The Top 15 Recruiters in College Football
National Signing Day changed more than the incoming rosters of college football programs across the country.
It also bettered (or worsened) the stock of many of the nation's signature recruiters.
As with wins and losses, most college football coaches get more blame than they deserve when they recruit poorly and more admiration than they've earned when they recruit well.
But these 15 coaches employed their various tactics to near-perfection—whether that meant putting on the full court press, or staying out of the way and letting the assistants handle the dirty work.
Here's a look at who I believe to be the top 15 recruiters in the country, post signing day.
Honorable Mention: Doc Holliday, Marshall
It wasn't close to a top class, but the Thundering Herd closed the 2010 cycle on a hot streak.
Rookie head coach Doc Holliday repped his connections with many of West Virginia's commits (he was the Mountaineers' recruiting coordinator) and stole a handful to repopulate the Herd's roster with mid-to-upper level prospects.
Holliday is inheriting a program that was back on the right track before it fired Mark Snyder, so if he can get some upper level athletes on the rolls, the Herd could be back in conference contention within a few years.
Randy Shannon: The Hurricanes still signed the No. 17 class, and landed the top center and some good talent at running back and defensive back.
But next to the high highs of the previous years—back-to-back top 3 finishes and an iron curtain around Miami's talent-rich schools—No. 17 doesn't feel like enough.
Plus, Miami didn't close strong, losing out on WR Ivan McCartney to West Virginia and missing big on Seantrel Henderson, who had late interest in Miami.
Still, coach Shannon was upbeat, or as upbeat as you can be when you never, ever smile.
Jim Tressel: The Buckeyes missed on their top targets to close the class. Seantrel Henderson was just toying with them; QB/ATH Dominique Brown chose Louisville; Matt James went to Notre Dame; and Latwan Anderson, after snubbing West Virginia, skipped past the Buckeyes and headed west to visit USC.
It's still a solid class, but not as deep or as dynamic as some Buckeye fans have come to expect, and the lack of depth at quarterback behind Terrelle Pryor is alarming.
A host of favorable in-state talent should mean the Buckeyes feast and land back on top in 2011.
For now, Tressel and company will be content to smack the Big Ten around for another year.
No. 15: Chip Kelly, Oregon
Chip Kelly secured his place among the best recruiters in the country by wooing Lache Seastrunk away from USC, although Pete Carroll's departure probably made that much easier.
Still, Kelly sealed the deal on the prototypical back to fit his scheme. Seatrunk will give LaMichael James some rest, and some competition, as he makes a bid for biggest impact freshman in the Pac-10.
The Ducks also landed late commitments from S Erick Dargan and DT Ricky Heimuli, and held onto CB Dior Mathis despite a late push from Michigan and Michigan State.
I would have liked a few more defenders, but I'm old school, and used to seeing brilliant offensive schemes undone by poor defense.
No. 14: Jim Harbaugh, Stanford
Stanford didn't crack the top 15, but the mere fact that they had a shot is testament to Harbaugh's outlandish efforts on the recruiting trail—and that was after a stunning 19 decommitments.
Harbaugh poached fringe five-star DE Blake Leuders from Notre Dame; wooed four-star QB Brett Nottingham, a Bay Area kid, away from UCLA; and landed a suitable replacement for Toby Gerhart in RB Anthony Wilkerson.
He's dealing with a very strict compliance staff at Stanford, which only makes these returns more encouraging for fans of the Cardinal. Keeping him around as long as possible, but definitely in their best interest.
No. 13: Les Miles, LSU
Les Miles and his Tigers were playing a muted version of themselves this recruiting cycle (and this season to be honest), with a class that was all over the place.
That was understandable, considering the coaching shakeups the Tigers suffered. You don't lose your running backs coach and recruiting coordinator—Larry Porter, who took over at Memphis—and not rock with instability.
Yet the Tigers ended the class on in Les Miles' signature go for broke style, stealing JC Copeland from Tennessee, lifting Kadron Boone from Texas Tech, and landing Ego Ferguson in a Royal Rumble of interested parties.
The Tigers' retooled defensive line will compete with Florida's for freshest and most exciting this fall, and its all thanks to Miles' strong closing. Considering his past, we should have all seen it coming.
No. 12: The Penn State Coaching Staff
The entire Penn State coaching staff did a great job landing the Big Ten's top class and keeping their chin up after DE Dominique Easley decommitted and the roster space closed up for four-star WR Adrian Coxson.
Larry Johnson and DC Tom Bradley deserve particular mention. Johnson landed a top D-line talent in DE Dakota Royer, while Bradley landed QB Paul Jones and underrated middle linebacker Mike Hull (who, to be fair, needed very little convincing).
Classes like this one indicate that the Florida State/Bobby Bowden example would be misapplied to Joe Paterno.
