To Stay In State Or Not: Mack Brown's Recruiting Philosophy

Perhaps the most interesting debate among diehard Longhorn football fans right now centers on Mack Brown and out-of-state recruiting. Should he expend time and resources trying to land high-four and five star blue chippers outside the borders? If so, to what extent?

Let's take a look.

RECRUIT THE NATION

During this year's Signing Day press conference Mack  Brown told reporters that he wants, first, players who want to come to Texas. But a close second, he wants kids from the state of Texas. His espoused philosophy is that kids from the state want to play for Texas, want to represent the state, and help tie the team with the state's high school coaches and the state as a whole.

"Texas is a different place, the tradition here, the history here, if you didn't grow up with our history and tradition and you don't know how special this place is, then you're one-of-five (choices for a player). I don't want us to be one-of-five. I want us to one-of-one or one-of-two. Maybe that's wrong, but I want guys that love it here, I want guys that are crying when they walk out of that tunnel. On senior day, I want all the moms and dad there. That's just the way I am and the way I feel. When they say we are one-of-five, then I say you’re (down to) one-of-four because I'm out."

The first potential problem with this approach is that you significantly limit the number of available players who meet your criteria. Let's say, just as an illustration, there are 200 kids nationally who would be objectively good for Mack Brown to recruit. With each additional qualifier you add to the process, you lose kids from the pool. For example:

MUST BE FROM TEXAS: Pool shrinks from 200 to 60
MUST ONLY WANT TEXAS: Pool shrinks from 60 to 20

The problem quickly becomes obvious: if you don't clean house in-state any given year, you're left holding the bag. The less obvious problem, though, is that high-four and five star recruits are exponentially more valuable than three and low-four star players. If we were to plot it out, the resulting graph would look something like this:


They don't call 'em "can't miss" prospects for nothing.

This is a powerful arrow in the quiver of those who want a national recruiting strategy. Though the state of Texas is home to a deep pool of four-star talent, it's an undeniable fact that you can build a stronger top-to-bottom class if you expand the pool of potential recruits beyond the state borders.

RECRUITING "I'M A TEXAN AND I LOVE THE LONGHORNS" KIDS

Mack Brown and those who share his view do have some counterarguments. We'll lay them out there before evaluating their various merits.

  1. By being so committed to recruiting the state of Texas, Mack Brown's relationship with high school coaches is unparalleled.
  1. Along with Georgia, Florida, Ohio, and California, the state of Texas is loaded with high school talent.
  1. The talent pool is deep enough to fill a Top 10 class every year without recruiting beyond the borders.
  1. Staying in-state shrinks the number of players to evaluate, which in turn allows you to make more thorough evaluations of each.
  1. You'll necessarily lose fewer recruiting battles.

WHO'S RIGHT?

Though Mack Brown's strategy isn't without merit, I think it's inherently the weaker one. As discussed in the first section, the biggest problem is that you simply can't build as strong a class by recruiting from a smaller pool of players. And though you'll have some years where you truly have a great, great class, you're going to have some more modest classes in years when either the state isn't as well stocked with studs or you don't win out on all the in-state battles.

Beyond that, I think Mack Brown's justifications for staying in-state are shaky in certain regards. The unstated premise on which Mack's philosophy rests is that recruiting nationally can't be done effectively. But a thorough cost-benefit analysis suggests otherwise. This is a program with deep, deep, deep resources - so deep that being more cost-efficient (but less talented) by staying in-state is not - to stay with the metaphor - worth the savings. Though it would destroy a school like Baylor to try to recruit from coast to coast, Texas has the capital to do so. And therefore should, if you ask me.

Additionally, finding the blue chips is easier than it's ever been before, and gets easier each year. The recruiting sites like Rivals and Scout identify the nation's top players when they're freshmen and sophomores in high school, and their evaluations are verifiably excellent. Gone are the days when recruiting required the coaches themselves to drive around in cars to watch as many high school games as they could. Nowadays the stars are pre-identified and you simply need evaluate all the ones in whom you're interested.

And finally, I find the "What we've got now is good enough" attitude to be a bit unsettling. You don't see Microsoft content with its market share, and I'm not sure - given everything discussed above - Mack Brown should be content with the status quo, either. Not when the cost of doing so is so manageable and the benefits of staying in-state relatively intangible. Moreover, one senses an "It's more trouble than it's worth" attitude from Mack Brown on the matter, yet coaches like Urban Meyer, Jim Tressel and Pete Carrol - all from talent-rich states - regularly pluck players from across the country to supplement their classes.

I understand why Mack Brown does things the way that he does, and I can appreciate the appeal. I also think the results are, for the most part, outstanding. But I think a thorough analysis suggests that we can do better. Which begs the question: shouldn't we?

Update [2008-2-11 18:59:47 by HornsFan]: Some excellent counterpoints are being made in the comment section. Definitely worth reading. And responding to, which I'll do in another post down the line.

--PB--

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