Sunday, July 16, 2006

What's the difference in recruiting?

With such a grand step up in football recruiting so far, the natural question is why? When we struggled to land our top targets in years past, why are we landing so much top flight talent this year? Nothing is official until ink is on paper on signing day, but this class is shaping up to be Chan Gailey's best without a doubt - at least in terms of high school credentials.

So I thought I would take a moment to explore the reasons why things have changed this season. The order presented below is my opinion of the order of impact.

1. Coaching Changes - Making Giff Smith the recruiting coordinator is looking like a stroke of genius. Bringing in Geoff Collins was another recruiting stroke of genius. These two guys have made THE biggest difference this season. Then throw in Jeep Hunter and Charles Kelly, who are excellent recruiters in their own right and you've got a winning combination. I won't name names, but the previous recruiting leads did not have the same level of energy, enthusiasm and effort. It all starts with people and that has made THE difference.

2. Philosophy - The staff has made some fundamental changes to their recruiting philosophy. First, they brought the focus back inside the borders, concentrating efforts to keep the in-state guys. Face it, UGAg has had their pick of in-state players and the Calvin Johnson scenario's were rare. The Brandon Miller outcomes were more common. Not so much the case so far. Throw in the fact that the in-state talent is very high this year and that helps. The staff still focuses on nation-wide recruiting, but seems to focus on Texas (who doesn't) and the midwest - and of course the southest. Another philosophy change seems to be going after the best players, offering early, and not backing off. The staff tended to wait longer to get offers out after completing their own detailed evaluations. When has this staff ever had 10 committments before mid-July? Never..........

3. Coach Gailey contract extension - never underestimate the impact of program stability. Never. Not only that, Coach Gailey signed a 5-year deal, so THESE recruits this year can say to themselves - it's likely that I will play for one head coach my entire college career. That means something to recruits. It means something to their families. No, players should not base their college decision on who their head coach will be, but we all know that the coach / player relationships are important. Sending a signal to ballers that Chan Gailey is going to be around for another 5 years is making a difference. To say otherwise is ludacris.

4. The NFL Draft - Face it - almost every one of these kids harbors dreams of playing in the NFL, even though very few will do it. So the SEC has a history of getting the best kids and sending them to the league. Well, this year's NFL draft saw the ACC obliterate draft records. There were more ACC 1st round picks that from any other conference............ ever......There were more ACC players drafted than from any other conference in any other draft............ ever....... Kids just saw a few months ago that they will not sacrifice their dream one bit playing in the ACC. We all know the impact of the "new" ACC, but this year's draft took that to a new level.

5. Patrick Nix. Here's my perception. Handing over the play-calling to Patrick Nix has NOT had a tremendous impact on recruiting (yet) because of recruit's fantasies of a wide-open offense. However, handing over the reigns to Nix HAS allowed Coach Gailey to spend more time recruiting. I am struck by how many recruits are commenting about how impressed they are personally with Coach Gailey. I've heard more positive comments about our head coach than I remember in any other recruiting season. Coach seems to be spending more time talking with recruits, visiting them on the road and talking with their families. He spends more time at camps and it seems to be making a difference. I am rarely seeing quotes to the effect "I met with my position coach but didn't have a chance to meet Coach Gailey". I'm just not seeing those quotes much this year.

6. Player relationships - This should probably be even higher on the list. The re-focus in-state has been effective because so many of these players are friends and know each other. The ones who have committed are really "working" the ones who haven't. Kyle Jackson seems to be a one-man recruiting force......... and it's working. These guys have bonded playing against one another and spending time together at camps. Now, if in fact this is a stronger force this year, then it could backfire in future years. Have we just hit upon the right blend of friends and relationships and talent? Guess we'll just have to wait and see.

7. The Internet - There's a different mojo on the 'net this season. The use of sites like MySpace and Facebook is starting to shift the recruiting landscape a bit. All of these recruits have a MySpace page and they talk. They talk a lot. They recruit each other. Kyle Jackson has been posting on all these guy's sites. Steven Threet has developed relationships with players through MySpace. It's a different vibe this year in terms of player networking. It just happens to be helping us. Tech coaches are taking advantage of this new medium as well.

On a broader scale, technology communications in general is playing a bigger role. Last year, Coach Gailey was quoted as saying he'd never used text messaging before and wouldn't know how to do it. Not the case today. Far from it.

7. Calvin Johnson - CJ is a force. He's a phenomenon. He's larger than life. These kids watch what he does (as do we) and marvel. He's an unbelievable showcase talent for this school. The top players see that top players want to come to Tech and excel. They don't have to imagine it - they can just watch him on Saturdays and listen to everyone bow down to "The Truth".

8. Wins over Auburn / Miami - beating two football factories on national tv in their house has an impact. Tech can play with the big boys. It opens eyes.

9. D-Rad in / D-Braine out - I don't want to make too much of this, but bringing in a guy who reigned over LSU's national championship in football doesn't hurt. Bringing in a guy who says we're here to win championships and sending out a guy who says we'll never win 10 games consistently helps. How much? I don't know, but it helps.

10. PJ Daniels - The PJ Daniels walk-on to NFL story is a Jacket fan favorite. It's also a recruiting tool that cannot be underestimated. A top RB can go just about anywhere, excel and make it to the NFL. Do you think Adrian Peterson would have hurt his chance by going to Podunk U? How about Calvin Johnson? No, but if you can demonstrate that you took a guy that NOBODY offered and build him into an NFL-back, that's saying something. Seriously, it's a big deal and a great story.

11. Selling the GT Story - I honestly think that the entire Tech staff has just gotten better at selling the Tech story. The city, the campus, the academics, the tradition, the whole thing. There's a great story to be told and I think they're just getting better at telling it.

12. Probation - I say this tongue in cheek. Going on probation does NOT give Tech "street cred". Just put that out of your thoughts. However, the changes that were put in place as a result are making a difference. The players are all commenting on the strong academic support at Tech. Much of that is a result of the embarrasing academic situation.

There are other factors that I considered, like Thursday night football, but we've been doing that for years. Why would it be making a difference now?

So there it is. What do you think? Did I miss anything? Did I get the order wrong? Thoughts?