Monday, September 7, 2009
Updated: September 17, 11:45 AM ET
These guys are the key to success
By JC Shurburtt
While head coaches get most of the credit, assistant coaches are the heroes in college football on the recruiting trail. Very often, these are the individuals that put in the work and build the relationships for programs to add talent to their roster.
This is the money list. These are the 25 recruiters that you want on your staff if you are looking to build, rebuild or maintain a program, based on overall recruiting performance and current reputation.
The list is in alphabetical order.
Shane Beamer, South Carolina
Despite a three-game losing streak with blowout losses and five assistant coaches and a strength coach departing the program, Beamer held together the nation's No. 12 recruiting class during the 2009 cycle and turned Under Armour All-American receiver Alshon Jeffrey from Southern California on national signing day. Multiple members of the coaching community consider Beamer, the Gamecocks' special teams coordinator and secondary coach in addition to recruiting coordinator, a rising star. Much like his father Frank, who built the Virginia Tech program into the powerhouse that it is today, Shane Beamer is very well-liked by his peers, along with the media and fans.
John Blake, North Carolina
From his days as a head coach at Oklahoma, where he signed a chunk of the talent that Bob Stoops coached up into the 2000 national championship team, Blake has had a great reputation as a recruiter. He made his presence felt right away by landing defensive tackle Marvin Austin in the Class of 2007 out of Washington, D.C. Austin, one of the nation's top prospects, could have gone anywhere in the country but chose UNC primarily because of Blake, who did a great job selling the program's future athletically and the academic strong points of the university. He's continued the momentum and helped UNC recruit the nation's 13th-best class last year.
Jim Cavanaugh, Virginia Tech
A good argument can be made that the foundation of the Hokies program consists of athletes from the Tidewater area of Virginia, and Cavanaugh has led the charge there. He also has talent-rich Richmond as one of his areas to scout and has done well keeping some of the state's top players at home. During the past 11 years, his recruiting skills have helped the Hokies attract, among others, prep All-Americans Michael Vick, Nathaniel Adibi, Victor Harris, D.J. Coles, Bryan Randall, Jonathan Lewis, Marcus Vick, Xavier Adibi, Dyrell Roberts and Chris Ellis. In the past, he hasn't gotten the praise he deserves, but he's an obvious choice on any list like this.
Luke Fickell, Ohio State
The Buckeyes have a geographic advantage, being located in a top-five talent-producing state. Still, it takes an excellent recruiting staff to corral all of that talent and to also spot recruit nationally. Several, including those who are close to the Ohio State program, believe Fickle, the team's co-defensive coordinator and linebackers coach, is the best at doing just that. In this recruiting cycle, Fickle has three of the 12 committed recruits.
Jimbo Fisher, Florida State
Fisher, the Seminoles' head coach in waiting, is heavily involved with recruiting at FSU across the board. An underrated recruiter, Fisher is a master at building relationships with recruits and their families, allowing for there to be an excellent trust factor. This not only allows the Seminoles to keep recruiting the top athletes, but also ensures there won't be any issues among the players with Fisher when he does finally succeed Bobby Bowden because they already have a bond with him.
Rodney Garner, Georgia
The veteran SEC assistant is a force on the recruiting trail. He signed multiple top prospects for Auburn, Tennessee and now Georgia. Garner is excellent at building relationships with recruits and their families. He has helped the Bulldogs become the school of choice for many of inner-city Atlanta's top prospects. Most recently, Garner led the charge for the Bulldogs to gain a commitment from Under Armour All-American safety Alec Ogletree (Newnan, Ga./Newnan). Ogletree was a heavy lean to Miami early in the process.
Eddie Gran, Tennessee
From the time he was at Auburn (1998 to 2008), Gran has been a major factor in talent-rich South Florida (Dade, Broward and Palm Beach counties). He made his presence felt early at Tennessee by leading the charge on 2009 Under Armour All-American wide receiver Nu'Keese Richardson (Pahokee, Fla./Pahokee) from the defending national champion Florida Gators. Gran has an excellent rapport with recruits and sells a program's complete student experience better than most.
Doc Holliday, West Virginia
Like Gran, Holliday has extensive ties in South Florida and has used those at North Carolina State, Florida and now his alma mater, West Virginia. He too is excellent at building relationships with prospects and their families and is a talented closer. When he was at Florida, he elevated the Gators to major status in Broward and Dade counties (they have always recruited Palm Beach fairly well). He signed talented quarterback Eugene Smith out of Miramar High School for the Mountaineers in the last recruiting cycle.
