Ivan Maisel on the downside of "recruiting nationally"

Submitted by NoVaWolverine on January 29th, 2015 at 9:52 AM

Interesting piece on ESPN.com by Ivan Maisel, in which he examines the effort by some college football programs to "go national" in their recruiting -- particularly after winning a national title -- and whether that actually benefits them. I thought this was particularly relevant to us, as Harbaugh and staff look to be recruiting the top names from all across the country.

The news hook here is Urban Meyer's talk the morning after winning the championship game about expanding OSU's recruiting beyond "the footprint of Ohio." Maisel's big point is that emphasizing national recruiting beyond a program's traditional recruiting footprint, especially their home state, doesn't really help.

It all makes sense, but what's significant is that recruiting nationally hasn't resulted in more championships. If it did, a team that won it all would do so again four or five years down the road once those picked cherries have morphed into veteran players. In fact, there are plenty of examples of programs that began to recruit nationally and not only failed to win another national championship, but failed to maintain their status as national contender.

He uses USC under Pete Carroll as an example:

But take a look at USC a decade ago. The Trojans won their second consecutive AP national championship in 2004 with a roster of 82 Californians, 18 of whom started. [...] Then USC's coach, Pete Carroll, once at the top, decided that he wanted to -- as Meyer put it -- cherry-pick the nation's best recruits. One of his USC assistants, Rocky Seto, told author Steve Bisheff for his 2009 book, "Always Compete," that Carroll "tells us he only wants [out-of-state] kids who are capable of being first-round NFL draft picks." The 14 freshmen signed by USC in February 2005 included five out-of-state players, four of whom made the USA Today Top 100.

But Carroll never won another national title. By 2009, the fifth year after he had shifted to his cherry-picking philosophy, USC had virtually the same number (81) of Californians on its roster as it had five years earlier. But the Trojans' starting lineup included only 12 in-state players and 10 from out of state. USC went 9-4 that season, got blown out by Oregon and Stanford and Carroll left for the Seattle Seahawks.

Maisel cites Alabama in recent years as another example. He then goes on to ask why "going national" doesn't seem to help -- and happens to mention a certain Stanford program built by a certain coach we all happen to know:

There's also the theory that kids who don't grow up understanding Alabama football and wanting more than anything to play for Alabama -- or fill in your state university here -- don't make the same emotional commitment, that three-star players with heart supply the guts of a team with a smattering of five-star starters.

That's impossible to measure and doesn't take into account a success story like Stanford, which must recruit nationally because of its academic standards. The Cardinal team that won its second consecutive Pac-12 championship in 2013 included players from 30 states and three countries.

Lots of food for thought here. I'd argue Michigan is in a tougher position than many of these programs, because Michigan simply doesn't produce the quantity of in-state talent that California or Ohio or Texas or Florida or even Alabama do. We have no choice but to recruit nationally to some degree. We do need to concentrate on our traditional footprint -- MI, Ohio especially, and Pennsylvania -- and Hoke did a nice job with that, but I think Harbaugh's right to make a bigger effort going after kids in talent-rich states like FL, TX, and CA.





Monocle Smile

January 29th, 2015 at 9:59 AM ^

I think this is a rather poor attempt to forge a weak correlation into causation while ignoring a shit ton of confounding variables.

I'm not saying all methods are equal, but developing a surefire recipe for a national championship is like nailing jelly to the wall.


January 29th, 2015 at 12:38 PM ^

Actually, while some of Maisel's points may have been stretched a bit thin in trying to make his case, I believe he's largely right, even if he'd have received a 'D' in a logic & reasoning course. The passionate in-state 3-star will outwork the "3 & done" mentality 5 star you atttact from out of state. How many more highly rated players did Ryan Van Bergen pass on the depth chart and completely show up on the field? As one example...

And pointing out Stanford as a case in point against his theory is missing his point - Stanford doesn't "cherry-pick" the creme de la creme from other states in terms of starz ratings. They cherry pick the top student-athletes they can get admitted and will fit their system. And since Harbaugh arrived they have had an almost unerring eye for which players would be able to do both.

