Pipeline Heroes: The Best of the Best in College Football Recruiting

Mike KirklandContributor IMarch 10, 2011

Pipeline Heroes: The Best of the Best in College Football Recruiting

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    Hungry Hippos, baby! It's on!

    I love college football recruiting. National Signing Day, for me, is a holiday. I wake up early and watch the signing day special on my computer. If you placed a bet saying that I wouldn't be in class that day, it's a bet you'd probably win.

    It really has become an addiction. I get on my computer and check for the latest news. I crave it. I love it.

    I was looking around on ESPN today and saw an article that interested me. It talked about how Nick Saban is the nation's best recruiter. Not only that, but it also power-ranked the five best recruiters. It also touched on the future and who'll be the nation's top recruiters in five years.

    I found it interesting, so I wanted to write about it.

    I'll start off with ESPN's rankings of the five top recruiters in all of college football.

    Writer's note: As far as class rankings go, they will date back only as far as 2002.

5. Mark Richt

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    Mark RichtKevin C. Cox/Getty Images

    Mark Richt is the head coach of the Georgia Bulldogs. Georgia is a historic program full of excellent players. Richt is the man behind it all.

    Mark Richt took the Georgia job before the 2001 season. He holds a 96-34 record at the helm. That's pretty impressive in the SEC.

    I have a lot of respect for Coach Richt. I am a Christian man, and I love that Richt is a Christian coach. He has seen great success in Athens, even being ranked No. 1 in the nation. He had a down year this past year, and many called for him to be fired (though reasons may stretch beyond wins and losses).

    But through it all, Richt has been a lights-out recruiter. After a 6-7 season, Georgia put together a stellar class. Scout ranks Georgia's class sixth in the nation, hauling in players such as Ray Drew, Christian LeMay, Jay Rome and Malcolm Mitchell—the "Dream Team," they call it.

    I don't know how long he will run Georgia's program. But I can tell you that for as long as he does, Georgia will recruit very well.

    The 2011 class may be enough to keep him around a while.

4. Mack Brown

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    Mack BrownBob Levey/Getty Images

    Mack Brown is the head coach of the Texas Longhorns, one of America's powerhouse college football programs. Since he took the job in 1998, he holds a 133-34 record. He won a national championship in 2005 and had a shot in 2009. 

    Coach Brown, like Richt with his Bulldogs, coached the Longhorns to a 5-7 record this season. It was ridiculous how bad they looked at times. (Guess that really goes to show what Colt McCoy meant to Texas.)

    Regardless, Texas is ranked among the elite in recruiting this year. They lost a 5-star OT (Christian Westerman) to Auburn, but that was mostly due to the fact that Texas' offensive line coach retired after the season.

    Yet the Longhorns set up camp in the top 10 and stayed. 

    One thing that shocked me about this year's class was the fact that he got them so quickly. He lost Westerman, yes. But Brown went out and got his pledges. I remember Texas having 20 commitments when everyone else had five.

    Mack Brown is a great coach and a great recruiter. Until he retires, there's no doubt he'll consistently land the best.

    You don't earn the nickname "Coach February" for nothing.

3. Les Miles

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    Chris Graythen/Getty Images

    Les Miles. How can you not love Les Miles?

    I'm a diehard Auburn fan—and I love Les Miles. He might be the most entertaining coach in the nation. He ate grass on national television, for crying out loud. Why? Who cares? He's Les Miles. He does what he wants.

    All game management cracks aside, Miles is a pretty solid recruiter. Louisiana is a hotbed every year, and who doesn't want to play for Miles in the bayou?

    LSU fans, I know you don't like him. But I do. So keep him. Please.

    Whether or not he's able to translate the rankings to championships remains to be seen, but Miles has brought in some solid guys. You have to love this year's class. It all starts up front, and Miles secured a 5-star offensive tackle and defensive tackle. He really does seem—and this is in all honesty—like a coach that I would enjoy playing for. Of course, I'd take a scholarship to the South Harmon Institute of Technology, but whatever.

    Les Miles is the man.

2. Lane Kiffin

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    Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

    Lane Kiffin? Really?

    Okay, okay. The guy can recruit pretty well, sure. But I don't agree with this. Not in the least.

    First of all, he's been a head coach for two whole seasons. While he's landed top-notch players, he's also left one program in a swamp of violations and is facing sanctions at USC (although that was coming before he got there).

