Recruiting: Trend Continues
It’s a funny thing about athletes. Normally, you can tell within a few months of a player’s arrival on campus whether he’s going to contribute. Whether that player is going to be a star. Obviously, athletes get better with coaching, and good coaches refine a player’s strengths and minimize his weaknesses. But generally, you either got it or you don’t.
The same can be said for coaches. And this time of year, the aspect of coaching that’s under the microscope is the ability to recruit. So now that the 2007 recruiting season is in the books, the best way to sum up this year’s recruiting class is by saying simply that it’s the same as it ever was. Maybe a little down, but generally in the same range as Houston Nutt has had the Hogs floundering in for the last 6 years, at least according to national recruiting service Rivals.com.
Take a look at where Arkansas ranked nationally in the Rivals’ recruiting rankings over that period:
Despite an SEC West Championship and a 10 win season, Nutt somehow manages to sign (what is nationally regarded as at least) his weakest class in the last six, but generally, on the same level as the others.
Surprising? Not really. Why? Because Houston is who he is. Everyone in Arkansas should know what to expect from Arkansas’ head coach. It’s not the cloud. It’s not the record. It’s not the small state, hick town, insane message board posters, damaging ads, silly protests, or any of the other excuses which are regularly tendered for Nutt’s routinely ordinary recruiting. It’s him, and it’s not going to change.
And the thing about Nutt is that it probably isn’t how the man relates to players on an individual level either. We have no doubt that Nutt can turn on the charm for a recruit in a living room. Nutt’s greatest strength is motivation, and that probably comes through one on one. But charm only takes you so far, and when life changing decisions are made, substance starts to come into play. And the best way to convey substance is to have a plan, and that is something that Nutt’s recruiting sorely lacks.
Don’t take our word for it, take a look at the recruiting of three players from Arkansas this year. Pulaski Academy’s Broderick Green, one of two Parade All-Americans this year from Arkansas, was offered a scholarship by Southern California only to be offered by Arkansas hours later. The same is true of Springdale’s Zack Pianalto, who got a scholarship offer from Texas and only then from Arkansas.
Some radio types and recruiting buffs who apparently go no farther than the knee of the coaching staff in their search for the truth, advise the public routinely that Green and Pianalto really weren’t highly rated by Arkansas anyway. And maybe that’s so, but to come in with tardy offers on in-state players who are being recruited by Top 5 programs either shows that this staff is woefully slow in the recruiting process or that they have a total lack of confidence in their own evaluations. You make the call.
And then there’s Charles Clay from Little Rock Central. Clay was offered a scholarship by the Razorbacks, the offer was withdrawn, and later he was offered again. Not surprisingly, Clay turned down his home state Hogs, where his father was four year letterman, to play football at Tulsa.
In fact, this year, Arkansas made offers to at least seven in state players who elected to take their skills out of state: Lee Ziemba and Kodi Burns to Auburn, Broderick Green to USC, Cam Baker to Memphis, Zack Pianalto to North Carolina, Adrian Moore to Oklahoma State, and Charles Clay to Tulsa. The Razorbacks only wound up signing 11 in-state athletes. Meaning Arkansas signed roughly 60 percent of the home state talent offered. That’s a failing percentage made worse when both Parade All-Americans leave for greener pastures.
There was a time in Nolan Richardson’s early years when Frank Broyles warned the other schools in the Southwest Conference that their basketball teams better start recruiting or Arkansas was going to run them out of every gym in Texas. He was right, and Nolan did.
It’s certainly true that you never know the true measure of a class until they’re on campus. And maybe this class will turn out to be Houston’s best. But when 7 SEC schools find their way into the Top 10 nationally in recruiting, and Arkansas is 20 spots behind and 9th in SEC, it doesn’t take a scientific rocket to figure out that the Hogs may find themselves run off every field in Southeast if things don’t change.
Unfortunately, as is clear from the past six years, Houston does about as well with change as he does with a no huddle offense.
J.R. and Henry are a couple of Little Rock-based sports aficianados who long got tired of the same-ol', same-ol' from the usual sportswriting subjects and started filing their column on this blog last year.