The bottom line is that recruiting in college football is all about building relationships. That means assistant coaches and head coaches working prospects and their families to build comfort level, which ultimately is what facilitates commitments and signings.
Texas is the top job in college football from a pure recruiting standpoint.
But what programs are just naturally set up for coaches to get their foot in the door, so to speak? What programs when they have a coaching staff that even in the slightest bit knows what they are doing are a lock to sign elite talent? What programs are “set up” for recruiting success?
We took a look and ranked the top 20 coaching jobs in the country from a recruiting standpoint.
Geography plays the biggest factor in these rankings, simply because talent acquisition for the sport is still very regionally-based. It’s not a coincidence that most of the best programs on an annual basis are located within the borders of talent-producing states. Other factors, like tradition, facilities and fan support/venue were weighed as well. These things serve as a hook for top prospects and can cause initial interest- not the way proximity does- but still can drum up an instant interest.
1-Texas- The Longhorns have it all- tradition, their own television network, facilities, a great location in Austin and the best high school football in the country in their state. The talent level/roster issues at Texas under Mack Brown have been more of a case of mis-evaluations early in the process and player development than anything. Whoever gets this job will not have a problem recruiting and it likely will stay in-state-focused. That being said, this is a program that could go national and land its share with little problem.
2- Ohio State- There’s little doubt that there’s more elite football talent in the sun belt states, but the state of Ohio annually is a top five producer of NFL talent and the Buckeyes more often than not get their pick of it because it is the dominant program within the state. Throw in great facilities, tradition and support and there’s no reason why Ohio State should not sign top five classes every cycle. Given the high profile of the program, Ohio State is able to go national to fill what it doesn’t get in-state.
3- LSU- The state of Louisiana is loaded with prospects (just behind Ohio in terms of producing NFL talent) and just like Ohio State, the Tigers have the Pelican State all to themselves and sign the lion’s (no pun intended) share of it every cycle. Kids grow up dreaming of running out of the tunnel at Tiger Stadium, the toughest venue in the Southeastern Conference, on Saturday nights. Facilities are great and Baton Rouge is located along the talent-rich I-10 corridor (Jacksonville to Houston) so hitting key out-of-state areas is no trouble.
4- Georgia- While Georgia enjoys the same advantages as LSU in terms of being the dominant program within a talent-laden state, it ranks behind the Tigers simply because the Atlanta metro area has become so transient and so heavily-recruited by nearly every program in the country that it’s tough for the Dawgs to corral the top in-state talent at the rate LSU and the others do. Still, UGA will always have talent and can recruit every state that borders the Peach State with success. Athens is a great college town that sells and the facilities, tradition and fan support are top-notch.
5- USC- One look at the Heisman Trophies and championship trophies/banners at Heritage Hall and you will realize that tradition is what sells this program. Los Angeles is one of the top talent-producing metro areas in the country and while UCLA and the rest of the Pac-12 get their share, so does SC. The difference is that the Trojans can carry their tradition out-of-state and recruit at the national level. Facilities are improving at USC and the lack of the NFL in LA helps make this program an even higher-profile one given that tinsel town loves the pigskin and is one of the top media markets in the country.
Jimbo Fisher has Florida State back in the BCS National Championship Game for one main reason- he was able to recruit the talent needed to get back there because of the type of job FSU is.
6- Florida- The Gators get the edge here over in-state rival Florida State because they can sell the SEC and The Swamp is up there with LSU in terms of tough venues in that league. They also enjoy loads of elite high school talent within their state’s borders and really only need to sign their share and make sound evaluations to have a loaded roster year-in and year-out, particularly at the skill positions. Facilities have come a million miles the last 10 years and given the support, recent winning tradition (last 25 years or so, this year is the exception), UF is set up quite nicely.
7- Florida State- Just like Florida, the Seminoles are located in a talent-rich area and also are along the I-10 corridor like LSU, so there’s talent to be had within close proximity. Because of the success FSU had under Bobby Bowden in the 1980s and 1990s, the Seminoles have built a strong national brand and an offer from Florida State means something to top prospects. Tallahassee is an excellent college location as the medium-sized city (also the state capitol of Florida) provides plenty to do for students. Facilities are good and the “warchant” of the Noles fans is a widely-regarded college football tradition. This program’s raw ability to recruit is one of the reasons it will play for the BCS National Championship for the first time since the 2000 season.
