2012 NFL Draft: 12 Best Coaches for Recruiting, Developing NFL Talent
One area that separates the elite coaches in college football is the select group that is able to send players off to the NFL in droves.
With the 2012 NFL draft just days away, a short list of schools figure to have multiple players come off draft boards in a hurry.
Whether it be coaching acumen, having a proven track record or being at a school with a rich tradition, some coaches are able to stockpile the best talent from the prep ranks—while some have the ability to take players that were overlooked coming out of high school and develop them into pro-caliber athletes.
With college football fans’ fascination with recruiting growing every year, the next part of the journey is observing which former 5-stars blossom into future first-round picks and which unheralded recruits beat the odds to find stardom.
Here are the 12 best coaches for recruiting and developing NFL talent.
12. Bret Bielema
Although he’s only been on the job in Madison since 2006, Bielema has quietly taken the program built by Barry Alvarez and turned it into a powerhouse in the Big 10.
Wisconsin may not be known as a recruiting hotbed, but it's stocked the NFL with 16 selections in the last five years—including three first-round picks during Bielema’s tenure.
While the Badgers may not be the sexiest team to look to for skill players, they have had five offensive linemen drafted during Bielema’s term and have had a tight end selected in each of the last three drafts.
Quarterback Russell Wilson, wide receiver Nick Toon and center Peter Konz lead the next wave of Badgers that will come off the board in this year’s draft.
Players Drafted: 16
First-Round Picks: 3
2012 Top Draft Prospect: C Peter Konz
11. Gary Pinkel
The Tigers have been a fixture in the first round over the last three years—with an impressive five Missouri products being taken off the board in that span.
Pinkel has had 20 players drafted overall since taking over in Columbia in 2001—and he’s done a good job hoarding in-state prep talent, as well as dipping into Texas to find blue-chippers that escaped from the Lone Star State.
While the streak of having a former Tiger picked in the first round will likely to come to an end, tight end Michael Egnew leads a solid group from Missouri expected to find new homes in the NFL soon.
Considering their move to the SEC, Pinkel and the Tigers should get an added boost in their recruiting efforts (as evidenced by their ability to snag the nation’s top 2012 recruit, wide receiver Dorial Green-Beckham)—and keep their NFL pipeline flowing at the same time.
Players Drafted: 25
First-Round Picks: 6
2012 Top Draft Prospect: TE Michael Egnew
10. Kirk Ferentz
Ferentz has been the model of consistency since taking over for the legendary Hayden Fry in 1999.
During his run in Iowa City, the Hawkeyes have produced 45 draft picks—including five first-rounders.
Iowa is another school that doesn’t crank out perennial top 10 recruiting classes, which makes what Ferentz has accomplished even more remarkable considering the success of guys like Bob Sanders, Marshall Yanda, Dallas Clark and Nate Kaeding amongst others at the pro level.
Projected first-round offensive tackle Riley Reiff will spearhead the Hawkeyes’ contingent expected to be drafted by week’s end.
Players Drafted: 45
First-Round Picks: 5
2012 Top Draft Prospect: OT Riley Reiff
9. Frank Beamer
To study how far the Virginia Tech program has come under Beamer, just look at how far the Hokies program has come since the first six years of his tenure in Blacksburg (24-40-2 record).
Nearly two decades later, the Hokies have become the most dominant school in the ACC—and a fixture in the draft with 54 former Hokies being selected since 2000.
In his 25 years coaching the Hokies, Beamer has failed to have a player drafted in only two of those seasons (1989 and 1993)—and he has a current streak of 17 years of having at least one player drafted.
That number will grow to 18 after the 2012 NFL draft concludes—with running back David Wilson and cornerback Jayron Hosley being the primary focus of NFL teams later this week.
Players Drafted: 85
First-Round Picks: 6
2012 Top Draft Prospect: RB David Wilson
8. Jeff Tedford
Known for his work with quarterbacks, Tedford has turned the Bears program into the Pac-12’s second biggest NFL factory behind USC.
Tedford has produced 34 draft picks since taking over in Berkeley in 2002—including eight first-round selections, with Cal having at least one player picked in the first round in four of the last five seasons.
Considering that Tedford was feeling some heat after a disappointing 2010 season, his recent turnaround on the field (7-5 in 2011) and on the recruiting trail (three consecutive top 25 recruiting classes according to Rivals) seem to bode well for the future of the program he has built.
While the Bears may not have a first-round pick in their group that is eligible for the 2012 draft, wide receiver Marvin Jones and linebacker Mychal Kendricks headline a solid collection of talent heading to the NFL.
Players Drafted: 34
First-Round Picks: 8
2012 Top Draft Prospect: LB Mychal Kendricks
7. Urban Meyer
Regardless of the recent negative reports circulating about Meyer’s six-year tenure at Florida, it’s hard to argue with his results in Gainesville.
