College Football's Best Recruiters: Who's the King?

Michael CollinsAnalyst IJanuary 21, 2009

If recruiting is a football program’s lifeblood, who’s best at transfusing new life to their programs?  Recruitniks know that the best recruiters are not the head coaches but assistant coaches, and occasionally a recruiting coordinator.

With National Signing Day on Feb. 4, only a couple of weeks away, all eyes turn towards recruiting the last few top high school recruits.   

Rivals ranks the top 25 recruiters each year, based on the number and quality ranking (stars) of recruits for each recruiter.  In a review of their top recruiters for the past four years, 19 recruiters were multiple-year winners.  Here are my personal rankings of the top college football recruiters. 


No. 4: Charlie Strong, Florida—Defensive Coordinator

Why is this guy not a head coach? Strong has just been picked as the Defensive Coordinator of the Year, has been on Rivals’ Best Recruiters List for 2007 and 2008, and has recruited 12 four-star and one five-star players to Florida in three years.  Strong stymied Oklahoma’s high-flying offense in the national championship.  For 2009, he has two four-star recruits and one five-star recruit committed to Florida so far.


Only three recruiters were chosen more than twice.    

No. 3: Dabo Swinney, Clemson—Head Coach

The Tigers’ new head coach, chosen three times to Rivals’ Best Recruiters list in four years, has played a huge part in bringing talented high school players to Clemson from South Carolina, Alabama, and Northern Florida.  In 2006, Rivals ranked Swinney as the fifth-best recruiter and tagged him “a fast-rising star in the recruiting world and the coaching world.”

Over a five-year span, Swinney has recruited 40 players to Clemson!  In the last three years, Swinney is responsible for bringing seven four-star players and one five-star player to Clemson, including C.J. Spiller, DeAndre McDaniel, Jamie Harper, Antoine McClain, Kyle Parker, and Jonathan Willard.  No wonder he was chosen as head coach.

If he had been passed over, would he be at Alabama, his alma mater, now?   


No. 2: Josh Henson, LSU—Recruiting Coordinator and Tight Ends Coach

Rivals has included Henson on their Best Recruiters list for the last three years.  Henson has been Les Miles’ recruiting coordinator and tight ends coach since their Oklahoma State days from 2001.

Henson’s best year of the three was 2007. That year the Tigers garnered 19 four-star prospects and two five-star prospects.  LSU got the fourth-best ranking in the nation.

Yet, 2009 may turn out to be Henson’s best recruiting coordinator year. LSU leads the nation.  So far, the Tigers have four five-star commits and 11 four-star commits. Of Henson’s two commits so far in 2009, one, OL Chris Faulk, is a four-star.   

Henson has personally been responsible for a total of 13 four-star recruits from Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, and Florida, and a total of 17 recruits over three years. 

Henson is credited with landing Jai Eugene, Richard Dickson, Shomari Clemons, Phelon Jones, and Kentravis Aubrey.   

Only two of Henson’s 13 four-star recruits are no longer on the LSU roster.

Multiple reports have Henson is on his way to the Missouri Tigers. 


No. 1: Rob Ianello, Notre Dame—Recruiting Coordinator and Wide Receivers Coach

Ianello is the only recruiter to appear all four years on Rivals’ Best Recruiters list and is the architect of the Irish resurgence in recruiting. In the three full recruiting classes Charlie Weis has had, Notre Dame has finished eighth, eighth, and first in 2008 (after some of Alabama’s recruits did not qualify). Fourteen Irish recruits from the class of 2008 played in last year’s Army All-America Bowl. 

Ianello has personally recruited 22 players in three years for the Irish, including two five-stars and 13 four-stars for the Irish. He has recruited the entire Irish backfield of Allen, Aldridge, and Hughes, as well as starters Michael Floyd, Brian Smith, Ian Williams, and Trevor Robinson and former starter Duval Kamara.

