End the Lie: No School Recruits Itself

David Marsh Editorials

Let’s do away with the myth that any blue blood school simply recruits itself. It’s a lie — especially in the era of the transfer portal and NIL that we are living in today. While it is absolutely true that having an established brand makes it a whole lot easier to recruit (just look at how Oregon State is recruiting compared to the Ducks), recruiting really comes down to a lot of hard work.

With the hiring of Kalen DeBoer at Alabama, a lot pundits are saying that fans don’t need to worry about his lackluster recruiting track record because Alabama “recruits itself,” which is completely false. Alabama recruited at the highest level because Nick Saban and the Alabama coaching staff worked their butts off to make it happen.

To make matters worse for Alabama, they lost their biggest recruiting asset. For the last decade, what has separated Alabama from USC, Ohio State, Georgia, and any other blue blood has been Saban.

It is impossible to know exactly how many blue-chip recruits signed with Alabama because of Saban. For many athletes, playing for Saban meant playing for national championships and a better shot at the NFL. No other school in the country could offer what Alabama had. But now, they no longer have that advantage, so DeBoer is going to have to prove he can recruit.

The Huskies Lost Control of Washington

We have seen other schools that should in theory “recruit themselves” struggle to recruit. Looking at the Washington Huskies: they owned the state of Washington until fairly recently, and under Chris Petersen, the Huskies accumulated the talent needed to make a run at the playoff. The backbone of 2023-24 Husky football team was built on Petersen and Jimmy Lake recruits. Kalen DeBoer has not replenished the roster in his two years in Seattle.

Bo Nix is protected by Josh Conerly (No. 76) against Stanford. Conerly was a major recruiting steal from the state of Washington.
(Photo By Nancy Paiva)

To make matters worse for the Huskies, it was under Lake that the Ducks actually cracked into the state of Washington where previously Oregon had absolutely failed to recruit the state. Now, the script has flipped and it feels like the Oregon Ducks can pick and choose the players they want from Washington. The leftovers go to the Huskies.

Most notably, Oregon managed to steal Josh Conerly from the Huskies and Trojans. Until a few years ago, it was unheard of for the Ducks to go into Washington and secure a major recruit.

Who Owns L.A.?

USC and UCLA are the two premier schools in Southern California, which is also one of the best recruiting hotbeds in the entire country. For the better part of two decades, pundits have been saying that USC and UCLA simply recruit themselves. But oh, how wrong they are.

For the 2024 recruiting cycle, USC’s class is ranked at No. 20 on Rivals and UCLA’s is far worse at No. 66. Meanwhile, Oregon, Georgia, Alabama, and Texas have all done quite well jumping into Southern California and luring talent away — away from the likes of USC, which has traditionally owned California. Athletes from So Cal were the Trojans’ bread and butter en route to multiple national championships.

So why is USC doing so poorly? They have an exciting and flashy offense under Lincoln Riley, so the school should be in the top ten easily, right? To put it simply, they aren’t doing the work. Just being USC isn’t enough for the best athletes in Southern California to sign with the Trojans.

Dan Lanning and Chip Kelly meet after Oregon’s win over UCLA in 2022.
(Photo by Craig Strobeck)

UCLA under Kelly has fallen behind in terms of recruiting. In 2023, they ranked No. 55 in the country, and that was a high point, because in 2022, they were ranked effectively the same as they are this year — No. 64. The last time UCLA had consistently good recruiting classes was under Jim Mora, where UCLA’s classes averaged No. 14. Kelly had one good year in 2018 before his recruiting rankings tanked below No. 40.

Kelly is a big fan of using the transfer portal, but what has become evident is that while championship teams use the transfer portal, they don’t live in the portal. Champions build their rosters from the ground up and supplement with the portal.

No school recruits itself. If they did, USC and UCLA would have owned the Pac-12 and probably never would have considered leaving.

Recruiting Still Isn’t Easy for the Ducks

In one of my previous articles, I wrote about how Scott Frost was absolutely right about Oregon football’s recruiting. Granted, Frost couldn’t recruit at Nebraska, which is a blue blood with a history of national championships, proving the point that he never put enough time into recruiting. It’s a daily job with a relatively low return on the labor involved.

This article was written during the Mario Cristobal era, but nothing has changed in the Dan Lanning era. To stay competitive, Lanning out works his competition, and as Duck fans, we have become all too accustomed to seeing top 10 recruiting classes.

However, that is only possible because of the massive amount of work the coaching staff puts into recruiting. Oregon has a national brand thanks to Phil Knight, Nike, and the Oregon NIL collective of Division Street, but the reality is that if the our coaches didn’t spend as much time and effort recruiting, Oregon would have recruiting classes in the teens or lower.

Oregon doesn’t recruit itself, and neither does any school in the country. Branding, legacy, and NIL both play a major role in recruitment, but neither amount to anything without the coaches getting out there and putting in the work to build relationships with prospective recruits.

So let’s stop saying any school recruits itself — that’s simply false.

David Marsh
Portland, Oregon
Top Photo By Tom  Corno


Andrew Mueller, the FishDuck.com Volunteer Editor for this article, works in higher education in Chicago, Illinois.

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