I believe this past season was a result of the beginning of a downslide in their ability to recognize and attract that talent in the 4 years post-Harbaugh. It's a pretty unique subset of HS athletes that can both pass at Stanford and win conference championships. But Harbaugh made Standord an attractive destination for them. As an example, they have guys leaving for the draft before exhasuting their eligibiliy this year - when has Stanford ever had that?! Even Luck stayed until his eligibility was done.

And now Michigan has that coach, with his remarkable ability to identify and attract that type of talent, and with a slightly less rigorous admissions process to navigate. Being as how the state of Michigan doesn't reliably produce as many blue-chip recruits as other some of the other states mentioned, and while osu is the only "Power 5" school in it's talent rich state while we have msu competing for top in-state players, I think "going National" is the perfect strategy for a coach like JH who has proved he can succeed doing it.

But still always remaining alert to the less highly rated players who "Love Michigan" that'll run through walls for you, and getting the ones you feel can help the team on the team..I think everyone who supports Michigan football will conceed that sparty has done a far, far better job of that over the past decade or so. That's what I'm looking forward to!



January 29th, 2015 at 10:09 AM ^

I think a big part of the staff's approach this year is due to necessity. They are recruiting kids that they already have some inroads with. Ie. Durkin in fla and Drevno in the west coast. 2016 will be a better indication of the overall strategy.

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January 29th, 2015 at 10:17 AM ^

measures later success in NCs? Did the programs continue to thrive? Did they institute rigorous approaches to that wider recruiting? Did they forego local talent or continue to cultivate it?

I've always thought Maisel was a very limited analyst.

And that crap about playing hard for your team when you didn't grow up rooting for the school? How many kids know who they should start rooting for in high school? What percent of kids are at the school they did root for? Bet it's a very low number. Weak, weak, weak.


January 29th, 2015 at 10:04 AM ^

Tiny sample sizes, makes this irrelevent IMO.  Meyer had already shifted OSU the minute he got there (I did a post on this a few weeks ago) and the result was a NC.   He can still get 50%+ of his guys from Ohio due to the depth of talent and cherry pick among the nation for others.  As you wrote UM doesn't have the luxuries of USC or Bama or Florida or FSU or Ohio or states buried in talent.

Space Coyote

January 29th, 2015 at 10:07 AM ^

As far as commits anyway. But I think recruiting nationally is more of a risk/reward prospect. Ohio is lucky because if they miss out on a national recruit, they still have a dozen highly regarded local recruits and can swoop in and grab another they've been spurning until a month before signing day.

But I still think it's a higher risk, partically because of what is described. 


January 29th, 2015 at 10:21 AM ^

What did winning the NC do for OH?  Make it more attractive to kids nationally.  Now he is making inroads at UM's feeder school in Detroit.  Kids like winning. Wherever they are from.

But my larger point of disagreement is this crap about "if you grow up bleeding Alabama you will play better/harder."  No - self motivated people play better/harder.  I've coached a different sport at a much lower level and a team full of self motivated individuals gets so much more done on a field.  They drive each other every practice, ,they support each other in the game, they work their ass off like no other.  They have no relent.  They dont forget about losses 5 minutes after it is over.  Those teams are a pain in the ass to play against. 

Transferring to football,If I get those guys from all over the country it does not matter if they didnt know the Wolverine figh song out of the womb.   That does NOT mean you cannot have high level athletes - you must have those because you can ""want" all you want but if you dont have 4.5 speed at CB you will be "wanting" while an elite WR runs right by you..  But I've had very top talent who are not motivated and they can easily be taken out of a game by frustration, if something goes wrong, if they feel affronted in any way (you take them out of the game early), and they can poison your practices\s and teams.  Even if they are the most talented kid(s) on the team.

This is the stuff we don't see in these recruiting rankings - some guys are just so damn physically gifted in HS they dominate.  But when facing like minded athletes (or very close) at the college level you dont know how they will react.  You dont know how hard they study.  You dont know what their will is.  A lot of winning football in October is done in Jan-July.  That goes to self motivation that a star rating never tells you.