Clint Hurtt, Miami
The Hurricanes have not returned to form on the field under Randy Shannon yet, but off the field they have put together some extremely impressive efforts (the No. 1 class in 2008 and No. 7 in 2009), and Hurtt, the team's defensive line coach, has been one of the best recruiters on the staff. Hurtt not only contributes to the Canes' success in South Florida, but he has made them a major player in the Jacksonville and Tampa areas as well. Under Armour All-American defensive tackle Louis Nix (Jacksonville, Fla./Raines) is one of his most recent conquests.
Larry Johnson, Penn State
One of the top East Coast recruiters, Johnson owns the state of Maryland. Since 2006, he has had 16 players from the state either signed or committed. What's even more impressive, in recent years Johnson has shown the ability to recruit other states as well, including Virginia, New York and New Jersey. Locking up that region is important for Joe Paterno's program.
Bobby Kennedy, Texas
Thanks to geography, tradition and the emphasis that head coach Mack Brown puts on building in-state relationships, the Longhorns are one of the top recruiting schools in the country every year. While the staff is full of coaches who can get the job done, Kennedy, the wide receivers coach, is the cream of the crop. He battles it out with the other schools who recruit the Dallas metroplex. In this recruiting cycle, he has the nation's top defensive tackle, Under Armour All-American Taylor Bible (Denton, Texas/John H. Guyere High School) committed to the Horns and they're in the mix for many other top players.
Tosh Lupoi, California
Building relationships and selling the Cal program is a specialty of this former Golden Bear. Lupoi has made his presence known up and down the West Coast this cycle with players like Owamagbe Odighizuwa
(Portland, Ore./David Douglas), the No. 37 recruit in the country who is considering California largely because of how Lupoi's recruiting skills. Lupoi has also expanded Cal's recruiting base and got the Bears on the radar of some of the top prospects from other regions like defensive tackle Brandon Willis (Duncan, S.C./James F. Byrnes).
D.J. McCarthy, LSU
The Tigers have expanded their recruiting horizons since McCarthy arrived. He has LSU in the mix with the top prospects from the Dallas metroplex annually and can also go into other areas like Virginia and pull players. Under Armour All-Americans Evan Washington (DeSoto, Texas/DeSoto), Mike Davis (Dallas, Texas/Skyline) and Justin Hunter (Virginia Beach, Va./Ocean Lakes) are three of his big commitments so far in the 2010 cycle.
Reggie Mitchell, Illinois
After Mike Locksley took the New Mexico job, Mitchell assumed the role of top recruiter for one of the top recruiting head coaches in America, Ron Zook. Mitchell is the assistant head coach and also coordinates the recruiting effort for the Illini. Since Zook and Mitchell have been in Champaign, Illinois has become a major factor for most of the state's top talent and also is competitive with top prospects nationally.
Billy Napier, Clemson
The Tigers' offensive coordinator has been one of the fast risers in recruiting circles in recent years. Napier coordinated the effort for Clemson in 2008 when the Tigers signed the nation's No. 2 class, which included the country's top overall prospect in defensive lineman Da'Quan Bowers (Bamberg, S.C./Bamberg-Erhardt). The state of North Carolina is important recruiting territory for the Tigers, and Napier has had great success in that state.
Ken Norton, USC
Norton brings a ton of credibility to the table as a former NFL player and is a heavy contributor to the juggernaut that is USC recruiting. The 2010 haul includes commitments Kyle Prater (Hillside, Ill./Proviso) and Robert Woods (Gardena, Calif./Junipero Serra). He also is the Trojans' recruiter of record for the nation's top prospect, defensive end Jackson Jeffcoat (Plano, Texas/West), and he landed Under Armour All-American quarterback Jesse Scroggins (Lakewood, Calif./Lakewood) this past summer.
Ed Orgeron, Tennessee
Orgeron is the only recruiter in the country to have a book written about him that focuses specifically on his recruiting ability. ("Meat Market: Inside the Smash-Mouth World of College Football Recruiting," by ESPN's Bruce Feldman, focused on a recruiting cycle at Ole Miss when Orgeron was the head coach there.) In his short time at Tennessee, he landed defensive back Janzen Jackson (Lake Charles, La./Barbe) in the last recruiting cycle and helped the Vols land a top-15 class despite the change in coaches from Phil Fulmer to Lane Kiffin. He coordinates the recruiting efforts of the Vols and is one of the top evaluators of defensive line talent in the country.
