Ah, January and February. ‘Tis the season for the great Florida Gators recruiting roller coaster to barrel through its final dizzying loops and twirls. It’s the time where many roll in the mirth of future treasures as they commit or sign one-by-one. For others it’s a time for angst and misgiving, constant worry about commits flipping and top targets slipping away. And for yet others, it’s a time for nudging out on the 13th floor window ledge and sawing away at their wrists with a butter knife.
Much of the suicidal tendencies are based on recruiting mythology. And when I use that term, I don’t mean to say it is all bunk. Most mythology is based on some amount of truth, and carries with it some amount of truth today, no matter how old the mythology or how off-base some of it may be. And some of it is in fact mostly true, but erroneously treated as infallible rule…hence the “mythology” through line sustaining even when there is good reason to embrace the underlying truths.
I had completed a great deal of research to address a couple of these universal myths and try to discover how much truth and how much trickery were part of their mythology. However, now that National Signing Day (NSD) is complete for 2016, it is clear that there are some much more specific myths that need investigation. Myths that relate directly to the Florida Gators and their fans. So the global myths will have to wait. Let’s tackle the local ones first.
Coach McElwain Can’t Close
ABC. Always Be Closing. That’s the mantra of Alec Baldwin’s Blake the consultant in Glengarry Glen Ross, a film about a bunch of sweaty, strung out basket cases, reeking of fear and desperation, only managing to struggle through each miserable moment by clinging to the minute possibility that he next call or fax will unveil news that will change their lives, brighten the sun, and turn their world from hell into heaven.
Kind of like college football fans on NSD.
Always Be Closing. That’s the mantra of selling. That’s the mantra of every college football coach in America whenever a recruit is on the line. That’s the mantra of every college football fan who follows recruiting.
I’m just not sure everyone knows what it means.
The biggest confusion I have with the concept of closing is the time element. Ask most recruitnicks and they will say closing means being able to garner a new commitment on NSD or maybe in the two to three days preceding it. And that seems to be a very hard and fast window to these fans.
But when you look at the world of sales, that’s not the case. There is no magical day or hour within which you have to close. That’s the whole point of the phrase, “Always be closing.” It’s that “always” part that many folks gloss right over. When Coach McElwain says, “Recruit every day or die,” he clearly understands the concept of ABC. In sales, closing is when the target becomes the customer. When the sale is made. When they say “Yes.” Not when the arbitrary sales clock hits midnight, such as when the clocks hit 7:00 AM EST on NSD and the fax machines can officially receive Letters of Intent.
The close comes when the prospective customer says “Yes.” And recruiting is sales. Coaches sell their university, their program, their team and their future vision for each recruit. It is nothing but a sales job. And every minute a coach is recruiting, they are closing. Because to recruit every day or die, they must always be closing. And when that recruit finally says, “Yes,” that’s closing.
On January 26 of last year, when Frankie Hammond said, “Yes,” that was closing.
On March 14, when Chauncey Gardner said, “Yes,” that was closing.
On November 29, when Feleipe Franks said, “Yes,” that was closing.
On February 3, National Signing Day, when Tyrie Cleveland and Joseph Putu said, “Yes,” that was closing.
Absolutely nothing about the date of the commitment matters. The only thing that matters about recruiting is the quality of the players, how they fit into the system into which they are recruited, and whether the needs are met to properly fill and balance the depth chart.
