Head Men's Basketball Coach – Pratt Cannoneers

Recruiting vs Development: Which Wins Championships?


Auburn quarterback Cam Newton and then head coach Gene Chizik celebrate the 2010 national championship.

It certainly does not make me much of an outlier in the coaching world, but I’m a firm believer in the fact that good players make good coaches. Recruiting is the lifeblood of our business and while there are less-talented teams that over perform, there are generally the most talented teams finishing at the top of the conference every year.

I believe that a lot of college football crosses over into college basketball (especially in recruiting), so as I was reading up on some football recruiting, I came across a very interesting article by SB Nation’s Bud Elliott.

The 2017 Blue Chip Ratio: Your College Football Champ Will Be One Of These 10 Teams by Bud Elliott

The article was about the 2017 Blue Chip Ratio, a figure Elliott calculates by comparing the number of 4 and 5 star recruits a program signs to how many 2 or 3 star recruits the program signs during a four year cycle. It also touted that with almost significant certainty, this year’s national champion would be one of 10 teams that have a positive Blue Chip Ratio.

It doesn’t take much to state that more talent wins more games, but Elliott writes, “All of the national champs over the last decade-plus have accomplished it [a positive blue-chip ratio], and often, the team taking home the trophy has signed many more elite players.”

The evidence is pretty clear and backed up by recent dominance by Alabama (80% of signees over the past four years have been 4 or 5-star recruits), Ohio State (71% blue chip ratio) and defending champion Clemson (56% blue chip ratio).

The point that stuck out the most to me though, is a very clear fact that Elliott illustrates:

“As my colleague Bill Connelly has said, winning in college football takes talent acquisition, development, and deployment. I agree. But Gene Chizik has a national title, while Mark Dantonio and Gary Patterson do not; acquisition is by far the most important element. By NCAA rule, coaches get just 20 hours per week with their players. Only so much development can be done.”

Gene Chizik – who happened to have Cam Newton as his quarterback in 2010 at Auburn – has a national title, while Mark Dantonio and Gary Patterson, generally considered two of the best on-field and development coaches in the game have no national title rings.

No disrespect to Gene Chizik, who spent six seasons as a head coach at both Iowa State and Auburn, but if you remove his 14-0 national championship season with Cam Newton under center, he has a career 24-38 head coaching record (38.7% win percentage).

The counterpoint to the “more recruited talent = more championships” equation, is the run by teams like Boise State and TCU in the late 2000s into the present.

Bill Connelly, Elliott’s colleague writing about college football at SB Nation, had a terrific oral-history on the success of the Boise State Broncos football team.

The Oral History of Boise State, College Football’s Moneyball by Bill Connelly

Boise State famously took less talent, on a blue-turf and turned it into a mid-major machine, winning almost 11 games per season over the last 18 years!

There was and is no positive Blue Chip Ratio for the Broncos recruiting classes, even as the team won 3 Fiesta Bowls since 2006, including what may have been the most exciting college football comeback of all-time in beating Oklahoma in ’06.

Current head coach Bryan Harsin, a former Boise State player (1995-99), assistant coach (2001-10) and current head coach (2014-present) had an interesting quote in Connelly’s article where he explains that he thinks that development, coaching, culture and game planning play the biggest factor in victories, as opposed to talent.

“Precise coaching is still the most valuable thing, no matter where you are. That’s what I learned. Football’s football. It’s not that complicated. There’s 11 dudes, and you can only arrange them in only so many different ways. How you do it, the preparation, and everything that leads up to them executing, that was different.”

And I agree with Harsin…to a certain extent. When two teams are within a certain talent-range, coaching makes all the difference. But sometimes there’s an insurmountable gap between the talent of Program A and the talent of Program B and no amount of coaching, game planning, or precision will make a difference in the end result.

Boise State was college football’s “Moneyball,” for lack of a better term, for a long time and still may be, but ultimately the talent and depth of it at schools like Alabama, Ohio State and Clemson will keep schools without those blue chippers from winning national championships on a consistent basis.


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This entry was posted on August 22, 2017 by in Coaching.