Hate on Dantonio all we want but he finds those character traits it appears from the success on the field.  They dont have a ton of NFL players but they have guys good enough to be damn good in college and they sacrifice for the team (almost every one redshirts, super low attrition rates).  They didn't all grow up knowing and loving MSU - in fact many of his best players are from out of state or even out of the Big 10 footprint.  (NJ/GA of top of head)

If you have a bunch of guys who are self motivated and can marry that with top end athleticism half your job is done as a coach IMO.  Those guys will go to any school in the country, adopt it, love it, and put every ounce of blood sweat and tears into that school.  Wherever they are from.  This is basically what the Patriots look for.

Space Coyote

January 29th, 2015 at 10:04 AM ^

And I think some of the problems with recruiting nationally that he lists are true (though, his sample size is very small, so I think it's more a hypothesis than real evidence). People from everywhere could have an impact with regards to "not understanding Alabama football", perhaps a sense of entitlement, not fitting culturally with others on the team and thus affecting team chemistry, etc.

I think as much as that, by straying away from your traditional recruiting pool, he potentially alienate local coaches (and therefore players), allow rivals and others in the area to improve, and attempt to get recruits based off a fleating name and success rather than on more than that. Your core can always be your core. OSU can also be very good because their core (Ohio recruiting) is so strong. But you poison your core and you potentially poison the whole program. You have a few off years and your name suddenly doesn't mean as much when you step foot into a recruits door and try to sell your program. The kid from Cali doesn't care, and the kid from Ohio is interested in Michigan or MSU or FSU or Alabama. 

So it's kind of multifaceted. You may have issues directly related to going more nationally, but you also have issues when you try to come back and recruit locally. Unfortunately for a place like Michigan (and as he admits, Stanford), it's a bit of a reality we have to face. The core (Michigan recruiting) is mediocre though not terrible (but also being poached by two other strong programs in MSU and OSU); another part of the core (Ohio) has become more difficult to break into (due to OSU success and a lack of Michigan success). So right now, Michigan almost needs to recruit nationally to improve the health of its core. But it won't be made easy.


January 29th, 2015 at 10:37 AM ^


You have to keep up relationships with the local schools or you get to an untenable position and lose a "safety" net.  Look what happened to Rodriguez when the Michigan and Ohio coaches turned against him. 

Maintaining talent levels is important, but there has to be housekeeping as well, which I think was the point of the Maisel article, but he was ham-handed about it.


January 29th, 2015 at 10:08 AM ^

The problem with this analysis is that recruiting is a lot like drafting players. Some players develope and pan out, some players don't. Look at the number of four and five star players that don't developed into good players, there is a randomness to it and you hit on some and miss on some.


January 29th, 2015 at 10:09 AM ^

As noted by commenters above, Maisel admirably does point to contradictory evidence (Harbaugh's Stanford), and elsewhere in the piece lays out all the reasons why "recruiting nationally" does makes sense -- it's a lot easier w/today's "travel, technology, and media" as well as summer camps for programs to evaluate and reach out to talent outside their "footprints." I think he's simply trying to pump the brakes on this notion that using a "national brand" to "recruit nationally" is a substitute for ensuring you kick ass at recruiting in your own backyard.

The_Mad Hatter

January 29th, 2015 at 10:10 AM ^

merit to the notion that you want players on your team that worshipped the school long before ever playing there.  Someone that has wanted to play for Michigan his entire life, JH for example, is more likely to give his all and play for The Team, as opposed to playing for himself and his highlight reel.

That said, of course you should try to get the best players possible, no matter where they're from.

Chad Henne

January 29th, 2015 at 10:12 AM ^

USC never won another title because they started making recruits with potential think they'd won the lottery before stepping foot on campus. No wonder they failed to progress beyond that point.


January 29th, 2015 at 10:12 AM ^

If you go by "did they win a championship four or five years after they won a championshp" then regression to the mean is your enemy.  Also, how would the natually recruited team prove better under this metric? You can win a double championship.


January 29th, 2015 at 10:12 AM ^

Most of your games in a season are played against teams in your region. If you don't try and recruit the talent in your region, the odds are high that you will be playing against that talent.

It doesn't make sense to focus outside of the region until you have offered, or at least spoken to the regions talented  recruits that fit your needs. These will be the recruits you will be playing against the most. why not have them on your team instead of other league competition.

It seems to me it just makes common sense to recruit from the inside out. 