But the 4-letter sports TV network and recruiting entertainment services make a huge profit-generating circus show out of NSD, complete with race-like jockeying for position with every new commitment. It is a 12-hour commercial for any football program that has recruits committing to them on that day, especially if they can manage to get their commitment ceremony broadcast by the TV network. And here’s a little nugget of information that has apparently, shockingly been kept a secret from the entire universe of recruitnicks: many of the football coaches at the top programs in the country are actually aware of this unique and powerful marketing tool known as NSD. So in order to squeeze the most attention and free publicity for their program, they choose some of their commitments each year and tell them to keep it silent until NSD, so they can make their commitments on the air, or at least their commitments will be made into a huge positive media boost for the program when it is discussed ad nauseam on the TV and radio on NSD. These coaches also know that it creates the false mirage that they are great “closers”, and therefore somehow much better recruiters or even coaches than their rivals. They know that it creates in-fighting amongst the weaker factions of their rivals’ fan bases, putting added pressure and strain on those coaching staffs while their good names are being disparaged by their own fans because they believe that the NSD theater is actually reality TV.
Don’t think so? Let’s look at FSU’s big NSD haul:
*At 8:30 they “closed” with a commitment from defensive end Brian Burns. Burns had been silently committed to FSU since his official visit to FSU the previous weekend. Every insider on Gator Country let you know that. Yet they got credit for “closing” him on NSD.
*At 9:45, Shavar Manuel publicly de-commits from Florida. This happens literally minutes after Florida secures the commitment of star receiver Tyrie Cleveland, another FSU-orchestrated move to hurt UF fans and take luster off of their big early NSD momentum-builder. Later in the day, FSU line coach Brad Lawing told a reporter that Manuel had been committed to them for weeks, and he instructed Manuel to keep lying to Florida coaches (in his words, “just keep telling them what they want to hear”), telling them that he was still committed to Florida until he signs with Florida State on NSD. Rarely does a coach go public with not only the NSD ruse, but also the immoral and unethical practice of poisoning the character of high school boys by instructing them to lie to people who have been investing money and personal care into their relationship. But then, Lawing has never been confused with a member of Mensa. I am sure Jimbo will take him aside and remind him not to use his inside voice to the media again.
*At 10:00, they “closed” on CB Carlos Becker. This is a kid from Kissimmee who has been a heavy lean to FSU ever since their Junior Day last winter. Florida offered him the same day in February as FSU last year, got him to visit to Gainesville in March and camp at UF in June, but it was already clear at that point that he was FSU bound. When he first officially told the FSU staff he was coming is anyone’s guess, but you can bet your bottom dollar it wasn’t on NSD.
*At 10:40, they “closed” on OT Jauan Williams. This was from all appearances a genuine NSD commitment.
*At 10:50, they “closed” on LB Dontavious Jackson out of Houston. Again, another kid who has been a foregone conclusion to FSU, this one since October. Some Texas insiders believed he was all Texas, but folks around FSU and Gator camps had him pegged to FSU for some time. Maybe a real NSD commitment, maybe not. This one is unclear.
*At 12:45, they “closed” on OL Landon Dickerson. Dickerson had been committed to them for a few weeks as well. But it looks so much better on ESPN on NSD than in a tweet in early January.
By early afternoon, FSU had vaulted into the top spot in ESPN’s rankings on the strength 6 “new” commitments, of which only two were truly NSD commitments (and one of those two I am not sure about). However, they also lost two committed players on the day, so they had only a net four pickups. Still pretty good for any NSD…not that many of them actually committed for the first time that day. But it sure does look amazing if they did.
So FSU fans are dancing in the streets because they won another mythical recruiting national championship (even though Alabama signed the #1 class according to more services than FSU did). And a big group of Gator fans are rioting in the streets about it. But let’s look at FSU’s signing day as a whole…and let’s see what Gator fans would be saying if this were their NSD.
