Recruiting Philosophy, Pt. 2

A couple weeks ago, I posted about the apparent desire by Michigan’s coaches to offer every prospect under the sun. Of course, like any strategy, there are certain advantages and downsides to this technique. What is most striking, perhaps, is the difference between what Michigan is doing, and the methods employed by arch-rival Ohio State on the recruiting trail. The post (as it was intended to do) drew a ton of responses, and I went even one step further by asking a few questions of Jim Stefani, who was more than happy to answer them.

What is going on

According to Jim Stefani, Michigan has as many as 130 offers to high school prospects outstanding thus far. Many of these, however, might be from kids that they don’t really want to commit. According to Jim Stefani, “In a sense, many Michigan ‘offers’ are not really firm offers but more or less strong indications of interest by Michigan.  Take that for what you will, but it is how many schools are now approaching recruiting.  Look at the DB who wanted to verbal to U-M last week [Travis Williams] but was told to wait.” Florida, a school that uses a similar technique in throwing around a lot of offers, had a similar situation, and they had to tell a defensive back outright that the offer he had been given was not “committable.” It appears as though the main point of contention here, then, is what an offer really means.

Shouldn’t an offer, by definition, be “committable?” Isn’t that, after all, what an offer is? Wolv54 offered a hypothesis in the comments from the previous post:

The only potential problem the shotgun approach creates is that you have a finite number of schollies and you have to slow play some guys waiting for the higher ranked guys make their decisions. I would compare it to trying to get a prom date; whereas you ask the hottest girl you know and hope she says but if not, you can always take that girl that plays in the band, right?

Michigan seems to be offering both the “hottest girl” and the “band girl,” and hoping they can get the less desirable option to wait for the hotter one before making a decision. However, with a Michigan offer now just meaning that the Wolverines have strong interest in a kid, the techniques might have to be adjusted. According to Stefani, “they need to be careful that they get the right kids to commit of those 130. Believe me, even though a kid has been offered does not mean that Michigan wants him to commit right away (or, perhaps, ever).”

So why do they offer guys without actually wanting them to commit? This hasn’t always worked out, as people (like Travis Williams) try to commit, without the staff wanting it. That can lead to one of the problems that Michigan fans fear, according to Michigan4204,

I mean damn dude, were beating out schools like TCU, Tulsa, SMU, and Baylor for some of these recruits. Players used to come to Michigan because they produced pro-level talent. You have to have that talent first of all when you arrive on campus, and half of RR recruits simply don’t have that talent.

There are certainly ways out of this (and schools like florida use them as well), but it’s not always the cleanest break, as Stefani points out, “It backfires when a kid wants to commit and the verbal is not accepted or commits and then a few months later Michigan stops contact.  That is because it will upset the prospect and, more importantly, his high school coach.  If the prospects is from a program loaded with D-I talent every year it could definitely hurt.” Michigan seems to be willing to risk this.

The Contrast with Ohio State

Ohio State, as mentioned above, is using a recruiting method that seems to be diametrically opposed to that of Rich Rodriguez and staff. Jim Tressel has given out very few offers, and has many fewer commits than Michigan, though most of their commits are more highly-rated than some of Michigan’s guys. Like Michigan has its reasons for the current recruiting strategy, Ohio State also has reasons for theirs. They already have a deep talent base, and this year, they have very few scholarships to hand out. Stefani’s take:

The longer a school waits to offer, the more time it has to evaluate prospects and decide who they want to offer.  With schools in the midst of May evaluation, combines going on every weekend and summer camps coming up in June, the Ohio State coaches will have a LOT more info at hand when it comes to making their offer decisions than the school that have offered many prospects early based on sophomore year camp/combine performances and junior film.

The Buckeyes also give themselves another advantage: “many of the elite players like to wait things out, which only helps the schools who have not picked up too many early verbals.” Of course, Michigan will wait on top-top guys who have interest, but does accepting a lot of early verbals limit their ability to do so? Probably.

As shown above, Michigan fans aren’t exactly unanimously enthusiastic about the new approach. Michigan4204 was the most harsh in the comments of the previous post, using the now-old adage “Just because it worked in the Big East doesn’t mean it’ll work in the Big Ten. Trust me I hope it does, but I’m pessimistic.” When it was pointed out that there is no reason to expect any different result simply on a different conference, he was quick to point out the talent difference between the Big Ten and Big East, which, unfortunately for his argument, seems to ring a little hollow.

Players in 2009 NFL Draft
Cincinnati 6 Illinois 3
Connecticut 4 Indiana 0
Louisville 2 Iowa 4
Pitt 4 Michigan 2
Rutgers 5 Michigan State 1
South Florida 1 Minnesota 0
Syracuse 2 Northwestern 0
West Virginia 3 Ohio State 7
Penn State 5
Purdue 2
Wisconsin 4
Total/School 3.38 Total/School 2.55

So, yeah. That argument certainly doesn’t hold water. Complaining about Rodriguez’s tactics on the basis of a talent difference between conferences is bogus. Of course, that doesn’t stop ontblue from agreeing with him:

Tend to agree with Michigan4204. You can take RR’s 3/4 star guys and I’ll take the USC/Florida/Suckeyes 4/5 star guys and we’ll see how things stack up in 5 years. By the way, since when did adding a marginal guy ever add to depth? It just adds another cheerleader.

