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SURVEYING THE LANDSCAPE
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Pirate Notebook No. 486
Monday, February 6, 2012

Denny O'Brien

Denny O'Brien

Talent development is key for ECU

By Denny O'Brien
©2012 Bonesville.net
All Rights Reserved.

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If nothing else, National Signing Day provides some entertaining fodder for Internet message boards and sports talk radio. Credit a flawed, misleading evaluation system for that.

The practice of rating the potential of high school football players has exploded with the evolution of the Internet, and its effects have rippled through every thread of college football, from the stands, to the press box, and all the way to the coachís office.

The net result of this growing obsession has certainly produced more attention, and ultimately more money for the cash cow of college sports, but it has done so with more than its share of drawbacks. The argument can easily be made that the negatives here far outweigh any benefits, especially for coaches.

Just ask Chuck Amato.

From the moment he arrived at N.C. State, Amato delivered celebrated recruiting classes with regularity. But by the end of almost every season, the Wolfpack under-delivered when comparing the wins and losses to the excitement delivered each Signing Day.

Thatís because Chuck the Chestís most prized recruits were too often secluded to specific position groupings. He stockpiled his share of blue chip defensive linemen and fortified a couple of other units but he faltered in critical areas such as the offensive front.

The inability to discover any type of balance along the recruiting trail partially led to his undoing. The fact that much of the talent he corralled wasnít properly developed didnít help much, either.

That alone should spark enough skepticism about a system that so many consider gospel. Itís a system that doesnít factor team needs into the overall evaluation.

Hypothetically, if a coach signs a 20-man class that includes six five-star running backs and six five star field generals, he almost guarantees his Signing Day haul will secure his school the top spot in the national recruiting rankings. Given that recruiting class rankings are evaluated by averaging the number of stars attached to each recruit, you can narrowly focus on elite recruits at a couple of positions and the system will proclaim your class a great one.

But star rankings donít promise a national title for those that dominate recruiting, or life in the cellar for programs that often lack Signing Day praise.

East Carolina traditionally has been among the latter. The Pirates have never been in the business of signing elite recruits and, at least in the current climate, are unlikely to routinely steal blue chippers away from the nationís powerhouse programs.

Where East Carolina has found success is with shrewd decision making by coaches who understand the type of player it takes to succeed at the Piratesí level, and then developing them to maximize potential.

We saw this to a great degree with both Steve Logan and Skip Holtz, who often signed players passed over by BCS AQ schools. These tended to be players with potential who seemed to fit well within the philosophies each coach was trying to teach.

Much of that approach to recruiting was out of necessity.

Most ECU standouts didnít arrive in Greenville as readymade stars. And while many were targets of AQ programs, some would have been expected to change positions or settle for minor roles.

Such has been the recruiting storyline for East Carolina. For every blue chipper like Linval Joseph, there have been four Nick Johnsons who developed over time and drove towards success through a strong work ethic and understanding of the system.

With Ruffin McNeillís third recruiting class, it should be clear now that he and his staff are capable of upgrading recruiting in the eyes of the self-proclaimed experts. His 2012 Signing Day class included a four-star signee according to ESPN and 11 three-star signees according to rivals.com.

Along the way, McNeill even signed a couple of players who had offers from Miami, Nebraska, and several other notable AQ programs.

The key now is to take a solid class and make each component of it better. How well each player develops over the next four years and adapts to his role within the system will ultimately determine how well the ECU staff did on the recruiting trail this year.

This is largely why I lend little credence to college football recruiting rankings. And itís why I provide the same response each year when asked about the success of East Carolinaís recruiting haul:

Ask me in about four years.

E-mail Denny O'Brien

Denny O'Brien Archives

02/20/2012 02:12 AM

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