The Gators captured two national titles under Meyer, and 30 former Florida stars were drafted in that span—including eight first-round selections.
Add in former top overall pick Alex Smith—whom Meyer coached at Utah—and Ohio State fans have to be salivating at what their future could hold under Meyer.
Considering his reputation as a relentless recruiter—with a late start, he helped the Buckeyes secure a top 5 class in February—his history of producing NFL talent is likely to repeat itself during his time in Columbus.
Players Drafted: 35
First-Round Picks: 9
2012 Top Draft Prospect: N/A
6. Mark Richt
Richt has won at least 10 games in seven of his 11 years since taking over in Athens—and despite facing some heat before last season’s SEC East title, the Bulldogs have arguably been the league’s most consistent program in sending players to the next level since his arrival.
In fact, Georgia has had at least four players drafted each year since Richt took over—with 57 Bulldogs in total getting a call on draft day, including nine in the first round.
The Bulldogs have an excellent shot at extending that remarkable streak—with this year’s crop led by projected first-round offensive tackle Cordy Glenn.
Players Drafted: 57
First-Round Picks: 9
2012 Top Draft Prospect: OT Cordy Glenn
5. Steve Spurrier
Spurrier will go down as one of the most innovative minds in the history of college football, thanks to the success he’s enjoyed at Duke, Florida and South Carolina.
During his career guiding his alma mater from 1990-2001, Spurrier sent 65 Gators into the NFL—including 13 first-round picks.
Since arriving at South Carolina in 2005, his output producing NFL talent hasn’t been as proficient (16 players selected and one first-round choice)—but he could have as many as three first-rounders this year with linebacker Melvin Ingram, corner Stephon Gilmore and wide receiver Alshon Jeffrey leading a strong class of Gamecocks set to do damage at the next level.
Players Drafted: 85
First-Round Picks: 14
2012 Top Draft Prospect: LB Melvin Ingram
4. Bob Stoops
After serving as an assistant to Spurrier at Florida, Stoops has done his mentor proud by building a program that is the envy of many across the country since his arrival in Norman.
Stoops has guided 53 Sooners players from college into the draft—including a dozen first-round picks since 2000.
The Sooners have had at least a pair of players drafted each year Stoops has been in charge—and corner Jamell Fleming and linebacker Ronnell Lewis headline another class of Oklahoma stars ready to make their mark at the next level.
Considering the stability that Oklahoma has enjoyed since his arrival (largely due from his rejection of several suitors attempting to lure him away), Stoops is a safe bet to remain one of the best coaches in producing NFL-caliber players.
Players Drafted: 53
First-Round Picks: 12
2012 Top Draft Prospect: CB Jamell Fleming
3. Les Miles
After stabilizing the Oklahoma State program in the early 2000’s, Miles inherited a strong LSU program from Nick Saban and elevated it into one of college football’s perennial powers by winning at least 11 games in five of his seven seasons in Baton Rouge.
With all of the on-field success the Tigers have enjoyed, NFL scouts and personnel have taken notice—as evidenced by LSU having a player selected in the draft’s first five selections in four of the last five drafts.
Corner Mo Claiborne is expected to add to that impressive stat, and helping build Miles resume as one of the top coaches at grooming NFL-caliber talent will only strengthen.
Miles has had 37 players drafted during his time at LSU—and expect him to consistently add to that number with this year’s class and a potentially better group of draft-eligible Tigers coming up in 2013 for NFL teams to salivate over.
Players Drafted: 44
First-Round Picks: 10
2012 Top Draft Prospect: CB Morris Claiborne
2. Mack Brown
Brown has been a college head coach for 27 seasons, and dating back to his days as a head coach at Tulane, he has had at least one player picked in each draft since he became a head coach in 1985.
But most of his success came from spending a decade at North Carolina and the last 14 seasons guiding the Texas Longhorns.
While few coaches currently are able to match Brown’s volume in draft picks and first-round picks, the recent struggles at Texas are the only thing keeping him from occupying the top spot on this list.
Players Drafted: 96
First-Round Picks: 20
2012 Top Draft Prospect: LB Keenan Robinson
1. Nick Saban
To illustrate how dominant Nick Saban has been since taking over at Alabama, the Crimson Tide may top their 2011 draft output that featured four first-round choices—with the Crimson Tide expected to potentially have five first-round picks on Thursday.
Saban has built a machine in Tuscaloosa that is an NFL assembly line, and considering his coaching roots as an NFL assistant, it’s no surprise to see the Crimson Tide dominating on the recruiting trail.
Saban has had 55 players (with 13 first-round choices) drafted combined from his stops at Michigan State, LSU and Alabama.
Coaching is the ultimate what-have-you-done-for-me-lately profession, and when it comes to the best college coach for recruiting and developing NFL talent, no one is currently on the level of Nick Saban for that honor.
Players Drafted: 55
First-Round Picks: 13
2012 Top Draft Prospect: RB Trent Richardson