While the six “new” commits gave FSU the great 12-hour ESPN commercial, they also missed on CB Trayvon Mullen (Clemson), missed on the #1 JUCO DE Jonathan Kongbo (Tennessee), missed on DT Stephon Taylor (South Carolina), lost a CB that had been committed for a month, Clifford Chattman (Texas A&M), and lost a long-time commitment from Miami, DB Jamel Cook (USC). Cook had been committed to FSU since the previous February’s Junior Day in Tallahassee, and do you think Cook and USC didn’t know before NSD that he was going to flip to them? Of course they did, because most all the big programs do this. So, while the 6 commits look great, even if you pretend they were all “new” on NSD, they missed out on 3 huge targets as well. So they batted .667. Pretty good…until you factor out the fake NSD commitments. In that case, their best-case scenario was 2 out of 5, a success rate of 40%. Then add in the two de-commits as if they were up for grabs (since clearly they were, even if FSU did not know it), and the Semis’ NSD success rate was really 29%. When you look at it in those more realistic terms without the artificial manipulation of the public announcement of silent commitments, they had a pretty darn average NSD. If that was Florida’s signing day on any given year, Gator fans would go on a northern California whine tour. However, give Jimbo Fisher full credit. Either way, he signed a very strong class, but he turned what should have been a ho-hum NSD into an event worthy of fireworks and champagne. He learned this NSD shell game from the greatest signing day trickster of them all: Bobby Bowden. Bowden used to joke to his assistants about it. Like candy from a baby. Imagine if recruiting received the kind of mass media coverage in Bowden’s time as it does today.
And how about looking at their entire NSD balance? FSU signed a defensive back, but missed on their far more coveted DB target Mullen, while losing the commitments of two others. They had four defensive backs committed heading into NSD, and wanted six in total. But they ended up with three total – fewer than they started the day with. Had that happened to Florida, Gator fans would be crashing servers all over the internet with threads bashing the Florida staff.
McElwain Can’t Close: Part 2
As is common among recruitnicks, mostly owing to being swept up in the theater and excitement of the NSD furor, many Gator fans have completely forgotten about last year’s NSD. And in fact it seems they may have forgotten about all NSDs that went before this one. Because McElwain and staff have been harshly criticized not only for their perceived inability to close, but in their apparent inability to prioritize, strategize or even recruit at all. This may be the result of the mass media NSD mirage, so I thought looking at the cold, hard data might be of use in clearing our eyes of this veil of hype and puffery.
True, Coach Mac only garnered two commitments on NSD this year, while missing two and losing two committed players. Again counting the lost commitments as up for grabs on NSD, Florida had a success rate of 33%. Compare that to the reality-adjusted FSU success rate of 29% this year, as detailed earlier. But among pure targets up for grabs, they batted 50% (again, compare to the FSU reality-adjusted mark of 40%). When you look at it from the perspective of filling Florida’s needs, they wanted to sign a WR, a CB and an OL on NSD; they signed two of three. That’s a 67% success rate at filling needs (the true objective of recruiting). That’s great for any program or coach.
But, hey, with such a small number of targets for Florida this year on NSD (which should actually be embraced as a HUGE recruiting success for Mac’s team, leaving such a tiny portion of this class up for grabs on the final day), and given that the CB that was missed was higher rated than the one signed, let’s water it back down to about 50%. Certainly nothing to cry about, considering how Florida finished the second half of the 2015 football season. But this is just one signing class. Remember I mentioned recruitnicks having bad memories? Oh, heh, never mind. Let’s just look at a quick historical perspective on what Jim McElwain has done in two signing classes at Florida.
In drawing comparisons, I can only go as far back as the Zook years, because I don’t have the same depth of records on the Spurrier years, mostly because the information was simply did not exist or was not available to the public. So let’s look at some of the big ticket items for the Florida program on NSD, and in recruiting in general (because every day can be closing day): (1) New commitments on NSD, (2) Prospects flipped to Florida who were previously committed to other programs, and (3) Players signed from the tri-county south Florida Mecca of high school talent, an area where Florida has been infamously impotent, and perpetually punked.
