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The title of this article implies that Michigan recruiting needs to be fixed. How terrible is it? Let’s take a look at class rankings during the Jim Harbaugh era using the 247 Composite rankings:
2015 (Harbaugh/Hoke combined class): #37 overall, #5 in Big Ten
2016: #8 overall, #2 in Big Ten
2017: #5 overall, #2 in Big Ten
2018: #22 overall, #3 in Big Ten
2019: #8 overall, #1 in Big Ten
2020: #14 overall, #2 in Big Ten
*2021: #6 overall, #2 in Big Ten (as of May 25, 2020)
AVERAGE: #11.4 overall, #2 in Big Ten
*Not included in averages
Not counting the 2015 combined class when Harbaugh had just one month to try to make up ground, he has averaged the #11 class in the country and finished as either #1, #2, or #3 class in the conference. It’s noteworthy that they have not finished behind any team from the Big Ten West during that time – only Ohio State and/or Penn State.
Hit the jump to see how I would go about improving Michigan’s recruiting.
#1. Offer Top-100 Recruits
First of all, I’m not a stars-are-everything guy. There are 4-stars I don’t love, and there are 3-stars I really like. You almost always need elite players to compete for the College Football Playoff, but I don’t think a team of middling 4-stars is necessarily superior to a squad with a mix of a couple 5-stars and a bunch of 3-stars.
It’s not poor practice to have someone on the staff who keeps track of top-100 recruiting rankings, regardless of what service is being used. The rankings are updated a few times a year, and part of a staff member’s job should be to peruse those lists. Who’s moving up in the rankings? What previously undiscovered player is shooting up in the rankings? Who’s dominating the camp circuit or national 7-on-7 tournaments? This doesn’t mean you put all 100 of your eggs in this particular basket, but it’s a good place to concentrate.
Every top-100 player should have an offer from Michigan unless a) there are serious character/criminal/academic concerns or b) the player simply doesn’t fit the scheme in any way. And those issues in letter “b” are rare, in my opinion, because schemes are often flexible. Michigan might not offer a Jacob Eason-type player if they want a quarterback who can run, for example.
Task #1: Assign a recruiting department staffer to follow 247 Sports, Rivals, and ESPN. Names of “new” additions to those lists should be passed along to the position coach and area recruiter for review.
#2. Hire a Native Detroit/Michigan Recruiter
Keep in mind that I’m not a reporter digging for information, so I don’t go wading in with 20 questions on stuff that you might if you worked for a publication. But in speaking with a Detroit-area high school coach during COVID-19, I was told that Michigan has lost traction within the state because they do not have a native area recruiter. It gives the impression that Jim Harbaugh is not prioritizing the state and rewarding local guys.
Detroit is a tight-knit area. There are a few areas of the country like this, but there’s a lot of “old blood” in the Detroit Metro area. Some of the recruiting hotspots around the country also have a ton of “mercenaries for hire.” Places like California and Texas have coaches that bounce around, take jobs as a means to move up the ladder, etc. It’s a college atmosphere in some places. That’s not the way it is in Michigan. Nobody’s taking a job in Detroit as a one- or two-year mercenary hire so they can get the next big-money job at Rockford or River Rouge.
The most noteworthy Michigan-area recruiter is Sherrone Moore, who is well liked and respected, but he doesn’t have Detroit roots. (Moore graduated high school in Kansas, played at Oklahoma, and coached at Louisville before ending up at CMU in 2014 and then Michigan in 2018.) Recruiting coordinator Matt Dudek is a Pennsylvania native who has spent time at Pitt, Rutgers, and Arizona before landing at Michigan. Others on the staff have roots in other places, and even Jim Harbaugh – though he’s a Michigan legend – has spent much of his time in places like California, along with moving around the country (Ohio, Iowa, etc.) with his father Jack’s coaching career.
The staff needs someone like Tyrone Wheatley (who graduated from Dearborn Robichaud) or Chris Singletary (Detroit DePorres), both of whom have moved on in the relatively recent past; Wheatley is now head coach at Morgan State, and Singletary is working for Element Sports, a sports management company. I’m not suggesting that Michigan needs to re-hire those people, but it would be preferable to get someone on the staff who has extensive experience within the state.
Task #2: Hire a native Michigander, a native Detroiter, or at least a Michigan alum the next time a staff position opens.
#3. Gamble on Athletic Freaks
There are numerous cases each year of players who were undersized but very athletic who grow into star players, whether it’s on the college level or even going into the NFL draft. It often takes small schools or programs that have a hard time recruiting at elite levels to take advantage of those raw athletes, because in some ways, they don’t have a choice. Adam Trautman, from Elk Rapids High School near Traverse City, went to Dayton and became a 3rd round pick by the Saints (article, highlights). It’s easy to say in retrospect that Michigan should have recruited him, but the truth is that he may not have become the player he is if he played at Michigan. Some kids need to have a chip on their shoulder for not having been recruited, and some kids just need a smaller pond in which to flourish. If you spend three years buried on the depth chart while bulking up at Michigan, are you still around in year four and five for your breakout? Probably not.
