This site does not write about recruiting very often, instead focusing on the on-field activities. Recruiting is vital to the program but much of it is done outside of view. We can speculate and infer but it is really easy to simply guess. If the on-field activities of 18-22 year old kids are difficult to predict, the choices of 17-18 year old ones is even more indecipherable.
This is where the Recruiting Industry steps in. We want to know which great players are going to our alma mater, and these sites happily do the creepy work of following High School kids’ every move to find that information.
The problem for a CUSA-level team is that the level of talent below Power Five requires a more trained eye than is available, or at least more attention from scouts and journalists. That skill, time, and attention cost money and the market for recruiting information at the Group of Five level is not as lucrative as it is for the SEC squads. We know this.
these sites happily do the creepy work of following High School kids
While we can respect the opinions of amateur scouts analyzing Hudl highlights, we often simply do not have enough information to compare notes on all the players offered, targeted, or ignored. In place of empirical evidence we use rules-of-thumb and indexes (number of offered, overall class ranks, quality off offers). It is an imperfect system but probably the best one we have.
Keep this in mind when we complain about recruiting rankings, we acknowledge the margin of error inherent in these rankings. Stars by your name do not matter but they do matter a great deal.
Seth Littrell vs Frank Wilson
A team can win with mid-tier ranked talent, but it doesn’t happen enough for me to automatically give Seth Littrell the benefit of the doubt when he has NT ranked low on 247. I would like to see more public relations wins in recruiting now, but I do think there is some value in having a good season to sell to parents and players.
An example: A recruit taking a late-cycle visit (like this week) or communicating with current staff and players are interacting with a staff and team excited about bowling and having fun. That is useful addition to the overall pitch.
When the majority of schools are in bowls, going to one is only a slight advantage over your recruiting rivals.
Stars by your name do not matter but they do matter a great deal.
If you follow this stuff, you no doubt noticed that UTSA’s Frank Wilson has been killing the competition in recruiting. This is not altogether surprising, as he had a reputation as a recruiter before he got the job. There are some coaches who say “if they call you a recruiter, it usually means you cannot coach.” That is a fun accusation to throw around and may even have some truth. The reality is that the opposite is just as true. It doesn’t matter how good of a coach you are, if the guys you are coaching are not D-1 players.
As with most things in this life, it is a matter of balance.
Frank Wilson’s Runners made a bowl game and even (sigh) beat North Texas. There is some concern that he might, in fact, be a good coach and a good recruiter. For NT, that would be the worst case scenario.
He has gotten talent committed to UTSA, but it doesn’t necessarily mean he will win very often, or that these guys will pan out, or that the best will even qualify etc etc. Signing day is not until February, after all.
We do not know how good of a salesman Seth Littrell is. He’s never sat in my living room and tried to convince me to do anything. I really cannot tell you how charming or convincing he or his staff is. He has given press conferences, and we have seen him on Beyond The Green. If that is an indication, I am not hopeful about his salesmanship. Let us just say he will not win any orator awards. That is fine. We do not need that and he will likely grow into those aspects of the job as he continues his career. We still do not know how good he is one-on-one. He has won recruiting battles at UNC, and gotten good players. He is not as good of a recruiter as Frank Wilson.
Is he a better coach?
Upon further inspection, NT’s five wins are relatively unimpressive. An FCS team, Rice, a fortunate break against Army, a down Marshall, Nick Mullens-less USM. Given the circumstances — limited depth chart especially on the line, new staff, AD change, apathetic community — it was a good job. Littrell squeezed about 85% of the potential of the team. That is coaching, right?
Frank Wilson took an under-performing 2015 team, added a piece or two, and squeaked out six wins. UTSA had an equally questionable schedule — FCS, USM in the middle of their near-implosion, Rice, NT, Stockstill-less MTSU, and finally an overachieving Charlotte.
UTSA won with a lot of Coker’s guys, including most of the biggest contributors. While one of the biggest limiters for Seth Littrell was the QB situation, UTSA had a returning starter. In the game in San Antonio, the difference between the QB play was evident, and largely the difference in the game. So it goes.
Judging as season’s coaching job is largely subjective, even if the wins and losses are easy data to reference. One win does not equal another. That said, I would give Littrell the slight edge over Wilson, with the caveat that they were performing very different projects.
What Does This Mean?
Talent acquisition is a huge part of running a program, but only a part. Freaking out at the lack of big recruiting news is understandable after Danny Mac famously threw his hands up at the endeavor.
Despite McCarney’s famous give-up comment and consistent lower-half conference recruiting rankings, he brought in talent — Jeff Wilson, Willy Ivery, KiShawn McClain, Fred Scott, Nate Brooks — who are major contributors and others who are solid.
A good portion of those players were on the 1-win and 5-win teams these last two years. The biggest problems with McCarney recruiting was that he missed on all of his QB choices and could not fill out a full roster. There were not enough useful players to simply provide bodies.
So even if Littrell is McCarney’s equal in class ranking, he has at least shown a decent eye for talent — Fine and Morris are not amazing, but they have been more productive than their comparable predecessors. The staff is still hungry and we can at least hope that his classes will produce depth over time.
Yes, that is a low bar.
As we have seen, winning games in this conference does not take much beyond a well-coached team with one or two good players. SL just has to be a decent recruiter to make that happen. Right now, this seems achievable and right now that is fine.