    Yes, he was a great recruiter as an assistant at USC before he went to the NFL (dumb). But think about it. Mark Richt and Mack Brown have been at their respective schools since before I knew what a football was. So please, can someone explain how he can be given this high of a ranking?

    I'm no Lane Kiffin hater. I'm on the fence. I think he wronged Tennessee on so many levels. I think he's a bit overhyped. I like Derek Dooley a lot better. I also like Pete Carroll a lot better.

    USC = Kiffin's dream job. Would I jump ship if my dream job came open? In a heartbeat. He's very unorthodox. I'm an aspiring football coach, and I know I'll be unorthodox. I think Kiffin is also quite an enjoyable character. So I'm no hater.

    I just don't think he's the nation's second-best recruiter.

1. Nick Saban

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    Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

    You knew it was coming. I didn't even have to say it. No. Don't act surprised. Hey. Watch your mouth.

    Nick Saban is the head coach of my school's greatest rival, so I think next to an actual Alabama fan, I have a very good idea of how well Saban recruits.

    There's no animosity in me writing this. I'm not dumb. I'm not blinded by my own school's colors. I'm not an idiot like some homers. I fully recognize that Saban is an excellent recruiter with a genius—and I do mean genius—defensive mind.

    He did it at LSU, and he's doing it at Alabama. I'm not saying Alabama was ever a second-tier program. They never were and never will be. I pray they never become one. But Saban really revived the team. He filled it up with the best talent available.

    While his oversigning practices are sinful in the eyes of many, I respect his abilities.

    Many think he may jump to the NFL soon. I don't know. Neither do they. Or you. If he leaves, he's made Alabama into the sexy school again. If he stays, you best believe that Alabama will be the sexy school for years to come.

Hop into My Delorean and Come with Me to the Future

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    ESPN also touched on the future. In five years, who will the best recruiters be?

    I have to say, the list is pretty spot-on.

    Also, if you give me a puppy, I will sign with your school. Where do I sign?

5. Mario Cristobal

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    Al Messerschmidt/Getty Images

    You might be thinking, "Who?"

    You're not the only one, I'm sure. Anyhow, Mario Cristobal is the head coach of Florida International. He's the first Division I-A coach to be Cuban-American. He played football at The U (Miami for you box-dwellers).

    Right...you did say FIU, right?

    I did. But if you look at his track record, it's pretty impressive. He landed an ESPNU 150 prospect. Yes, at FIU. That doesn't seem like a big deal. But it is. 

    Cristobal is an impressive coach that seems to draw interest. I personally wanted him to get the job at Miami, but that's long over. Do I think he will turn FIU into a BCS buster? No. But I think he does well enough to get bigger job offers. Maybe a bottom-dweller in a big conference. Vanderbilt? Hey now.

    I think Mario Cristobal is a name to remember.

4. Al Golden

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    Joe Raedle/Getty Images

    Al Golden wasn't necessarily a sexy name in the Miami recruiting search. My picks were Cristobal, Mike Leach and Chuck Norris (Miami is my favorite non-SEC team). But I'm on the bandwagon.

    Al Golden, I believe in you, and I support you. 

    You probably know a little bit about him. Or you might not. I don't know. Golden brought life to the Temple football program. He's a likable guy that can flat-out coach. 

    Temple isn't exactly a school that all the big-time players want to attend. But Miami is.

    I think Randy Shannon's firing was a bit questionable. But I believe hiring Al Golden was a good move. I think he makes this list simply based on the fact that my dog Beauregard, who's asleep on my futon with his legs open like always, could recruit successfully in Coral Gables.

3. Charlie Strong

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    Andy Lyons/Getty Images

    Yes. If anything, he's ranked too low. Charlie Strong has Louisville ready to play football.

    He assembled an impressive class, and I believe it will only get better. My only question is, in five years will he be hauling in the big boys in Louisville, Kentucky, or will he show his flash and take a job at a powerhouse?

    Strong has the potential to put Louisville back in the position it was in before Bobby Petrino left. He landed some stud players, and as far as I can tell, he's not ready to stop now.

    Now, I know race still is a major factor in the world today. Personally, I believe a person is a person no matter his skin color. But an African-American coach is appealing to prospects. It's a case of rarity. There aren't many black coaches at the I-A level, and I think it poses an advantage for Strong. 

    Whatever it is, Charlie Strong has got it.