8- Alabama- Winning, winning, winning- that’s why the Crimson Tide is able to recruit as it does- nationally- at this stage. If the question is which school recruits the best right now, it’s definitely Bama, but the success it has had under Nick Saban and he and his staff’s recruiting prowess are the facilitators of this recent run. The state of Alabama annually goes 60-70 deep in FBS signees, but the state has 4.5 million people and Auburn gets its share as well, so Bama isn’t set up from a geography standpoint like some of the other programs, but the facilities are unreal, it’s a national brand and the program has the best tradition of any in the SEC.
9- Notre Dame- It’s malarkey that the University of Notre Dame has trouble recruiting the players needed to win a national title. In fact, it's more of a myth than actual real life leprechauns, complete with pots o gold. You are talking about the program with the highest-profile national brand and best tradition in all of college football and one that has its own network television contract. Sure, the school doesn’t appeal to everybody, which is why Notre Dame is No. 9 and not top three, but you can only sign 25 or so a cycle and there are always 25 talented prospects that want to go to Notre Dame, so roster should never be an issue. Facilities are solid and there are legions of Irish fans.
10- Penn State- Once the probation period is over and the recent scandal is a ways in the rear view mirror, the Nittany Lions could rank higher. First, they are the highest-profile program in a top talent-producing state (Pennsylvania) and they have a great tradition and excellent facilities. What makes this job from a recruiting standpoint even more attractive is its proximity to the state of Maryland and the D.C. area and New Jersey. That gives Penn State a blockbuster three-state region to pull talent from without having to go national.
11- Texas A&M- With the struggles of Texas and the Aggies joining the SEC, they currently are the dominant recruiting program in the Lone Star State. Kyle Field is a top four tough venue within the conference (and is getting a makeover), there are terrific facilities and outstanding fan support. What keeps Texas A&M from ranking higher? College Station is a good town, but isn’t for everybody. Also, you are either an Aggie or you’re not from a traditions standpoint, so the program doesn’t have quite the broad national appeal that those ranked ahead of it do. Still, Texas A&M is positioned for success better than most programs across the country.
12- Auburn- The location of the university- 100 miles or so from Atlanta and close to points in Georgia and Florida- gives the Tigers proximity advantages to many elite prospects on an annual basis. They also sign their share from within the state. Jordan-Hare Stadium is a top four tough venue within the SEC and the program has rabid fan support and great facilities. There also is tradition with Heisman Trophy winners and National Championships (most recent coming in 2010 and Auburn will play for it this season).
13- Miami (Fla.)- Location, location, location is the reason UM ranks this high. Draw a circle around Coral Gables and there are probably 25 legitimate FBS-level prospects within it. Just like USC, Miami enjoys being located in one of the top talent-producing metropolitan areas in the country. The Hurricanes have an excellent winning tradition the past 30 years or so (though not much since joining the ACC) and players in Dade, Broward and Palm Beach Counties still take a lot of pride in going and playing for “The U”. The sexiness of Miami (south Beach) also gives the program a national appeal. Facilities are lacking and the Canes are trying to rebuild their roster under Al Golden, so they need to get back to their winning ways soon to continue to have the appeal that they enjoy currently.
Michigan's uniforms are among the most recognizable in college football and the program's tradition and support trumps a smaller in-state talent base and enables the program to go national.
14- Oregon- Great facilities, a recent winning tradition and the uniforms all make Oregon a great place to recruit to. The state of Oregon does not produce enough talent for either the Ducks or Oregon State to be competitive in the Pac-12, much less nationally, so a broad appeal is necessary and Oregon has established that the past 15 years. Of course, the Ducks athletics program enjoys broad support from Nike, Autzen Stadium is one of the toughest/loudest venues in college football and the appeal/intrigue from prospects across the country has been established for several years.