January 29th, 2015 at 10:14 AM ^

While I do not have evidence to the contrary, I don't buy this one bit.  Every great sportsman has a great drive towards excellence.  It is up to the coach to motivate so that each player performs up to the maximum regardless of emotional commitment.  I do think that at some point, there is such a thing as spreading your resources too thin if you want to recruit nationally.  With that much more recruits to evaluate, you tend to focus on athleticism/skills over intangables (such as great work ethics, desire and character).  This is where the team can lose out in the long run because we know great work ethics trumps talents most of the time.


January 29th, 2015 at 10:22 AM ^

"That's impossible to measure and doesn't take into account a success story like Stanford, which must recruit nationally because of its academic standards. The Cardinal team that won its second consecutive Pac-12 championship in 2013 included players from 30 states and three countries."

I would ask Maisel then about programs that recruit nationally because they are sitting in traditional dead zones, if you will, for native-born talent. Oregon's roster, for example, is rather dominated by Californians with a smattering of players from all over the US (Mathis Dior, I believe, is from Detroit, for example) - I don't think there are more than 15-20 natives of Oregon on the entire roster. If we want to talk about a less successful but comparably strict school academically, I think Northwestern's roster has roughly a third of its players coming straight from Illinois. 

As someone mentioned, so many confounding variables.


January 29th, 2015 at 1:17 PM ^

But, dude... you read this thread, and took the time to comment on it! What would we be talking about today if SOMEONE (thanks OP) hadn't taken the time to read & post Maisel's thoughts on recruiting?

So moral of the story, I'm not gonna read him, and killerseafood isn't gonna read him, but someone please keep reading blowhard morons and starting threads on their opinions so the rest of us can chime in...K? thanks!


January 29th, 2015 at 10:47 AM ^

Oregon is a great example of you dont have to bleed Duck as a child to be elite.

I would also be very curious about Nebraska in the 60s thru 80s.  Another example of a program that doesnt have a ton of elite home grown talent.  I bet a bunch of their guys were from Oklahoma and Texas and didnt bleed Cornhusker from age 3.

What about Notre Dame?  They have had decades of success until recently.  Plenty of kids went there for decades that weren't from Indiana or 1 state over.

No one is saying ignore your state or your region.  If you have elite athletes who are self motivated in your state, and region that should be priority #1.  Easier to recruit them, easier to sell the drive to parents to see their kids play, etc. Helps maintain relationships with HS coaches.

But once you get past that level of player it would be silly not to get a similar type of player out of state/region.  And very few schools have the "brand" to do it - Michigan is one.  You are not getting an elite kid out of Alabama if you are Oklahoma State or Washington.


January 29th, 2015 at 10:23 AM ^

Recruiting nationally may not be a guaranteed formula for success.

But that does not mean one should not seek quality players wherever one finds them.

Recruiting does not need to be a "local vs. national" binary.  It can be a blended approach, and most top-level programs attempt to do just that.  It's just a question of degree.

Laser Wolf

January 29th, 2015 at 10:28 AM ^

USC is a pretty weak example. You can afford to shop local when your version of local is the most fertile recruiting base in the country. The overwhelming evidence shows that stars do matter in recruiting and you go get those players no matter where they reside.

Everyone Murders

January 29th, 2015 at 10:30 AM ^

Using Pete Carroll's experience in CA as a basis underscores the flaws in Maisel's analysis.  It matters quite a bit if you are in a talent-rich state where h.s. football is king.  TX, CA, OH and a few other states have ample-enough talent to supply the in-state universities with great rosters.  USC doesn't need to go out of CA too many times to build a power.

And in some states, like Louisiana, there is sufficient talent to mostly stock one program but not much more.  So recruiting local there works well.  But most states have to draw some from TX, CA, OH and some other states (e.g., PA or NJ for B1G schools) to fill their rosters. 

The bottom line is that there are many dynamics at play here. 


January 29th, 2015 at 11:06 AM ^

and other places where the local programs were down.  If you remember - LSU, Texas, and Oklahoma were all going through down periods and our recruiting benefitted from that.  Anthony Thomas, Russell Shaw, Jeremy Tuman, James Hall, Marcus Knight,Tommy Hendricks, etc. all came from "the south".  Sure, we had our share of midwestern kids, but the roster was supplemented with studs from around the country.