Obviously, Rich and staff think the commits that they take will be guys who are able to contribute, or they likely wouldn’t waste their time. As bouje noted, “Who are the players that are really lighting it up in spring practices? Vincent Smith 3* out of Florida. He can obviously pick the 3* recruits.”

The reasons for this approach

So why does Michigan have to recruit the way they are? For one thing, they’ll probably have a lot of scholarships to fill, unlike the Buckeyes. “[L]ast year Ohio State signed a full class of 25, so they have limited schollies to hand out this year and are being very selective,” Stefani said. “On the other hand, after expected attrition Michigan is in a position to sign between 22 and 25 kids this coming year, so the Wolverines have a lot more flexibility when it comes to making early offers.” The early offers also help Michigan get their foot in the door with some guys:

Being aggressive with their early offers means that Michigan gets on a prospect’s radar earlier than those schools that have not offered.  the old adage ‘the early bird catches the worm’ applies here.  Moreover, actually picking up early verbals gets the whole process rolling as they can market their “great” (haha, excuse me) class to other prospects, as can the kids who have already committed.  They can now tell a lot of the Ohio kids, we love you but Ohio State doesn’t.  that carries some weight.

The early offers also mean that the class fills up quickly, as pointed out by Derrick, “Wouldn’t this approach force some kids to make a decision before all the offers were gone? If a kid really wants to play for michigan or any school he knows there are only so many offers available and he should be proactive in making a commitment.” Still, fans aren’t necessarily all on board with this approach, as sebaskrator said, “I’m willing to give RR the benefit of the doubt for now. Has has been able to get pretty far finding some gems before. That said, if he is able to juggle commitments around for someone he’d like more later, great.” It’s an endorsement, sure, but I’d say that’s far from ringing.

The Future

So, when Michigan’s talent base is built up to where it used to be, at least with the types of players that Rodriguez wants, will we see this strategy continue? It’s highly likely, though a school like Florida, which has had several top-tier classes in a row now, continues to use it, as AC1997 points out “I find it interesting how Urban Myer is offering everyone and their brother too, being from Utah he had the same problem that Rich Rod did (and probably worse).” The key thing that needs to happen before Michigan can audible the recruiting strategy is to show results on the field, according to Stefani, “First and foremost,once Michigan starts winning again it will become a magnet for national kids and be able to hold off on offering second-tier kids too early.” Ohio State obviously doesn’t have this problem right now, as he points out:

Ohio State is a top-tier national program that has gone to a couple consecutive BCS championship games.  They are an elite school that a LOT of kids want to play for, be they in-state kids or national kids… They can afford to wait on a lot of in-state kids because they know that they can get them later in the recruiting timeline if they finish second on some of their top national targets.  Michigan, on the other hand, is in a rare rebuilding mode and is not longer a “hot” school with national prospects.

In the future, once Michigan (hopefully) starts having on-field success again, this argument will all become moot.

There are still benefits to Michigan’s technique, as Stefani says “The risks [for an approach like OSU] are that by waiting too long to offer a prospects you have ‘bigger fish to fry’ you will lose out on him to another school (e.g. Devin Gardner to Michigan).  Once prospects are offered bythe Buckeyes, they will often have to do a ‘catch-up’ job in showing them the love.” However, It seems that Michigan will likely never go from the extreme that they’re currently occupying all the way to Ohio State’s, wherein they offer very few prospects early. In the end, a happy medium is probably most desired. AC1997 probably sums it up best: “Maybe he feels that 3-9 means he has to do that.” In another year 3-9, hopefully, will no longer be an issue.

Posted under Analysis, Coaching, Football, Recruiting

Gotta offer ’em all

This recruiting cycle, it’s become particularly evident that there are different recruiting methods regarding how many offers to hand out. Jim Stefani has mentioned this several times already this year. Ohio State has given very few offers to 2010 high school prospects, whereas Michigan seems to have offered everyone under the sun:

The Michigan coaching staff had better be on top of their scholarship management when it comes to the Class of 2010. They have about….

….125 offers out there, and with 9 early verbals that leaves room for probably about another 13-17 commitments. They are handing out…

…”offers” like candy this year. It is a fine balancing act between offering kids early to maintain interest and being selective enough..

…..to hold out for the top kids. RichRod nd staff will need to be master jugglers this year. Interesting thing is that Ohio State….

…is taking the completely opposite approach and has been more selective than any other school in the nation in making early offers.

Also: Jim Stefani doesn’t understand the point of Twitter.

I’ll explore this in further depth later, but for now, I’d just like to point out that there is no “right way” to do it. Florida, for example, seems to offer everyone, much like Michigan. Texas, like Ohio State, is very selective with who it offers. Both schools are riotously successful in the recruiting game (as is Ohio State, and Michigan will hopefully get there with a little better product on the field).