Larry Porter, LSU
As much as McCarthy has helped the Tigers make inroads in the Dallas metroplex, Porter has helped LSU become huge players in talent-rich Greater Houston. The Class of 2007 was a banner year for Porter, when he signed receiver Terrence Toliver and offensive lineman Jarvis Jones out of Texas and athlete Chad Jones out of Baton Rouge. The Tigers' running backs coach also has four commitments during the current cycle.
Jackie Shipp, Oklahoma
There are obviously plenty of great recruiters on Bob Stoops' staff at OU, but Shipp is the rising star. During the 2009 recruiting cycle, Shipp went into Lufkin, Texas, and ended Jamarkus McFarland's recruitment early. Shipp, the defensive line coach, also has made excellent inroads in the state of Oklahoma and spot recruits defensive linemen nationally for the Sooners. He has three commits during the current recruiting cycle, including two from the always-important Lone Star State.
Kirby Smart, Alabama
Smart, the Crimson Tide's defensive coordinator, is a young and aggressive recruiter who is one of Nick Saban's best. The former Georgia standout has had perhaps the most impressive run of any recruiter in the country during this recruiting cycle, with eight current commits, including the nation's No. 2 cornerback, Under Armour All-American Demarcus Milliner (Millbrook, Ala./Stanhope Elmore). . Smart is known for his work ethic and the way he relates to prospects. The Bainbridge, Ga., native also has helped the Tide become a bigger factor with prospects from the talent-rich Peach State.
Giff Smith, Georgia Tech
Ever since Smith joined the Tech staff during the 2007 recruiting cycle, the Yellow Jackets have been much more competitive for the top talent in Georgia. Smith is personally responsible for quarterback Josh Nesbitt, wide receiver Demaryius Thomas, linebacker Steven Sylvester and others being part of the Yellow Jackets' program and he coordinated the efforts for the class that brought Heisman Trophy candidate Jonathan Dwyer to Tech. Smith, currently the Jackets' defensive line coach, is a Georgia native and his connections with the high school programs in that state are golden for Tech, which has to battle not only the University of Georgia, but most of the rest of the SEC for the top talent in Atlanta and the entire state.
Charlie Strong, Florida
Underrated as a recruiter, his ability to relate to prospects and their families is yet another reason why it's baffling that Strong has not been given an opportunity to be a BCS conference head coach. Strong, the assistant head coach and defensive coordinator, is responsible for Carlos Dunlap, Brandon Hicks and a host of others on the Gators' roster right now and is heavily involved with all of the defensive talent that has come to Gainesville during the Urban Meyer era. During this cycle, he is the recruiter of record for Under Armour All-American linebacker Jeff Luc (Port Saint Lucie, Fla./Treasure Coast), the nation's top prospect at his position.
Willie Taggart, Stanford
Speaking of Georgia, Taggart has built a small pipeline from the state to Palo Alto, Calif. In the 2009 recruiting cycle, Taggart beat out several SEC and ACC programs for Under Armour All-American receiver Jamal Patterson (McDonough, Ga./Henry County) in the Class of 2009. This recruiting cycle, he has another Under Armour All-American receiver, Tai-ler Jones (Gainesville, Ga./Gainesville), plus his teammate, safety Daunte Carr, and talented offensive tackle David Yankey (Roswell, Ga./Centennial), committed. Taking Stanford national is a big boost for a program that's trying to compete with USC.
Trooper Taylor, Auburn
The top recruiter on what is a very good recruiting staff, Taylor first started gaining notoriety during the Class of 2005, when he helped Phillip Fulmer and Tennessee assemble an outstanding recruiting class. Thus far at Auburn, Taylor has helped to introduce several outside-of-the-box ideas like the "Big Cat Recruiting Weekend" that took place in the spring. Atlanta is a very important area for Auburn (parts of the metro area are less than an hour from the campus) and Taylor landed his first major commitment from the area in Under Armour All-American Antonio Goodwin (Booker T. Washington). Give Taylor credit with making a strong evaluation on Goodwin, who didn't have the buzz of other players, but is a four-star-rated prospect and the No. 23 overall prospect in the country.
Joe Wickline, Oklahoma State
The Cowboys' offensive line coach and running game coordinator is one of the most prolific recruiters on one of the top recruiting staffs in the Big 12. In the last recruiting cycle, Wickline signed six prospects and he currently has five committed in this class, including four from the state of Texas. Wickline worked under Zook and current Southern Mississippi coach Larry Fedora at Florida prior to coming to Oklahoma State.
JC Shurburtt covers recruiting for ESPN.com. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.