Recruiting and player development go hand in hand – a lesson we have learned the hard way over the past few seasons. While it is important to recruit highly rated players, it is equally important to be able to discern which ones are more likely to pan out. At the same time, no matter how much potential a recruit has it is crucial to be able to maximize that potential on the field. Obviously the ideal coach has the ability to both evaluate talent, and to create a staff that will get everything out of them.
Jim Harbaugh had four recruiting classes at Stanford (though the first and the last may not have been solely his due to the coaching changes). To keep this simple I have just used the Rivals ratings. The first two classes had a lot of two stars as reflected in the average stars below:
2007: 2.63 (one 4*)
2008: 2.70 (two 4* including Luck)
2009: 3.27 (eight 4*)
2010: 3.13 (five 4*)
As you can see the quality improved each year, and I would guess that 2010 would have been even better had he not jumped to the Niners. On a personal note, when I look at recruits I am much more interested in offer lists than star ratings. Beginning in 2008 I began to see Stanford offers popping up all over the country – both for big name players and diamonds in the rough. Stanford offers were practically non-existent in my Michigan-centric searches before that. Clearly JH was even then capable of spreading a very wide and selective net throughout the country.
In 2009 Stanford had risen from terrible to 8-5, yet Harbaugh’s first (mixed) class were only juniors, and his next two classes were sophomores and freshmen.
By 2010 when they went 12-1 the only upperclassmen were 3rd and 4th year guys from his weaker first two classes (average stars well less than three). Of course there must have been help from the stronger ’09 and ’10 classes, but they were only 2nd and 1st year recruits.
JH was able to create a solid BCS bowl winning team with talent that – on its face – looks a lot lower than what we get at Michigan. This indicates not only his ability to develop talent, but also the recruiting acumen to find players with more potential than their star ratings would indicate. In sum, it appears (not surprisingly) that JH brings the same intensity and ability to recruiting and talent development that he does to all phases of the game.