Google and Facebook are two companies that hire an unbelievable number of incredibly talented software engineers. They do a lot of different things with their talent, but the way they actually make money is through ads. They can charge more for those ads when people actually click or tap on them rather than just scroll by. Therefore, a considerable amount of effort goes into getting people to interact with the ads even if they’re not entirely relevant to a user’s interests.
In short, as former Facebook employee Jeff Hammerbacher once famously observed, “The best minds of my generation are thinking about how to make people click ads. That sucks.”
Those firms are not alone. A lot of what advertising and marketing is about is getting people to buy things they wouldn’t otherwise. This goes straight from passive billboards on the side of the highway to Walgreens’ proposed interactive cooler doors.
Recruiting is, at its root, a form of salesmanship. Alabama sells national championships. LSU sells NFL draft counts. Stanford sells the value of its diplomas. Kansas sells the opportunity to come in and beat out the schlubs who won a combined six games in the last four seasons. Whatever a school has, it pitches high school talent on that.
It’s easy for coaches to recruit to their specialty. Offensive players will line up to play for the wizards of their day, while defensive recruits love to play for head coaches who value them and design their offenses to protect them. There is recent evidence from Gainesville that coaches are best at identifying good prospects on their strong sides of the ball too.
Will Muschamp built some of the most formidable defensive lineups in program history, using his expertise to evaluate, target, sign, and develop players on his side of the ball. As I catalogued last week, though, he was not so good on the offensive side. He signed a combined 11 offensive linemen and nine wide receivers in his final two recruiting classes to make up for a shortfall in those positions from his first two.
Those 20 signees netted a three good ones — David Sharpe, Demarcus Robinson, and Trenton Brown, the last of whom went pro after two years thanks to having been a JUCO transfer — and a decent rotation guy in Cameron Dillard. The rest made marginal impacts if any, and five of them (four linemen and C.J. Worton) had careers derailed by injuries. Those injury-plagued guys were bad luck, but five players with serious health problems versus four real contributors among 20 signees is not a great ratio.
Jim McElwain was able to reverse the slide on the offensive side of the ball. He’s the one who signed the bulk of UF’s great running back roster from this past year, with Jordan Scarlett, Lamical Perine, and Malik Davis an excellent (if, again, injury-snakebit in the last case) trio. The deep wide receiving corps was bolstered by transfers but was again mostly Mac signees. The quarterback and offensive line guys that McElwain left behind needed a lot of help from the good coaching and developing from the new staff, but they did have some raw potential there ready to be molded.
Defensive recruiting was a different story. For starters, Mac only signed four blue chip 4-star recruits combined in his first two classes. Among them, one never played and left after the credit card fraud scandal (Jordan Smith) and another still needed enough seasoning that he took the unusual step of redshirting in his third year after participating in his first two (Antonneous Clayton). McElwain’s last class at least brought in six defensive blue chips, headlined by CJ, Marco, and Brad Stewart in the secondary.
One thing McElwain never did was sign a true difference maker at defensive tackle, as we’re still waiting for the trio of Slaton, Campbell, and Conliffe from the 2017 class to hit it big. His recruiting at non-Buck linebacker was abysmal, with little more than David Reese and Vosean Joseph to show for it. Maybe James Houston and Ventrell Miller will blossom into something good, but the five elite backers that Mullen just signed could easily pass them up before long.
Even some of the biggest successes of 2018 on defense came after Todd Grantham made adjustments. Chauncey Gardner-Johnson played his way into being a serious NFL prospect, but that was after he moved from safety to star. Jachai Polite made a run at the school’s single-season sack record before coming up just short, but he slimmed down around 20 pounds to play Buck instead of his old traditional defensive end spot. Jeremiah Moon also found a new level of excellence at Buck instead of the traditional outside linebacker spot he’d been in.
The thing that has impressed me most about Mullen’s two classes so far is that he appears to be able to recruit both sides of the ball well. For instance he signed five blue chip defenders in his small 2018 class, more than McElwain did in his first two classes. We won’t know for sure for a couple of seasons, since Mullen’s transitional class saw a lot of redshirts and not even half of his 2019 haul is on campus yet. Still, his defensive recruiting is not full of reaches or holes with the admitted exception of defensive tackle (one signed in two years).
The key, I think, is that Mullen is not selling these defensive players on something they don’t want. Muschamp couldn’t sell offensive players on a vision of an exciting scheme to play in because he didn’t want an exciting offense. He wanted a controlled offense that never put his defense in a bad spot. McElwain could sell guys on the great units made of leftover Muschamp players, but after even one season they could see that they’d be playing opposite an anemic offense that would put too much burden on them.
Mullen, meanwhile, favors aggressiveness on both sides of the ball while also paying close attention to special teams and field position. The offense will try to score a lot of points and be exciting, but Mullen also takes care not to put the defense in bad spots. When he went hard after California prospect Chris Steele last spring/summer, it not only reinforced his mantra that he wanted to recruit the best in the country but it sent a message that he’d do so for a defender. For a guy not on his side of the ball.
Mullen has demonstrated through word and action that he values both sides of the ball highly, and it’s paying off in recruiting. He’s not trying to sell defensive recruits something they don’t want, and it shows with his results on the trail.