It Is Not About Recruiting!?

Head Coach Mark Helfrich displaying positive energy and feedback during the Wyoming game in 2014

It has become a statement acknowledged as fact: Recruiting is paramount to an effective team. As such, you might not like what I have to say. But when I look at the college level of the sport as a whole, I see the hype of recruiting, National Signing Day and related hoopla overblown in terms of significance.

We are talking about teenagers in high school deciding where they want to attend college and HOPEFULLY play football. As I have asked some of my friends, “How much of your life savings would you bet on (insert name of player) making it to the NFL and becoming a superstar?” None of them has yet to place a bet that I know of!

You never read, much like the NFL draft, how recruiting in college football is a “slam dunk” or “an exact science.” Instead, phrases like “educated guesswork” are more common. Yet often fans treat the players like they have years and years of experience behind their backs.

In its lead-up issue to the recent playoffs, Sports Illustrated noted Alabama, Florida State and Ohio State as having 10, nine and five five-star-rated players on their teams. Oregon had one — Thomas Tyner. Interestingly, the two teams with the most “five-star” players both lost in the semifinals.

Thomas Tyner running against Michigan State in 2014.

Kevin Cline

Thomas Tyner running against Michigan State in 2014.

Oregon fans can probably still remember the four-star recruit from the Bay Area and his now infamous message upon choosing to play for the Ducks, “Tell them to get their popcorn ready, that’s all I can say. A receiver is about to come in that they haven’t seen in a while, maybe ever.”

As we know, it was not him because he never played a down for the Ducks.

On the flip side, Kenjon Barner was a three-star recruit who began his career in the defensive backfield on Oregon’s scout team. He finished his career as the #2 rusher in Oregon football history! I am quite certain he was not recruited under the promise of, “If you come to Oregon, you will leave as one of the most prolific running backs ever to play for the Ducks.” As well, how many Oregon fans would have predicted his outcome when he signed on to Oregon?

Kenjon Barner rushing against University of Arizona in 2012. Barner came to Oregon has 3-star cornerback.

Kevin Cline

Kenjon Barner rushing against University of Arizona in 2012.

So if recruiting is not the answer in every case, then what is an equally important factor? I am reminded of Theodore Levitt’s classic quote: “People don’t want to buy a quarter-inch drill. They want a quarter-inch hole!”

Recruiting is about helping teenagers make a decision, and once they have made that decision then providing them with the tools, resources and structure to be successful both on and off the football field. Oregon does not just want recruits. Instead, among many qualities the coaches want, they want young men who are willing to work hard, are respectful and mindful of the team’s needs, are good students, and dedicated.

Thus it comes down to one key ingredient over and over … COACHING! A team can have access to great facilities and bring in plenty of talent, but it all begins, continues and ends with coaching. It takes coaches to pursue recruits whom they believe will help the football program. It takes coaches to orchestrate, conduct and lead practices upon practices. It takes coaches to create game plans and manage the games themselves. It takes coaches to put players in positions to be successful. It takes coaches to “reconstruct” a team after a season has ended and some of the team has departed. The list goes on and on.

There is an excellent article which appeared in a few years ago on how many “stars” were given to some Oregon recruits who finished their careers at much more successful levels than perhaps many imagined possible.

This again illustrates the dual nature of college football success. Talent may be there, but unleashing that talent is even more crucial. GO DUCKS!

Top photo by Craig Strobeck

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Dave Kensler

Dave Kensler

I grew up in Eugene beginning in the sixth grade. Graduated from South Eugene High School in 1973 and the University of Oregon in 1977 with a BS in Journalism. My father was on the UO faculty(Architecture and Allied Arts School) and I have been a life long Duck fan! While my present work is that of being a tennis teaching professional, I continue use my college degree in a wide assortment of writing efforts and look forward to doing so with FishDuck!

  • Mark Gilbert

    Great article,, so true,, can you imagine what Oregon would do if they did get tthese so called 5 star recruits and the coaching that they would get.. don’t know why more of these athletes can’t see thisbut

    eventually Oregon is going to win their NCG and then score board to the rest of the college football team

    • hokieduck

      Two words. Arik Armstead.

      You just never know. The heart and desire and intelligence and team commitment are intangibles that are equally important to raw talent.

  • Jon Sousa

    So far, so good with the coaches that Oregon has.

  • Joseph

    I mean it does matter though. The fact is over 40% of 5 stars go on to play in the NFL. For 4 stars that drops to like 5% or so. Likewise a non top 10 recruiter has not won a National Championship during the BCS era.

  • imabiyer

    I think there are plenty of 2 and 3 star players — that given the right coaching are easily 4 or even 5 stars. Oregon has shown it knows how to spot talent — even if not fully developed — and get them ready at the collegiate level AND be very competitive. Oregon has been elite because its probably one of the few programs that knows how to do this well. And, I’m proud of the fact that our coaching staff has been promoted from within. Naturally its silly to think recruiting 4 or 5 star players is a non-factor. But there’s another way to join the ranks of the Elite — and Oregon is showing how to do that right now!

  • Tandaian

    Star rankings do matter to a certain extent. There are more 4 and 5 star kids in the NFL than 1,2 or 3 stars. When going head to head, the team with more 4 and 5 star kids win nearly 70% of the time. Scheme and coach also matters, but they needs some talent to begin with.

  • Jeff O

    They don’t pick Heisman winners based on their ability to make it in the NFL either.