First we will look at NSD commitments. These are the guys who make their final public announcements on NSD or who are flipped from other schools’ commitment lists on NSD. After just 14 months on the job and two signing classes, McElwain already has totaled more NSD commitments than Ron Zook (3 signing classes) and Will Muschamp (4 classes), and is just 3 commits shy of Urban Meyer’s total (6 classes). But it is better to look at the averages when making these comparisons. Over two years, Mac has averaged 5 NSD commitments per year (incidentally, that is more than any Gator coach has averaged in modern program history). None of the three Gator head coaches over the previous 13 years had averaged over 3.3 (Zook). The response from critics would be that Mac’s high average was boosted by last year’s class, and that doesn’t change the perception that this year’s effort was poor. Well this year, Mac grabbed two NSD commits. Muschamp’s average per year was 1.8; Meyer’s was 2.2 (for all his incredible recruiting, Urban Meyer never garnered more than three commitments on NSD while at Florida). I don’t see a notable difference there. And to throw an even bigger spotlight on Mac’s closing speed, when you consider all new commitments not just on NSD, but after the final visit weekend (meaning the last 3 days of the recruiting cycle), Mac has averaged 7.5 commits “closed” per year. That is Saban/Alabama and Bowden/FSU territory right there. And I think it is safe to say that Spurrier’s average was in the same ball park, since he was always mercilessly slammed for being so bad at “closing” on NSD. And for being a weak recruiter in general. I wonder how he ever won all those games and championships?
But what was the value of these NSD commitments? Surely the Joseph Putu signing this year – with a high of a 3-star rating – will bring that question to the table. Well, when just looking at NSD commitments from 4-star and 5-star players, Mac has averaged 3.5 per year. Zook averaged 2.0, while both Meyer and Muschamp averaged just 1.3. But forget the stars and just look at who actually went on to be an impact player at Florida. Of the 10 NSD commits Zook garnered, only Jarvis Moss was an impact player. In six years, Meyer only signed two players on NSD who went on to be impact players: Chaz Green and Jelani Jenkins. In four years, Muschamp’s only impact guys were Dante Fowler Jr and Marcus Roberson, the latter of whom had a bigger impact on the local herb trade than the Gator stat sheet. The previous three Gator coaches in 13 years only signed five impact players on NSD. In two years, McElwain has already signed five: Antonio Callaway, Martez Ivey, CeCe Jefferson, Jordan Cronkrite and Tyrie Cleveland. Yes that last one is an assumption, but I don’t think I will get any arguments on that. I also expect Keivonnis Davis and Nick Buchanan to add to McElwain’s list, and so could Joseph Putu. So McElwain isn’t just schooling his three predecessors in numbers on NSD, he’s schooling them on quality and impact to the program.
Another mark of a great recruiter is the ability to flip a player to Florida when they are committed to another school. Again, in just two years, Mac has totaled more flips than two of the three previous coaches of longer tenures. McElwain has averaged 10 flips per year, with an even 10 each time. Will Muschamp, whose only nick-name picked up while at Florida that is clean enough to print was “The Flipper,” for his ability to flip committed players, averaged 6.3 per year. Both Zook and Meyer averaged 3.0. Again, looking at just the 4- and 5-star players flipped, Zook averaged 2.0, Meyer 2.3, The Flipper 3.5, and Mac weighs in at 4.5 per year. Again: Mac has better numbers and better quality.
Now how about that impenetrable wall around Miami? That immovable barrier around the counties of Dade, Broward and Palm Beach? Once again, Mac has surpassed his predecessors by a significant margin. He has averaged 6 southeast Florida recruits per year, while Zook (3.7), Meyer (3.5) and Muschamp (3.5) barely exceed half of that. Looking just at 4- and 5-star talent, again Mac leaves the pack behind with 3 players per year, outpacing Meyer and Muschamp (2.5 each) and Zook (a paltry 0.3). And again to remind everyone, Spurrier was so bad at recruiting south Florida that he often remarked that they should stop wasting time and resources recruiting there.
If any Gator fans can consider these data, these facts about how Coach McElwain has closed the last two years – even using the definition fallacy of NSD as the only criteria for closing – and not see that Mac is a very strong closer, well I can only say this:
PUT that COFFEE…DOWN!!!