A friendly debate with Brad Zak
Following my critical post on Brad Zak's ESPNBoston article, Brad reached out to me to defend himself. We took our email conversation and moved it here. I think we see things differently but at least Brad has more space to explain his position. As always you can leave your thoughts on recruiting and player development in the comments.
BZ: In an attempt to defend myself from the skewering I took last week, I'd like to clarify a few of the points I made in my ESPNBoston article on Josh Haden's transfer. First of all, I wasn't questioning BC's ability to develop talent, professionals such as Matt Ryan (3-star recruit) and B.J. Raji (2-star recruit) show that BC can prepare players for the highest level. My argument; however, was that it is troubling for BC not to get production from the four and five star recruits they are able to bring to campus. When we are only bringing in two, maybe three top recruits a year it is crucial that we are able to utilize that talent. Schools such as USC, Ohio State and Florida can afford to miss on a few when they are bringing in around 20 four to five star recruits a year, but when you are only bringing in a couple, their performance is put at a premium. I do concede that some guys such as Toal and McMichael were afflicted by injuries and that hampered their production on the field, but I would argue that regardless of injuries BC needs a top-level recruit to come to Chestnut Hill and shine in order to persuade other big-time prospects to follow suit. For BC to take the next step toward making it to the Orange Bowl or consistently being ranked in the top 15, they will need to start utilizing and then bringing in additional top-rated talent.
ATLEeagle: There are a lot of different goals and arguments in place surrounding your article. First let's table the common ground. Players are important. The team with the best players is more likely to beat the team with inferior talent. Recruiting is vital because it is the method in which a program gets better players.
My problem though with your original article and your defense of it now is still the added emphasis on the highly rated recruits. I think the recruiting systems are deeply flawed and miss as often as they get things right. Sure there is a correlation between winning programs and top recruiting classes, but I still challenge anyone to show me that there is a causation between the two. The top programs' recruits are favored by the flawed evaluators. The system never anticipates the decline of programs like Miami and Florida State just to use two ACC examples. The evaluators also failed to identify the top talent that the NFL drafted out of BC and Wake Forest of late.
Maybe Josh Haden didn't truly merit four stars. How did he get them? Because of his brother's success? Because he was strong for his size? Because he dominated on a lower-level Maryland league? Did he get them because the Rivals evalutors were tipped off of BC and Florida's early interest? I don't know but once he was put on a different playing field he showed he wasn't as good as Montel Harris. And as a BC fan we shouldn't really care as long as the team performs well. If another player comes down the trail and is turned off by Haden's experience at BC, then he isn't a player we need or want.
Recruiting is a lot about self-selecting. Our model is proven to be pretty good and has us competing for the ACC every year. That is what we should be asking for. Setting a goal to have top 5 recruiting classes annually would be a wasted effort since the system is not designed to reward teams like BC. If we want to get to the next level, we just need to get better at finding the right guys for BC, not more four stars.
BZ: I think there always has to be an emphasis on higher rated recruits for the program. Now not every highly rated recruit is going to be a big hit and national recruiting is definitely an imperfect science. Scouting is never a guarantee (just look at every NBA and NFL draft) and when dealing with 18 year old kids you have to expect some misses. You can always bash recruiting when looking at individual cases, but a Dr. Saturday article from January pointed out how team rankings can have some hand at indicating success. After a lot of calculations he concluded that the "more talented team" according to the recruiting gurus won two-thirds of the time in 2008, by a little more than a touchdown per game.
I think as BC fans it is in our nature to always feel a little slighted by the national media since year after year they pick us to finish near the bottom of the ACC, despite our success. I am not of the belief that the evaluators favor certain programs. The best athletes are attracted to the most successful football schools and that is why the same names continually pop up on the Rivals rankings lists. I don't think that BC is disrespected by evaluators; we just take a Moneyball-like approach to recruiting by valuing qualities that not every school does. For instance, the A's were able to keep up with big market clubs by valuing walks, and OBP, while BC values intangibles, character and mental toughness to keep them competitive as they lag behind in the recruiting rankings. We aren't necessarily getting the best athletes in all cases, but we are getting guys who slate very well into our system.
Also, I don't think Rivals is suited for predicting lulls for programs such as Miami and Florida State because their troubles are also attributed to factors such as coaching and poor character. Miami has had 9 first or second round picks in the past four years. They were hurt by the coaching turnover and poor off the field conduct (see: 7th Floor Crew). Florida State has had six first and second round picks in the past four years. Florida State's problems have been centered around coaching as many around the program wonder if Bobby Bowden's still alive. They might not have lived up to their lofty standards, but there is still high level talent coming out of these programs. On the other hand a Rivals systems can help show teams that are on the upswing because their is increased talent coming into the program. Alabama was not in the Top 25 for recruiting in 2003, 2004, were 18th in 2005, 11th in 2006, 10th in 2007, and 1st in 2008. The increase in recruiting has mirrored their resurgence in the SEC and on the national stage.