January 29th, 2015 at 11:26 AM ^

Adami - Arkansas; Backus - Georgia; Brady - California; Brooks - Texas; Feazell - Georgia; Feely - Florida; Frazier - Texas; Griese - Florida; Hall - Louisiana; Hendricks - Texas; Howard - Louisiana; Huff - North Carolina; Hutchinson - Florida; Jones - Maryland; Knight - Alabama; Kornblue - Florida; Shaw - California; Taylor - Texas; Thomas - Louisiana; Tuman - Kansas; Whitley - Virginia; Williams - Texas

In this group above, there are seven starters on offense and four on defense.

Adami, Backus, and Hutchinson were three-fifths of our O-Line, and Williams, Hall and Feazell were mainstays on the DL.

It's entirely feasible for schools in California, Texas, and Florida to succeed with rosters that are almost entirely comprised of players within their footprints, but I don't think that's a winning strategy for Michigan, and probably not even OSU.


January 29th, 2015 at 11:32 AM ^

Griese, Backus, Hutch, Adami and Howard, thats 5 O starters right there.  Only 4 of the 11 O starters were from the Big 10 states.  Fyi Tuman was from Kansas and Shaw Cali I believe.

The D was more Big 10 state oriented.  Hendricks, Hall, Josh Williams and Dhani were from outside.  So half the starters were from outside the Big 10 area.  Most of those guys played in the pros too btw.

Marley Nowell

January 29th, 2015 at 11:02 AM ^

One thing I was thinking is how it may actually be detrimental to a program to only have elite prospects. Everyone plans on declaring early and continuity is lost. If you have some lower rated "glue" guys that stick around for 5 years they can preach the team values about practicing and studying scheme to the younger players.


January 29th, 2015 at 11:11 AM ^

The basic argument he is making holds true, namely that if you have local talent try to nab those kids because even if they aren't stars, they are more likely to stick around and give you some continuity. But elite programs recruit nationally because they can, and usually can do so without worrying about losing local kids who grew up watching you. So basically this is one of those really trivial articles that tries sound More controversial than it is.

Indiana Blue

January 29th, 2015 at 11:49 AM ^

to me = having the "power" to attract those players with "special skills".   I believe that the "core" of the football roster must be built through the local or regional areas to be able to have a foundation to your program.  However - everyone knows that there are areas outside this region that produces exceptionally talented players.  (even Bo & Lloyd looked for these players).  But the last 7 years have tarnished Michigan "gold" status, and it is paramount for Harbaugh to remove the tarnish IF Michigan is to return to what we ALL want.

Harbaugh brings instant credibility based on his coaching resume ... which is the current basis for having the ability to recruit nationally.  Success on the gridiron will ultimately return the Michigan football brand to national prominence once again ... and who knows maybe even a happy fan base.

Go Blue! 


January 29th, 2015 at 12:23 PM ^

They produce a few stars, but that's about it. So Idaho, Wyoming and even Rutgers should be killing it. He is on drugs. California has great year round football, so of course USC had local kids. What a fucking stupid article.


January 29th, 2015 at 12:40 PM ^

as several posters said above, regional players being the key to winning a NC fails to take into account the influence of dramatic changes in the college game over the past 15 years.  USC played a pretty traditional west coast offense when Carroll won the NC in 2003 then the onset of spread offenses, defendes geared to stopping USC type teams etc probably was a bigger reason USC didn't repeat.   No doubt that kids that are truly passionate about a particular school helps to motivate them but let's face it when there is team chemistry it doesn't matter where they are from.  


January 29th, 2015 at 3:19 PM ^

He may not have won the NC again after 2005 but look at his teams after that:

2006: knocked out of NC game by upset loss to UCLA; finished #4

2007: upset losses to Stanford and Oregon knocked them out of NC game; finished #2

2008: upset loss to Oregon State kept them out of NC game; finished #2

2009: finished 9-4

Hard to say that his national recruiting didn't help given the razor-thin margin between playing for the NC or not in the BCS era.

Just lazy writing to say that not winning the NC meant that a particular recruiting approach didn't work.