While the Seminoles' recruiting is flourishing now that Bowden is gone, Cool Papa Joe has distanced himself enough from the process that he isn't interfering, and instead, using his celebrity status to make occasional visits and act as a closer (although it didn't work in Marcus Lattimore's case).
In any case, the stability and drive of the PSU coaching staff suggests they're making a serious bid for Big Ten relevance now and for the future.
No. 11: Derek Dooley, Tennessee
No one expected Derek Dooley to do much with his first class at Tennessee. Out of time, facing the fallout over Lane Kiffin's departure, Dooley had the fanbase braced for the worst and praying that he could just hold onto what was left.
In the meantime, the rookie coach closed strong, grabbing OT James Stone and Da'Rick Rogers on signing day, and keeping Kiffin's leftovers mostly intact save for DE JC Copeland, who was a surprise commit to LSU.
The Vols finished in or around the top 10 on the strength of Rogers and the hale, healthy athletes at quarterback and on the defensive line.
The fallout might not be finished for the unfortunate recruits who signed believing Kiffin would be coach—transfers do occur if players don't have a comfortable, lengthy past with their coaches.
But for the time being, Dooley has shown he can toss the late bombs that pockmark the SEC landscape, and not merely fall victim to them.
No. 10: Steve Sarkisian, Washington
The KO&K Krew weren't the only graduates of Pete Carroll Charm School cleaning up on the recruiting trail.
PCCS alumnus and current Washington head coach Steve Sarkisian had one of the strongest finishes a first-year coach could ask for.
It started when he convinced QB Jake Locker to remain in school another year, and ended when he stole safety Sean Parker from Michigan's clutches to wrap his 2010 class at 30 kids.
Though many of the athletes are raw, the Huskies needed depth and athleticism to build a better supporting cast. Parker joins QB Nick Montana as Sark's top gets.
The Pac-10 is suddenly shaping up as one of the most competitive on the recruiting trail.
No. 9: Rich Rodriguez, Michigan
Gotta give some love to my man RichRod.
Off an 8-16 record, with the threat (empty, mind you) of an NCAA investigation looming, facing a fanbase more divided by the day, the second year coach landed Scout's No. 9 class, and more importantly, addressed glaring team needs in the defensive backfield.
A full 11 of the Wolverines' final commitments were on defense, 16 total out of a 27-man class, including the No. 3 cornerback, Cullen Christian, and a host of raw talent to provide depth and competition.
The OSOS (original snake-oil salesman) also hooked ESPN's No. 15 athlete, Demar Dorsey, by throwing everything he had at him—rumors were the full court press included Rodriguez and five other coaches boarding a private plane and visiting the Dorsey's in-person as the week wound down.
The Maize n' Blue also grabbed their QB of the future in Devin Gardner a year after landing two athletic quarterbacks, Tate Forcier and Denard Robinson.
If this is indeed RichRod's make-or-break year, he's kicking it off with a great level of momentum, and recruiting, literally, like there's no tomorrow.
With a few more wins and a bowl to his credit, he should see the fanbase wise up that he's one of the top coaches in the country in every facet of the game.
No. 8: Nick Saban, Alabama
In earlier articles, I dinged Saban and company for their efforts at not restocking some necessary depth at linebacker, and losing Keenan Allen couldn't have felt good.
But the Tide still ended up with a top five class and landed a great tackle in Arie Kouandjio on signing day eve. His commitment might help land his brother, Cyrus, arguably an even better prospect for 2011.
The Tide landed another winner at QB in Phillip Sims, and brought in a versatile offensive threat in WR/ATH Blake Sims. Sims isn't the kind of athlete Bama typically fields, but he's one that will give them a different dimension on offense.
He could be a contributor in the Wildcat packages, and will join his above-average speed and field awareness to the nucleus of Mark Ingram, Julio Jones and Greg McElroy.
And their defensive recruiting is beyond reproach: probably a top three haul, if too light on inside linebackers. DE Alfy Hill is a terrific prospect, and I consider DeMarcus Milliner the top cornerback in the class, whether or not he ends up at free safety.
No. 7: Jimbo Fisher, Florida State
You can't really say Jimbo Fisher is a rookie head coach—he's been Florida State's offensive coordinator since 2007.
But 2010 is his first year as the head man, and he started it with a bang. He and his staff put together a consensus top-10 class loaded with defensive talent, headlined by all-star middle linebacker Jeff Luc and DB LaMarcus Joyner, maybe the best cornerback in the class.
In fact, the Seminoles signed twice as many players on defense as on offense. It's clear Fisher is aware of his team's needs. Off of possibly the worst defensive performance since Bobby Bowden took over, moving the ball isn't the problem (although signing three top-tier wide receivers in Christian Green, Kenny Shaw and DeJoshua Johnson can't hurt).
Even with the wave of decommitments and the missed opportunities, Fisher and company showed the country that the Seminoles won't be laying down , or letting their home state slip away, any time soon.
If the production on the field matches the intensity off it, it won't be long before the 'Noles are back in full.