So, I ask you, fair readers: What do you think? This discussion may be colored a bit by the semi-controversial commitment of Drew Dileo, but I’m interested to hear what the fans think.

Posted under Coaching, Football, Recruiting

Where Does the Offense Go From Here?

Much to the delight of Michigan fans (or maybe just bloggers), Smart Football has taken a fairly serious interest in Michigan since Rich Rodriguez has been the headman. Of course, part of the reason that the Wolverines get mentioned time and again is the fact that everything is not all sunshine and lollipops in Ann Arbor. Of course, Rodriguez has never taken a significant interest in the defensive performance of his teams, so surely the focus of Smart Football is on that side of the ball, no?

Not So Fast My Friend. It is in fact the offense that Chris has taken an interest in. More specifically, it is the idea that Michigan’s offense is not as diversified or systematic as perhaps it should be. This is not an old issue for Chris, who has brought up the point before that the passing game is not conceptually designed. In the more recent post, he goes a little more in-depth:

If Rodriguez wants his offense to be truly elite again, it’s the passing game that has to be the source of innovation. The run game tools are largely in place. There’s some room for improvement all around, but, last season with general inexperience — and without a legitimate running threat at quarterback — the lack of a viable downfield passing attack worked to help cripple the Rodriguez offense. But the fact that this aspect never developed over the course of the season was what really troubled me.

There’s much more to say on this topic, but for now suffice to say that Rodriguez is in danger of falling behind in the spread offense arms race in terms of sophistication. I discussed that phenomena with Purdue as a pass-first spread team over the last decade, but it’s of a slightly different order with Michigan.

Let’s break this down, shall we?

Passing Game
Smart Football sez:

But Rodriguez is a bright guy and his passing game originally derived from (though is a long way now) the old run and shoot. So you’d think he could remedy this. Yet with nothing but true freshman, that evolution will have to wait. The longer they wait, however, the farther behind they fall. The only hope is the increased athleticism masks these deficiencies.

Brian’s take on the matter is that Rodriguez hasn’t been forced to have a complex passing game, because with Pat White at the helm, a dominating run game and simple pass game will work just fine, thank you. I tend to agree with that assessment, and it better be true, because, as noted by Smart Football, the Wolverines are likely a year away from being able to add any complexity to the passing game.

With Pat White able to run the ball like he did, and probably not able to pass well enough to have a full pass game installed, it’s easy to see a potential reason the pass game stayed stagnant. Rodriguez’s recruiting has shown that he’s more interested in being able to throw the ball, however, and Tate Forcier may even be a better passer today than White, if not quite the runner:

Running Game
Smart Football:

Compare their offenses with Rodriguez’s: there’s not much difference from a run-game standpoint (though Meyer and OU mix up their sets a bit more and use more tight-ends now), but the passing games have seen a wide departure.

All due respect to Smart Football (and I may be wrong here, because he knows a hell of a lot more about the game than I do), but I’d be willing to say that even Rodriguez’s ground game, at least as implemented last year, is simpler than other spread teams, most notably Florida and Oregon. Again, part of that might have been players who were less-than-optimal for the spread offense, particularly at the quarterback position.

In the future, however, a diversification of the offense, perhaps including innovations like Meyer’s use of the H-back as a shovel option, or more counters, even the triple option/throwback pass that WVU used in the Meineke Bowl. Having better fits at the QB position, and not having to install just that base offense all offseason, will certainly help that in the future.

The Future

Perhaps Pat White got a bad rap as a passer, or maybe Bill Stewart actually knew what he was doing for WVU’s offense, thoughthe stats don’t agree – and that’s in a year where a senior Pat White was supposed to lead WVU to one of the most prolific offenses ever. However, with White looking more like a quarterback than a wideout or return man at the NFL (for better or for worse), it looks like Rodriguez’s schemes will be able to develop more complexity down the road.

As far as diversifying schemes goes, Chris points out that Oklahoma is an example of a spread team with a much more complex (and effective) passing game than Michigan’s. The use of the tight end is pointed out specifically. In fact, Rodriguez has reportedly planned to visit Oklahoma’s coaches in the offseason to trade information on the passing game, particularly the use of tight ends (of which Michigan has many who aren’t getting very much use).

In the future, I would love to see visits to Florida as well, for diversifying the running game a bit, along with figuring out other ways to use the tights ends effectively in the spread offense.

And, as pointed out by Smart Football, Oregon’s offense is one of the best-designed as well. I’ve pointed out in the past that I don’t think Michigan’s schemes are as creative as Oregon’s, and that’s one area where there is room for improvement. Perhaps in the future, Rodriguez can pick the brain of Chip Kelly.

And, most importantly for the future comes recruiting. Rodriguez has more resources available at Michigan than he ever did at West Virginia. White’s emergence as a possible NFL QB has to help recruiting as well. Even if he didn’t tweak his offense at all, if he continues to recruit like he has for the past two classes (or, more likely, improves it by having more success on the field), He could be able to usurp the quality of his offenses in Morgantown. With minor improvements to certain aspects of the offensive side of the ball, an outstanding offense is likely in the future of Michigan football.

Posted under Coaching, Football