Chris Miller emails, strongly disagreeing with my take in today’s column. What’s your view?
Eric,I read your article today about the geography of recruiting and I have a question for you.Why does it matter where our players grew up?Ohio State is going to the Rose Bowl with a team made up of players primarily from Ohio. Texas has players from Texas. USC, Cal, Oregon etc. have mostly players from the west. Oregon and Oregon State are playing for the other Rose Bowl spot. Where do their kids come from?Yes, Alabama and Florida are the cream of the crop right now, but we shouldn’t expect to compete with them for players. Not likely gonna win many of those. We take their leftovers. Always have.You also failed to mention the impact that the resurgence of Alabama with Nick Saban has had on our ability to recruit that area. Throw a growing South Florida program into the Florida mix and re-surging Miami and suddenly it gets tougher. FIU with Howard is becoming a player. There are more teams and the same number of recruits. Something has to give.How about the impact of joining the Big East? Suddenly instead of playing games in Tennesee (Memphis), Louisiana (Tulane), Alabama (UAB) and Texas (Houston, TCU), we play in Pennsylvania, West Virginia, New York, New Jersey and Ohio. Where are the games where the families of kids in the south can easily drive to see them play? Shouldn’t we recruit the new areas where we have a bigger presence year after year?Maybe you should ask why we have for years ignored Ohio? It’s a bordering state and consistently produces top talent. Why not Califnornia? It produces more D1 talent than the next 2 states combined.All that matters is the quality and quantity of players on the team. Not where they grew up.This coach has done a lot of things wrong. This is not one of them.The number of kids from Florida and Alabama on our team is the single dumbest stat anyone can throw at our Coach. It’s pointless. I would expect a “reporter” like you to know that.
Epic failure on your part.
I answered with this:
Where to start?
I’ll start with California. You realize, of course, that this year’s team is the product of a recruiting strategy that emphasized Florida and Texas. The talent on the roster right now is the product of a strategy you seem to be promoting.
What about Ohio? Sure. There are great players in Ohio, and U of L has gotten some of them. Dave Ragone comes to mind. But there aren’t the numbers you have in Florida — and Ohio State, Cincinnati and the Big Ten schools, including Notre Dame, take the best.
But I didn’t say not to recruit Ohio. U of L should hit Ohio HARD. (Eric Wood, Darius Ashley, etc.) But Ohio isn’t going to provide the numbers for U of L. Never has, never will.
In fact, U of L isn’t going to get the best from any of these states. But it needs to be in places where the talent is so thick that the second- and third-best kid is still very good.
U of L never got the kids from Florida, Georgia and Alabama that the top schools wanted. But the players left behind turned into good — often NFL — talent. U of L can absolutely beat South Florida to Florida kids. It had a track record of doing so before the current coach took over. Kolby Smith comes to mind, and Gary Barnidge. Both not just playing, but starters, in the NFL.
Here’s what I think you’re telling me. That instead of the leftovers from Florida, Alabama and Georgia, we spread out our recruiting efforts into multiple states and regions — regions where U of L has no history of success in luring recruits in sigifnicant numbers.
Let me take you back five years. What does it matter where U of L’s players come from? In states that you think now should not be emphasized, off the roster in 2004, we would take off the following players . . .
There are probably more, but I probably don’t have to tell you, the first NINE names on that list have been starters in the NFL at one time or another, including a couple of pro-bowlers. And that’s not including the tradition of players from down there — Ted Washington, Sam Madison (both from Florida); Ernest Givens, Deion Branch (Georgia); Dewayne White (Alabama).
The number is disproportionate. And for a coach to turn his back on an established well in search of others is something he does at his own and the program’s peril.
It would be one thing if the well were dry in the Southeast. It is not. Nick Saban is signing no more Alabama players than his predecessors. As John L. Smith and Howard Schnellenberger said often, “They can’t sign them all.”
Schnellenberger would dismiss your notion on the irrelevance of geography. I’m afraid I do, too.
And finally, a follow-up from Chris:
Eric,I have no problem at all with you using my e-mail, and thanks for taking the time to respond.I think you and I are coming from a basically different viewpoint. I think there is plenty of talent on this team to win. I just think they are poorly coached, poorly utilized and have had as many as 4 different coordinators and/or position coaches over the past 4 seasons, which makes the beginning of each season like starting completely over from scratch. They never get to the point of being confortable in the system.We went 6-6 with a team that had proven talent. Known talent. We lost to maybe the worst Syracuse team ever with that talent. We still have talent. We have still recruited good players. We just haven’t done anything with them. They haven’t grown under this staff like they did under the previous coach. We can no longer polish those diamonds like we used to.The possible exception is this year, where there has been improvement over the course of the season, but… too little too late.Having said that, my point is that you need to recruit good players. Not Florida. Not Alabama. Good players. Period. I don’t care if we have 50 kids from Utah if they are 50 smart, talented, skilled athletes.We have smart, talented, skilled athletes and you will see that when we hire a new coaching staff.The only reason we have a history of getting good players from Florida is because we have a history of coaches who had strong Florida ties. Howard, obviously and Bobby after him. We had assistants with strong recruitng ties to that area.We don’t so much anymore, and I’m Ok with them recruiting the areas they know. Andersen is from here. He’s great. Ashley is from Ohio. He’s great. Trent Guy from Charlotte. You saying those kids don’t have talent because they aren’t from Florida or Alabama?The two best players to ever put on a UofL unfiorm were from right here in Louisville. They were a bigger part of our rise to success than any of the guys you listed.Also, Alabama and Florida are getting the same numbers of kids, but they are getting more talented kids than
under their previous coaches. They get the cream of the crop. That leaves schools who otherwise took those kids (FSU, Miami, Auburn, South Carolina etc.) fighting for the 2nd tier. It’s trickle down. We aren’t just left with scraps. We’re left with scraps of scraps. Now you have teams like Rutgers going in there and throwing up billboards, you have every Northern Central Florida International thinking they can have a big time football program because they are in Florida. You have the SEC coachs falling all over each other to get in there….It doesn’t leave much for a school like us. In basketball, we are Florida and Alabama. In football, not so much. Regardless of whatever delusions of grandure we may have. Our claim to fame is a single BCS win over Wake Forest who was only there because they were the best of a bad ACC. We don’t match up to the big boys in the SEC. Never have.There are lots of talented kids from all over the country. To think that because you have kids from a certain area or certain state you are going to be good or not good is just silly. It’s a simple minded appraoch beyond description.You win with talent. Regardless of where that talent grew up.We have talent. We just need a coach.Thanks again for your time.
I agree with Chris that you do win with talent, regardless of where it’s from. I just think that U of L is foolish to go away from the most fertile ground of its traditional talent — Florida, Georgia, Alabama.
But what do you think?