Monday, January 07, 2008

Thoughts on and a review of Bruce Feldman's Meat Market

My wife gave me Bruce Feldman’s Meat Market for Christmas. It was released last fall so some of you may have read it already. If you like college football, enjoy a good non-fiction, fly on the wall book and want to know more about college football recruiting, this is the book for you. A quick read with the fascinating Ed Orgeron as the protagonist, the book really exposes the recruiting process.

For those who don’t care about Ole Miss football or Coach O, I’ll break down what I found relevant to BC football.

A look at the USC recruiting model
Orgeron worked on Pete Carroll’s staff and duplicated USC’s recruiting structure at Ole Miss. Under Jags, BC has also implemented the Carroll model for recruiting. Outside of the intensity of this format, the Carroll style abandons word of mouth and the major recruiting sites for the staff's own evaluation. There is an emphasis on the staff watching tape together and the head coach making the final call on all recruits. Like USC with Carroll, no one can offer but Orgeron. The assistants do not have autonomy, although they are expected to be very aggressive. Orgeron is not concerned with star ratings nor with what other programs have offered a recruit. From what I gather, the current BC staff shares Orgeron’s passion for being the first to offer when they feel they have “discovered” someone.

Stars don’t matter
For all the weight fans put into star ratings on Rivals or Scout, the coaches don’t think twice about it. They also seem as dumbfounded as we are about who is rated high and who is rated low. In the opening of the book, the Ole Miss staff evaluates all the name QBs from the class of 2007. It is interesting to read what they thought of these guys -- including two prospects BC pursued (Matt Simms and Stephen Garcia). To show how flawed the ratings are, you need look no further than Ole Miss recruit Robert Elliott. Elliott was a star high school running back from rural Mississippi. When he receives an Ole Miss offer and verbally commits to the Rebels, the recruiting sites bump him up to four stars. This rating draws the interest of other name programs like Florida State. Meanwhile the Ole Miss staff is concerned that Elliott can even compete in the SEC. They have no idea why he is ranked so high. The ranking goes to Elliott’s head. He feels Ole Miss is taking him for granted and disrespected by Orgeron’s pursuit of other RBs. In the end Ole Miss is spurned by the other recruits, so they find themselves literally camping out on Elliott’s doorstep. And this is a recruit they are unsure of!! In the end Elliott commits to Mississippi State. He did not play this year.

The staff is more important than most of us acknowledge
The head coach is the epicenter of the program. Coordinators draw our praise or ire depending on which way the wind is blowing. Ultimately the staff is critical to a programs success of failure. Just because you are a good coach doesn’t mean you are doing your job. You also have to bring in recruits. Orgeron’s frustration with Art Kehoe is very telling. Kehoe is a renowned Oline teacher and coach. He helped get Ole Miss linemen to All-SEC status. But he also comes off as a disinterested recruiter. That doesn’t work in Orgeron’s world. In college football assistants have to do it all. Putting together a good staff is almost as important as putting together a good gameplan.

Geography doesn’t matter
This is not a point that Feldman makes…it’s actually mine. Too often we hear about how BC is handicapped by the lack of good football players in New England. While that does impact where we recruit, it doesn’t dictate our success or failure. As Feldman points out, Mississippi produces more NFL (not just college!) players per capita than any other state. So sitting on such fertile recruits, Ole Miss, Miss St and Southern Miss should all be elite programs, right? Not exactly. Talent is only part of the equation. You also have to keep kids in the program (a problem for Orgeron), develop them and then give them a strategy to beat your opponent.

In summary, great book on an still misunderstood, but vital process.


Sebastian said...

Geography may not guarantee instant success, but it is a HELL of a lot easier for a team in California, Texas, or Florida to rebuild than it would be for a school with not-so-fertile in-house-recruiting.

ATL_eagle said...

Sebastian, if you're the flagship of a state like USC or Texas you have an advantage. And there is enough talent to go around. But Stanford, Cal, SDSU, Fresno, UCLA, all finished behind BC. As did many teams in Texas. New England doesn't turn out tons of talent, but that doesn't mean that BC can't find it elsewhere.