15- Michigan- The in-state talent base isn’t terribly deep and Michigan State is a pesky adversary on the in-state talent, but the Wolverines have an established brand, great tradition and facilities and can appeal nationally to prospects. The winged helmets are synonymous with college football (prospects love them) and the “big house” is quite a selling point to elite talent as well. Heisman Trophy winners, championships, great NFL alums- Michigan has it all except ideal geography, which makes it more of a challenging recruiting job than it should be.
16- Oklahoma- Similar to Michigan, the Sooners are located in a state with good, not great, talent and Oklahoma State is located there, too. Also similar to the Wolverines, Oklahoma has great tradition and can appeal to players across the country. Proximity to the Dallas Metroplex once had OU in a dominant position in that talent-rich metro area, but for the past four or five cycles, the Sooners have spread themselves out a bit and are now factors in California and Florida as well. The facilities are great and there are legions of Sooners fans across the country, so the support is there.
17- Tennessee- Because of the rise of the talent level within the state of Tennessee, this program makes the list when it otherwise would be considered a tough recruiting job (which is why Phillip Fulmer had to go national to build a power during his tenure from 1992-2005 at his alma mater). The Volunteer State now tracks to produce 25-30 major prospects (high FBS level) annually whereas previously that number was in the 10-15 range. They aren’t all in Memphis anymore, either. Nashville, Chattanooga and eastern Tennessee all have high-level prospects on the horizon. The Vols facilities are second to none and Neyland Stadium’s capacity is more than 100,000. Proximity to Atlanta (four hours down I-75) and other points in northern Georgia help, too.
18- North Carolina- The Tar Heels have one of the best national brands in all of college athletics (thanks to its men’s basketball program), have great facilities and are the flagship institution in a state that continues to produce more than 50 FBS-level signees per recruiting cycle. There are difference-makers in this state on an annual basis (Todd Gurley and Keith Marshall from Georgia come to mind) that simply elect to leave the state. That leaves the Heels, N.C. State, Duke, Wake Forest and East Carolina to scramble a bit. When Brown was the head coach at UNC prior to going to Texas, he locked the state down and that’s the last time the Heels have had great on-field success. Given the high profile of the athletics, facilities that are outstanding and solid fan support (though not as rabid as it is for hoops), North Carolina is set up for success. One former assistant at UNC says its the best job in the country. That’s saying a lot. Unfortunately two awful hires and one good one that turned out bad- Carl Torbush and John Bunting buried the program after Brown left and then Butch Davis left after NCAA troubles- have made it difficult for Larry Fedora and the current staff to immediately close the borders.
19- Stanford- The Cardinal are a “johnny come lately” on this list because it hasn’t always been easy to attract top talent to Palo Alto. That being said, head coach David Shaw and staff and Jim Harbaugh before him, has found the secret sauce- target academically-oriented student athletes from California and across the country and sell them on winning football and winning in the classroom. Just like there are enough talented players that are attracted to Notre Dame and what it has to offer, same holds true with Stanford. The stadium is nice. The facilities are good and fan support average, but there’s a bit of tradition here. John Elway, Bill Walsh, Andrew Luck- all great Stanford players. Super Bowl XIX was held at Stanford Stadium, which sat more than 90,000 from 1935-70, but was demolished and rebuilt in 2005. Three other BCS-level programs face similar plights to Stanford in that they are prestigious academic institutions with high admissions standards attempting to compete at the highest level of college football- Duke, Vanderbilt and Northwestern- all have had recent success and have adopted a similar recruiting approach to the Cardinal.
20- UCLA- Much like North Carolina, the Bruins have a national-level brand athletically, so prospects from coast-to-coast know about UCLA already. The campus is outstanding, facilities are in need of improvement, but there is some football tradition here, not even close to the tradition of USC, but still it’s not as if the Bruins have been in the college football abyss for years. The location, within Los Angeles, and playing in the Rose Bowl gives UCLA a shot with high-end talent on an annual basis. The right coaching staff (perhaps the current one) can turn this thing into a monster. Talent really has never been a huge issue here and thus it’s one of the best jobs from a pure recruiting standpoint in the country.