2. Will Muschamp

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    Sam Greenwood/Getty Images

    Will Muschamp is one of my favorite coaches. I became a fan of his while he was at Auburn. He's a young, energetic guy that coaches like he recruits: full-throttle.

    It doesn't hurt that he's at Florida now either. I'm glad he got away from Texas. This guy belongs in the SEC. He has been labeled an "uber recruiter," and understandably so.

    Muschomp (You like how I did that? Get it? His name is Muschamp, but he coaches for the Florida Gators? Get it? Never mind.) will see great success as a coach, and it all starts on the recruiting trail. You spoiled Florida fans were saying how you didn't get enough 5-stars. Spoiled, I say! And you blamed it on Muschamp. Preposterous.

    I'm kidding.

    Some of my readers know: I'm not a fan of Urban Meyer in any way. Florida is an SEC rival to my Auburn Tigers, but I support my conference—and Florida got a good one. 

    Chomp, chomp.

1. Gene Chizik

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    Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

    Don't say a thing about Cameron Newton. I'm tired of hearing about it. I said that with a smile, but I'm serious.

    Gene Chizik took over a struggling Auburn program. He answered with two straight top five classes.

    I don't hate Tommy Tuberville, but the dude had some priority issues. I don't have a problem with duck hunting, but don't you dedicate all your time to it in the heart of recruiting season and expect me to giggle. I don't like to giggle.

    Coach Chizik has shown excellence on the recruiting trail, and he's just getting warmed up. There's a major gap in talent that resulted from Tub's lack of recruiting. Chizik said he needed four full classes to get the program where he wanted it.

    He's on his way.

Who's Missing?

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    Matthew Stockman/Getty Images

    I, for the most part, agree with most of these selections, but there are some names missing here.

    I'd like to add in a few coaches I feel are excellent recruiters. Most of these reflect on this most recent Signing Day. I'm shooting for some guys who are relatively new as head coaches.

    Therefore, names like Jim Tressel, Steve Spurrier and Bob Stoops are not included.

    Here's Mike Kirkland's two cents. Or five cents. Whatever.

5. Mike London

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    Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

    In his first full recruiting class, Mike London landed an outstanding class, given his lack of a powerhouse program. 

    Once again, players love a dark-skinned coach—and Mike London is a class act.

    I don't know how he will fare in the future, hence his last-place rank.

    But London made a big splash in 2011.

4. Derek Dooley

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    Grant Halverson/Getty Images

    I was raised to hate Tennessee. Derek Dooley is changing my mind.

    He's got the right genetics. He's in the right conference.

    And he knows about World War II.

    Tennessee had an outstanding class this past year. He took over a program headed for shackles, and he's doing an excellent job. Tennessee is a young program, and Dooley is making sure that the Volunteers are here to stay.

    Go SEC.

3. Chip Kelly

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    Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

    I may wind up eating my words here if the NCAA cracks down, but Chip Kelly is the man.

    He's probably a better coach than a recruiter, but they do go hand in hand to a degree.

    Coming off a bid to a national title, Kelly is going to reap the benefits. He landed a lot of speed and a lot of pure talent in the past year's class.

    Barring the NCAA coming down on the Ducks, Chip Kelly and Oregon will be near the top for years to come.

2. Brian Kelly

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    Stephen Dunn/Getty Images

    He was the right hire at Notre Dame—and in his debut class, he showed that.

    Notre Dame is a sexy name, which is an advantage for Kelly. Charlie Weis could recruit too. The difference here is that Kelly knows how to develop talent.

    Everyone wants to be Irish.

1. Jimbo Fisher

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    Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

    That's a Kodak moment. 

    How could he not make the list? He had the top-ranked class. It was full of stars. Jimbo Fisher knows what he's doing.

    I'm a Bobby Bowden fan. Coaching is my dream, and Bowden is an idol.

    All wrongdoing aside, Florida State got its coach.

    It's a program kids want to play for, and Jimbo is the man to bring them there.

    Get those tomahawks ready.

Where Do I Sign?

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    College football is my favorite sport. College football recruiting is my second favorite.

    I love recruiting. It's so exciting. And stressful. And time-consuming.

    Yet every February, Signing Day comes first.

    These guys are the best of the best. They are the reason that recruiting is what it is. Recruiting's where it all starts. Without it, you have nothing. 

    Seriously, I want this puppy.