If I am completely honest I haven’t followed along with how Butch Jones has gone about compiling his class in this, his first, full recruiting cycle. I checked up every month or so with the offers, paying the most attention, to the recruits I knew the most about. Ryan Kelly, Donovan Clark, Antonio Polle, Stephen Daniels, Patrick Coyne ect. But I didn’t really dig dig in regards to who had offered whom. I was following developments, but not that closely. The past week or so that has changed a bit, I am done with classes and find myself with a lot of free time and the pre-summer top number x lists from the scouting services have begun to see the light of day. I made a note of Coyne’s inclusion in one of those lists about a week ago. When I started to dig into Butch Jones’s recruiting efforts a little bit more I have had a bit of a revelation, Butch Jones is a really, really ambitious guy when it comes to recruiting. That is even clearer when compared to the recruiting efforts under Mark Dantonio and Brian Kelly.
There was a fantastic feature on the NCAA Football 2005 video game that allowed a coach emphasize recruiting, training or discipline during the off season. The concept being that you get 100 points to distribute between the three categories for the coming year. If you choose to focus on recruiting you, in theory, will have more time to devote to the process. As a result you will recruit better players. If you chose the development route you wouldn’t get highly rated prospects as frequently and would have to build your program through red shirts, off season workouts and time. I loved that feature because it was very true to life for how smaller programs work. They don’t have the money to do everything, so they have to pick and choose how to allocate the resources they do have for maximum efficiency. I am not saying anything derogatory about UC, but the fact of the matter is that UC isn’t awash with resources. The basic strategy undertaken by Brian Kelly and Mark Dantonio was to place most of their emphasis on developing the players they had, not on finding new players.
This is not intended to be a slam at either one of those coaches. Both of them had their own way to go about things, and the methods of both men did succeed. But neither of them set their recruiting sights quite as high as Butch Jones has done; and there is a reason why. Mark Dantonio had spent the majority of his coaching career at prior to getting the head coaching gig at UC working at Michigan State and Ohio State under Nick Saban and Jim Tressell, two men that have well earned reputations for recruiting prowess. But a funny thing happened on his journey from Columbus to Cincinnati. The confidence that he had to land top echelon talent went away, far away. The war room question du jour went from being “who is the best player available” to “who is the best player we can get.” The impetus behind the idea being to get the guys that were an inch too short or 20 pounds to light, lock them in the weight room, and wait two years for results. And it worked. Well. Tony Pike, Mardy Gilyard, Connor Barwin, Terrill Byrd, Corey Smith, Mick Mickens, DeAngelo Smith, Dom Goodman and on and on. All guys over looked by the scouting services, and bigger schools. The bottom line was that Dantonio had a tremendous amount of faith in his staffs ability to develop the talent they got into the program into productive players at a BCS level. Dantonio had less faith in the ability of his staff to lure top players to Clifton. Because of that a greater emphasis was placed on development at Cincinnati than he has done at Michigan State where he has recruited rather well.
Kelly did many of the same things, but for different reasons. As we all know Kelly started out on the lower levels of College Football.The lower divisions of college football teach a coach one thing above all else, he who maximizes resources wins. Kelly had to do that at Grand Valley State and then Central Michigan. The requirement to maximize resources with UC wasn’t as acute as it was at his previous stops, but that was his background, and he was very comfortable going down the developmental path in building a team. Kelly was a little bit different from Dantonio though on one thing. Both of them would offer the best Cincinnati area talent, but there were differing levels of pursuit. Dantonio offered them, but Kelly pursued them, aggressively, maybe a little too aggressively. Kelly increased the level of recruiting at UC pretty noticeably, but he liked to work on a very quick time table. One of the results of this was that he wasn’t afraid to give a kid an ultimatum, eg commit to us now or your offer is going somewhere else. The most memorable example of that to me was Greg Pratt a running back out of Naples, Florida. He had a high level of interest in UC pretty early in the process, but when the staff pressured for a commit he wasn’t ready to and he eventually signed with Troy.
Kelly recruited like an express train, he had a schedule and he was going to keep to it. If you wanted to get on at a station where the train didn’t make a stop you missed the train it was that simple. The best illustration of this is the timing of the commits Kelly secured. Kelly only had two full recruiting cycles at UC and in those classes totaling 49 players, 32 of them ended the process before September. In comparison Mark Dantonio only had 5 summer commitments in 3 years as head coach.
My early read on the Butch Jones recruiting philosophy is this. He values talent, he targets the best players he can and tries to get in the fold with them. He is aggressive with his offers, but not indiscriminate, which is an important distinction to be made. To carry on with the train metaphor, if Brian Kelly is an express train, Butch Jones is a local. A top recruit can get on or off at any stop of his choosing, letting his targets get on at a moment of their choosing. By my reckoning Jones and Co. have targeted at least 25 national recruits, far more than Kelly and miles beyond what Dantonio tried. To do so they have reached deep into Michigan and Ohio, pretty obvious, New Jersey, less obvious, as well as Florida and Georgia to capitalize on John Jancek’s recruiting ties in SEC country. It should also be pointed out that their efforts do seem to be making an impact. Two national recruits who have recently cut down their lists have grouped UC in with their leaders. Anthony Zettel, who is Rivals 58th ranked player in the nation, cut his list to 6 with UC making the cut with UCLA, Penn State, Iowa, Michigan and Michigan State. Bill Belton, number 240 in Rivals top 250, cut his list of about 20 offers down to 10 with Florida, Louisville, Maryland, Oregon, Penn State, Pitt, Purdue, South Carolina and West Virginia in contention with UC.
Time will tell how this approach works out for Butch Jones and company. As of now I am liking what I am seeing and hearing about Coach Jones’s recruiting efforts.