Harbaugh Recruiting and Player Development

Submitted by jbibiza on December 15th, 2014 at 3:03 PM

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. 


Stringer Bell

December 15th, 2014 at 7:55 PM ^

You have to evaluate talent, find the right fit for your team, court the players to joining, allocate money or scholarships.  It's pretty similar, and I don't understand why people think Jim would hate recruiting but be totally open to the idea of being a GM.


December 15th, 2014 at 4:11 PM ^

He really didn't get to reap the rewards of his 2009-2010 classes - that was Shaw who got the benefit of them.  That said, let's give credit to Shaw (who is winning at a 75%+ clip post Harbaugh) - as we have seen here it is one thing to get recruits and another to develop them.  Shaw continued of Harbaugh's path and that is no guarantee.

And Stanford has never had a class like a typical UM class.  Ever.  This year's UM class if it finishes at the worst in recent memory (say 33rd in the country) would be an average Stanford class of late.  "Only" eight 4s would be a meh year for UM nowadays (excluding this year's class).

But to the OP's point - Harbaugh basically had to rely on upperclassmen from the previous regime and sprinkled in some of his lower rated first 2 year classes for the bulk of his success.  And of course Luck - who was not the 1st, 2nd or 3rd rated QB prospect (but 4th).  I hate when people make out Luck to be some can't miss prospect who was #1 overall in the country who basically gifted himself to Harbaugh.  Luck like many guys out there was a gifted HS player who was developed in large part due to Harbaugh.

Ron Utah

December 15th, 2014 at 5:50 PM ^

Perhaps most encouraging, the 2010 O-Line (which was dominant) was entirely composed of three-star players.  Not a single four-star in that group.  Of course, they were all juniors and seniors...


December 15th, 2014 at 6:56 PM ^

IMO, are independent of one another. Dont know how any one can make a read on a 16-18 year kid and conclude that they can handle the demands of being a student/athlete. Hence why a good majority of recruits never pany out...its a numbers game. I do agree though player development is key but based on discerning

gustave ferbert

December 15th, 2014 at 7:34 PM ^

I heard him say it many times at Stanford.  "I want kids who are tough and smart." 

Issues like Deshawn Hand will never happen again, because I imagine Harbaugh would encourage a kid to go to the Engineering school. 

He would bring an amazing culture to MIchigan football where our players will outthink pretty much everyone on the field.  In addition to being tougher in the mold of what Bo would expect.  


December 16th, 2014 at 2:34 AM ^

If Harbaugh decides to coach for Michigan that he will bring this 34th ranked class back into a top 20. A lot of recruits will turn their attention to Michigan, even some who have already made verbal commitments to other teams. It will be the reverse of what is happening now!


December 16th, 2014 at 6:16 PM ^

He brings instant credibility, and a fantastic trasck record of doing very well with little.  Imagine if he had a lot to work with?  C'mong man, Superbowl with Alex Smith and Kap?  They are, in relative terms, terrible.



December 16th, 2014 at 6:52 AM ^

In a perfect world Hoke comes back as a recruiting coordinator once all his former recruits graduate. He gets his wish of being part of the best football program in the country and has no responsibility when it comes to wins and losses. He can't coach at this level but I think you would be hard pressed to find someone who can sell Michigan better then him. If course this is all a pipe dream.

MoJo Rising

December 16th, 2014 at 9:46 AM ^

Is meaningless when it comes to Michigan and the issues the school and team have to overcome. Michigan is truly another beast and Harbaugh is going to have the challenge of his life assuming he dares to leave the NFL to take the challenge that is Michigan.

name redacted

December 17th, 2014 at 11:54 PM ^

Hate to be this guy, so be gentle, but oh do I remember when RR took the job and we were all salivating at...."Look what he's done with inferior talent at WVU wait till he get's our deep 4* classes!  Ohhhh BCS for years!"


December 19th, 2014 at 2:29 PM ^

So let's repeat what we've hopefully learned: Even great football coaches aren't magic. Lets be patient. :)

That said, there are some real reasons to think that the same transitional issues won't happen..And one thing that would help - Keep Mattison around. That means little or no transition for the defense. Clearly Harbaugh should pick who he wants (Vic Fangio?), but I think Mattison is a very solid DC, and a little less change might be good for that side of the ball..