No. 6: Rick Neuheisel, UCLA
This is the second great recruiting class Rick Neuheisel has put together, off of a top 10 finish last year.
This year, Slick Rick got fundamental. Seven of the 24 prospects were defensive linemen, and 16 of the 24 will play defense (depending on where ATH Anthony Barr ends up).
The Bruins restocked the defensive line with stud prospects like Owamagbe Odighizuwa and Cassius Marsh, retooled the linebacking corps with MLB Jordan Zumwalt and OLB Josh Shirley, and added serious depth to the backfield with S Dietrich Riley and CB Anthony Jefferson.
Five of those six commitments were on signing day, making him one of the strongest closers in the business. Clearly, Rick's been watching his VHS of Glengarry Glen Ross.
No. 5: Bob Stoops, Oklahoma
Big Game Bob landed plenty of big game throughout the recruiting season.
OG Bronson Irwin and C Austin Woods are great additions to the O-line, S/ATH Tony Jefferson is a gamer in the defensive backfield, and OLB Corey Nelson will be a stud as a run-stopper when he adds a few more pounds.
And the Sooners added maybe the best QB/WR/RB combo in the country in Blake Bell, Brennan Clay and Kenny Stills.
If some of the prospects are a little raw, and the class a little large, it's because early defections and major injuries crippled Oklahoma this past year. Stoops and his staff learned their lesson about being liberal with offers.
This class quietly supplanted Texas' as Scout's No. 2 overall, but I think it's a push. Let's decide it on the field.
No. 4: The Offices of Kiffin, Orgeron & Kiffin, USC
We all knew Lane Kiffin's return to USC would cause some drama.
And on NSD, Kiffykins and co. didn't disappoint.
The Trojans finally snagged Markeith Ambles from Tennessee, stole Nickell Robey from Georgia, airlifted Seantrel Henderson from Ohio State, and convinced Latwan Anderson, a WVU commit, that a visit to Southern Cal was in order before he made his final decision.
Kiffin's cohort, Ed Orgeron, needs no introduction—he's only the greatest recruiter in the country, whose preferred drink is a recruit's loyalty and Red Bull, no ice.
But this recruiting cycle added a new name to Kiffin's fishy business—Lane's father, Monte.
Most of us thought ol' Monte was the good guy, that Kiffin's slimy, erratic behavior was in stark contrast to Monte's affable, doting demeanor.
But an aside in a recruiting interview about Nickell Robey indicated that ol' Monte was at Robey's school probably more than was legal. Like the best whodunits, it was Old Man Kiffin, the one you least suspected, all along.
It's just the beginning of what will be a chaotic involvement in college recruiting.
No. 3: The Auburn Staff
The seeds of the Gene Chizik Revolution are in the 2009 class: 27 commits deep—and five big ones on signing day—for a balanced class that really picked up steam close to the end.
This year, Chizik's staff topped that total both on signing day and in general. Trooper Taylor, Jeff Grimes, and the rest of Gene's Gang signed two of Auburn's finest players at the eleventh hour in Shon Coleman and Corey Lemonier, the latter of which took until the final day to land over Florida State.
They grabbed the nation's best JUCO player in Cameron Newton and one of its top running backs in Michael Dyer.
And they got their hair mussed, stealing OG Eric Mack from South Carolina, and pulling in DT Jeffrey Whitaker over the Georgia Bulldogs.
For a coach that projects a goofy, nice-guy, tread-on-me image, Chizik showed what he's made of down in the drrrty SEC.
The Iron Bowl is being fought on and off the field; for that, Auburn fans have to be encouraged.
No. 2: Mack Brown, Texas
If Urban Meyer is the young corporate hotshot with a dark personal life and a short fuse, Brown is the wise, proud, firmly entrenched partner whose affable demeanor some mistake as doddering.
He and his staff had already compiled an outstanding class anchored by QB Connor Wood, DE Reggie Wilson and ATH/S Demarco Cobbs, before landing Jackson Jeffcoat and Jordan Hicks, two of the best defenders in the country, on the same day.
But therein lies the schism in Texas' recruiting staff: Brown lands the hometown boys, and leaves the heavy, heated, out-of-state legwork to his fiery assistants, i.e. Will Muschamp.
He's not letting pride interfere with patience, and he's recognizing the need to delegate. Those are the only things that can prevent Texas from landing top 10, maybe top five classes, every single year, for the foreseeable future. Yikes.
No. 1: Urban Meyer, Florida
He hung onto a top-tier class despite retiring for health reasons and getting rehired in an extremely murky and conditional regard.
He landed three of the best defensive linemen in the country without a defensive coordinator, and the second best tight end prospect while his tight ends coach and star recruiter headed to rival LSU.
His class has depth, talent, speed and athleticism; its impacts are both immediate and gestating.
He is quite simply the greatest recruiter of the modern era. Nothing can stop him but that old ticker of his.