Prior to coming to South Bend, Ianello was a top recruiter at Wisconsin, convincing Joe Thomas to come to Madison over ND. He was the assistant recruiting coordinator at Alabama under Bill Curry and helped sign 17 of the eventual 22 starters on Alabama’s 1992 national championship team. 

Ianello was chosen the second-best recruiter in 2006.  He has served six years on the Board of Trustees of the American Football Coaches Association and is the only assistant coach on the Board. 

Honorable Mention (Rivals Top 25 Recruiters List years in parentheses)


John Blake (’05, ’06 with Nebraska)—now at North Carolina. Blake may challenge for 2009’s Recruiter of the Year, with eight commitments for the Tar Heels—one five-star, four four-stars.

Clint Hurtt (’08)—Miami. Made Rivals’ list last year for the first time. Has eight commitments for 2009, including one five-star and five four-star prospects. Another possible recruiter of the year?   

Kevin Steele (Recruiter of the Year ’05 with FSU, Top 25 in ’07 with Alabama)—Now with Clemson.


Big East

Stan Drayton (’06, ’07 with Florida)—Tennessee in ’08, now with Syracuse. 

John “Doc” Holliday (’05, ’06 with Florida)—now at West Virginia. Holliday has not had the recruiting success with his alma mater that he did with the Gators.


Big Ten

Tim Cross (’08)—Minnesota.

Luke Fickell (’06)—Ohio State. Long-time Buckeye assistant and LB coach.

Larry Johnson, Sr. (Recruiter of the Year, ’06)—Penn State. Has been with Joe Paterno for 12 years. Is responsible for 12 commitments to the Lions in 2009, including two four-stars.


Big 12

Joe DeForest (’06, ’08)—Oklahoma State.

Bobby Kennedy (’06, ’08)—Texas. Kennedy has the luxury of not having to recruit outside of the Lone Star State. 



Tim Kish (’05, ’06)—Arizona. Kish regularly appears on the Pac-10's best recruiters list. 

Steve Greatwood (’07)—Oregon. The Ducks' great OL coach.  Could he be on the move, too? 

Todd McNair (’06, ’07)—USC. McNair has recruited star power for the Trojans, averaging 4.5 and 4.67 stars for seven commitments in those two years. Three players—Antwine Perez, Broderick Green, and Vidal Hazelton—of his seven have now transferred.

Pat Ruel (’08)—USC.



Steve Addazio (’08)—Florida. Seven top commitments for 2009 so far.

Rodney Gardner (’05, ’06)—Georgia. Gardner is considered “the dean of recruiters in the Southeast.”

Tony Hughes (’06 with Ole Miss, ’08 with Southern Miss) - Now with Miss State

Trooper Taylor (’05, ’07 with Tennessee)—Oklahoma State ‘08, now with Auburn.

Lance Thompson (Recruiter of the Year ’08 with Alabama)—Now with Tennessee.



Corwin Brown (’08)—Notre Dame.


Non-BCS Conferences

Mike Locksley (’05, ’07 with Illinois)—Locksley is the new head coach of the New Mexico Lobos. 

DeWayne Walker (’07, ’08 with UCLA)—Walker is the new head coach of the New Mexico State Aggies. 


Coaches who know how to recruit and have established relationships with high school coaches are valued and aggressively pursued. Swinney, Locksley, and Walker have been hired this year as head coaches.  Great recruiters and coaches like Thompson, Taylor, Drayton, Steele, Blake, and Hughes have moved to new positions over the last four years.

We should not be surprised that good recruiters are part of the staff moves by new head coaches at Washington, Tennessee, Auburn, and Syracuse to effect quick turnarounds in their programs—new lifeblood.

Some recruiters at a new school attempt to swing their former verbal commitments to their new school, especially if the teams are in the same conference.  All’s fair, but it can get low-down and dirty. Signing Day brings stunners and sweaters.

No one rests until after Feb. 4. All eyes are on the fax machine for the letters of intent.  Then on to the Class of 2010, who have already made junior day workouts, unofficial visits during the past season, and a few ’10 commitments to the top schools already.  Many colleges are holding their junior days this weekend. 


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