offer before the OL-1 to OL-4 choice recruits get much of a chance to consider the offer, then Kelly may tell the OL-7 recruit to wait a while. This makes a little bit of sense in that, a commit, when he goes public, usually says something like "I called coach and told him I'd like to commit." There are probably those that called Kelly, and he told them not to say anything publicly until other recruits have more time. If a recruit publicly commits early, it seems to mean he is a recruit the Notre Dame coaching staff really wants or are fairly certain that a better recruit isn't coming.

Also thrown into the equation is the ‘silent verbal’ and ‘soft verbal’. These drove Weis nuts and caused him to lose a number of top recruits at the last minute, leaving him no time to fill the position. A ‘silent verbal’ is when a recruit says ‘yeah coach I’m in the bag but I don’t want anyone to known’. A ‘soft verbal’ is one when the recruit says ‘yeah coach , I’m coming but still looking and going on campus visits.’ It appears that Kelly does not accept either of these recruit options, although he had to fight to the wire to get Aaron Lynch from Florida State back this past recruiting year.

Kelly and his staff do a tremendous job in sending out offers, pushing the right recruits to commit when they need them, while also holding onto recruits and asking them to stay patient to see if "more elite" or higher prospects jump on board.  Leave your ego at the locker room door.

Most of these are "verbal" offers, and a lot of times the staff must have to be very honest with the recruit and tells them what spots are looking like, if they need to hold off and wait it out. Also you are not going to get every recruit.

You definitely can lose recruits with this system because Kelly may have to go slow and easy playing a couple of slots, but at the end of the day more prospects will respect the honesty than those who will be upset and leave for another school (unless the offers is really strong as well).

Remember all the offers are verbal and written offers cannot be issue until the early Fall per NCAA rules.

These days the recruits have a backup position too.  Not only can they change their minds and de-committ.  If they get offers from Notre Dame as a OL-9 recruit and an offer from Compass U as a OL-1 type recruit, they can always commit to Compass U to make sure they have a place to go but if ND comes back at the last minute after losing OL-1 type, he can de-commit from Compass U and commit to ND. This appears to be happening more and more.

Normally recruits narrow down the field to three or four colleges and the coaching staffs have a pretty good idea if the recruit is going to fall into their laps or not.

Again, take Stanford with a slightly different approach. Coach Harbaugh must have a fallback position for his 170 offers. It seems as though that you weren't really 'committed' to Stanford until after the 1st semester of their senior year, once the admissions office gives the go ahead. It gives Stanford some leeway, but maybe a little less than honest. Maybe this is part of the decommittment process and strange numbers you read about.

Probably a good bunch of the 100+ offers or so are such long shot offers but it still makes the more serious (to ND) recruit take a good hard look early knowing they can't come back to ND later because slots have already been filled. It also steps up the pressure and forces other coaches to continue working and expending time to keep the recruit in their fold.

Go Blue, Beat Gold.
Go Gold, Beat Blue.

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