Trautman admittedly isn’t the greatest example because he didn’t have elite athleticism in high school, but it’s a recent and relatively high-profile case. It took a change of position (quarterback to wide receiver to tight end) to turn him into the Adam Trautman we see today. But there are some other Michigan-related examples in recent years, such as Jeremy Clark (6’4″ Michigan CB/S drafted by the Jets), Taco Charlton (raw recruit whom Michigan helped turn into a 1st round pick), and Zach Gentry (6’7″ athletic QB drafted in 5th round as a TE) who have higher upside than run-of-the-mill 3-stars.
Mediocre players with mediocre size and mediocre athleticism tend to be mediocre. There can be a recognizable floor with some of those guys. If you take a 6’2″, 275 lb. defensive tackle who’s not particularly explosive, you might be able to teach him the technique and make him stronger, but that ceiling is already in place. You can get away with a couple mediocre players on a field, but coaches and the other players can only make up for so much.
Task #3: Prioritize athleticism over length and length over weight. You can fill out weight and teach technique; you can’t add height or teach speed.
#4. INVADE THE TALENT MILLS
There are elite programs across the country who put out elite players year after year. Michigan needs to make their presence felt in those schools and paper the locker rooms with scholarship offers. These schools include but are not limited to:
- Scottsdale (AZ) Saguaro
- Bellflower (CA) St. John Bosco
- Santa Ana (CA) Mater Dei
- Thousand Oaks (CA) Westlake
- Fort Lauderdale (FL) St. Thomas Aquinas
- Hollywood (FL) Chaminade-Madonna
- Loganville (GA) Grayson
- Norcross (GA) Greater Atlanta Christian
- Baltimore (MD) St. Francis
- Hyattsville (MD) DeMatha
- Belleville (MI) Belleville
- Detroit (MI) Cass Tech
- Oradell (NJ) Bergen Catholic
- Ramsey (NJ) St. Peter’s Prep
Michigan is absolutely recruiting these schools to a certain extent, but some are being treated as longshot schools. The coaches seem to be going in and saying, “Hey, you can come to our school if you want, but we’re not going to spend a lot of time trying to convince you.”
Michigan is taking guys from New Jersey (Rashan Gary, Jabrill Peppers), Florida (Devin Bush, Jr.), and Ohio (Taco Charlton) and turning them into 1st round draft picks. And while Gary and Peppers were elite-level recruits, Bush (too short!) and Charlton (too raw!) needed to develop and prove themselves on a big stage like Michigan’s, which they did. The staff needs to name-drop and play up those NFL/draft successes as much as possible, because Tom Brady is nearing retirement and the other guys representing Michigan have not established themselves as recognizable stars, no matter how much we love Brandon Graham, Taylor Lewan, and others.
Task #4: Build inroads at powerhouse schools across the country. Coaches should be visiting those schools regularly and staying in contact with those players.
#5. OFFER PLAYERS EARLIER
This goes somewhat hand-in-hand with #1 (offering top-100 recruits), but Michigan has been late to offer many recruits. Yes, there are some players who get their first offer from Michigan, so it’s not like the Wolverines are afraid to go out on a limb. But especially with top-100 recruits, those players need to be offered early. The recruiting sites release their top 100, top 247, top 300, etc. lists a couple years in advance of National Signing Day for that class. It’s fine to offer a breakout player after his junior year or find a diamond in the rough late, but those should be exceptions.
247 Sports released their top 247 for the class of 2022 in March. Michigan has offered several of those recruits in the top 50 or so, but then the offers start to thin out. Michigan does have stricter standards for education, so there are more roadblocks to getting into the university and succeeding there. But just because you offer, say, the #10 player in the country doesn’t mean he’s going to be interested, commit, or be accepted. If you offer the #10 guy but he has a C+ average and just wouldn’t be able to hack it in Ann Arbor, move on to the next recruit. Yes, that “offer” might seem disingenuous, but there’s that saying, “You miss 100% of the shots you don’t take.” If you never offer a kid, that door is closed, even if he steps up his efforts in the classroom.
Task #5: Aim to offer elite players after their sophomore year.
#6. FIX THE EDITS
This is low on the priority list, but it’s also something that absolutely can and should be fixed. Michigan used to have some of the best graphics designers in the country working the recruiting department.
The graphics department is still good at this stuff:
But there have been a lot of misfires with this 2021 class, such as this lame “On a Michin” effort…
…and another I can’t find, probably because it has been wiped from the internet.
There was an article on 247 Sports about the edits, and Michigan didn’t exactly get a ringing endorsement, though that was based on just one picture (LINK).
Task #6: Keep the finger on the pulse of the youth. Ask student assistants, players, etc. for feedback on mock-ups before sending out waves of so-so designs.
Michigan is doing some of these things, but not enough, in my opinion. They wouldn’t be who they are without paying attention to these details to a certain extent. So I can’t sit here and say that if they did all these things that yours truly said, they would shoot up to #1 in the rankings. But if I were hired as Michigan’s head coach (which would be stupid on their part), these are some of the things I would evaluate and restructure early on before they came to their senses, fired me, and lured Lincoln Riley away from Oklahoma.
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