BC has had a lot of trouble with very athletic players these past few years. We've seen C.J. Spiller and Tyrod Taylor run circles around us as we continually have trouble bottling these explosive players up. We need better athletes to be able to handle guys like this, scheming can only go so far. Losing out on Haden and other top recruits hurts us because our reputation follows us to every recruit. We need to bring in top level athletes to reach the next level, and when a previously highly touted prospect transfers, it can only hurt the BC recruiting pitch.
ATLEagle: I understand Doc Saturday's findings, but the once again the whole system is designed to empower the top programs. Big deal that the higher rated ranked class beat the lower ranked program 2/3s of the time. It doesn't take a genius from Rivals to say Florida has a better recruiting class and then look smart when Florida beats Vandy 2 out of 3 times (or more). Florida has natural advantages over Vandy and the gurus tend to reinforce those advantages by favorably ranking the players that are drawn to Florida or Alabama etc.
You also mentioned Alabama. Do you think their current position in the college football landscape has to do with the 2006 recruiting class or with bringing in a world class coach? Also, I think their "recruiting rise" is misleading since they were coming off probation and disruptive coaching changes. The gurus aren't dummies. They aren't going to put a team in transition with limited scholarships in the top 10 of their prediction.
But instead of debating the rankings, let's go back to the main premise again: that BC fans should be concerned with how we deal and develop four stars. I have made it clear I disagree with that focus and want to offer a counter to the Haden anecdotal situation. My situation shows a missed opportunity for BC but one that flew under the radar for most BC fans because the geniuses at the ranking services didn't put the same four star tag on Kyle Koehne. For those of you who don't follow recruiting as closely, Koehne was a 3-star offensive lineman from Indianapolis that BC thought very highly of last year. We ended up losing him to Florida. There was disappointment among those who follow recruiting but not the hand wringing you see when BC loses on a four star. Why? Because he was not a skill player and was only a 3 star. Yet I think his ranking was yet another indictment of the system. If BC -- a school with a great history of evaluating Oline talent -- has the kid at the top of their board and Florida -- which doesn't recruit just anyone out of Indiana -- thinks the kid is going to be a star, why is he only a 3 star? I don't know. Maybe the Midwest evaluators from Rivals didn't anticipate that he would get national interest. Maybe they thought he was too skinny to play Oline at the SEC level. Maybe since he was ignored by Notre Dame and Ohio State they didn't worry. Regardless, if BC wants to break our ceiling we need to bring in more Koehnes and not worry about recruiting rankings. If we identify a player for the top of our board we need to put all our effort into landing him regardless of his rankings. And once we get everyone on campus you play the best players and don't worry about egos or stars or anything else. Worry about winning.
BZ: As far as Alabama goes obviously the hire of Coach Saban helped bring them to back into the national spotlight, but arguably his biggest contribution was his ability to attract high level talent such as Andre Smith, Mark Ingram and Julio Jones. Without these highly-ranked players Alabama would just be another middle of the road SEC school with a world class coach. If you need proof look at how Steve Spurrier has struggled in South Carolina.
When I look at the Kyle Koehne situation I think it works against your theory that the gurus try to reinforce the rankings by bumping up players looking at Florida or Alabama. It seems by looking at his profiles, scouts thought he was very technically sound but his athleticism was questioned and most thought he would have to move to guard in college. If Rivals had gone back and changed his ranking from a three to a four star just because Florida began showing interest, wouldn't that show they weren't sticking to their assessment and favoring the top schools?
I'm encouraged by our ability to bring in a player like Shakim Phillips who has the potential to be a gamebreaking wideout for us. Look at the teams we've played and around the ACC and you'll find guys like Spiller, Taylor, Golden Tate, Ryan Williams, and Jonathan Dwyer who always have the ability to hit a big play. It should be no surprise that all those guys listed were at least 4 star prospects (Taylor and Spiller 5 stars), and that they had a big hand in either beating BC or in Dwyer's case most likely leading his team to the ACC championship game. From what we saw of Haden he probably wasn't the answer and would never have an effect like any of these guys. We can still be a very good team without Josh Haden or many four and five star recruits, but if we are looking to be a great team then I believe we'll have to start bringing in these top-rated guys.
ATLEagle: I agree that greatness is dependent upon great players. I just don't think we should trust the recruiting system to find and identify all those great players. If BC never gets another five-star recruit, you won't hear a complaint out of me. I will care once we stop competing on the field and will be alarmed when we stop seeing BC guys playing in the NFL.