When I look at our recruiting results this late into summer with only five commits (ranking 60th by Rivals and dead last in the ACC) while other ACC teams are littered among the Top 20 - a consistent home for VT Football - I come away with the same questions many of you have. Have we lost our touch? What has become of our once deep relationships? Are we irrelevant now? The hundreds of arm chair QBs that think they know everything have hundreds of reasons for their POV. However, a couple of consistent themes do emerge as to 'WTH is going on.' Now, I don't proclaim to know, nor do any of you have the slightest clue to what's being discussed inside Merryman.
My colleagues and I do have a better-than-an-outsiders view of what's going on in recruiting via each two up-two down area code that lead to our fairly accurate point of view. I'll tell you this thought and I'm 100% percent accurate on this point - our beloved school is not a top tier football program! We are a well respected, traditional program that has seen a long tenured ride among other well respected programs in the national conversation. Today however, we are paying the debts for sins committed in years past. Name names, blame if you will, but the fact remains several staffers who are no longer associated with the program were asleep at the wheel. This debt showed up in the last two seasons of wins and losses, the lack of better quality depth of player and character over the past fours years of recruits and stars that didn't pan out to our level of expectation. The recruiting cycle in college football today is a 6-8 year trend that affects your results up to ten years forward - chew on that a bit.
Many of today's stars in the pipeline were barely in middle school and weren't all dialed into "their local heroes" yet. Add that to the most recent defections, and I don't mean that negatively, to consensus National Top 10 schools, and you cannot blame a kid for wanting to take his best opportunity for future success IN HIS MIND, not yours! Sadly, when you look at the tools Logan Thomas brought to Blacksburg, it's a damn shame he wasn't surrounded at the skill positions similar to what Mike had in the late 90's...just saying, that damn case that's been hidden away like the Arc of the Covenant in some Indiana Jones widescreen may have been filled. Anyway, it's irrelevant to lay blame and continue to live in the past!
It's time to move forward and in that process we have and will experience pain. Being close to the Alabama program for the past 7 years, I've watched the precision with which a national program is built. The model is clear, the message is ALWAYS the same and the COMMITMENT to excellence stretches all the way to down to the restrooms in the Mal Moore Athletic Center in Tuscaloosa. Laugh, go ahead...no detail is too small for Nick Saban and there is no deviation in the process across the entire football operation. Simply put, "...never negotiate a standard in [my] program and [we] will never compromise the process," says the 3-time National Champion at Alabama, who literally rebuilt the Crimson Tide from the ashes of irrelevance. Keep in mind this program suffered nearly a decades worth of several head coaches who were less than honorable, involved in sexual harassment, booze'n babes and questionable activities to name the low points.
In speaking with ESPN College Football analyst, Tom Luginbill, it's difficult to say that Va Tech appeared to have rested on its laurels while running a string of 10-win seasons. There's so much respect for Coach's reputation as the "Master of doing more with less...no one's done more with value rated recruits and coaching them up than Coach Beamer," added Luginbill. He went on to say, "it's difficult to sit back and watch a season spin out of control, but the lack of depth at skill positions was evident and it's going to take, at a minimum four years and could take far longer to right the ship. There's very few coaches in the country with the consistency of staff and stability as you have in Blacksburg."
College sports is an $8B business, the size of the NFL, with football being the lion's share of that goldmine. Is there anything wrong with not being a National contender in today's billion dollar college football landscape? With that much revenue generating success or failure riding the next 6-8 years, you can rest assured better minds than ours are setting the next generation of VT football's foundation today. But be careful how you answer this question, as therein lies one of OUR challenges in my humble opinion. As many schools have hung their mantra lately, the Fighting Dabo's and Auburn War Damn Eagles, you're either "All In" or you're not. You have to go back 23 years before you find a non-SEC or a non-Nationally recognized football program - 1991 co-National Champion Washington Huskies with Miami and the 1990 co-National Champions in Ga Tech and Colorado. Keep on back spinning and you'll find '84 BYU and '81 Clemson. You have to stretch all the way to 1959 Syracuse to find any other unrecognized National power in football. At the end of the day, does it really matter? and some of you are saying, "Frank, whatcha gonna do about it?"
We all get it that coach is not the charismatic, robothon, fire-breathing, foot-up-your-ass-24/7 personality Nick Saban is AND you couldn't handle it if he was, unless he was winning NC's for you. The awe-shucks, kick'n dust plays well along the Blue Ridge mountain set. I'll tell you Nick's mellowed a TON over the years finally getting to enjoy some of his labors but he's not let up his drive, desire and passion any less - there's just less stress in the office. Every year and every class ebbs and flows. Every team has a different identity than the previous one, and with every coaching move even FB is seeing the evolution with his new staffers. It didn't help when Grimes left for LSU and you can't blame him; it didn't help in recruiting consistency either as other coaches took advantage of that inside our Commonwealth.
Urban Meyer recruited VA well while at Florida and today at Ohio State that connection to 757, 804 are tighter than ever. It doesn't get any easier with James Franklin at Penn State, Kevin Steele at UA, and now Butch Jones at Tennessee. The landscape is changing and at a pace as fast as a Chevy 'round Bristol. Are we prepared? It's not just the coaches that experience this pace. There are more Chance Hall's and Javon Harrison's in the picture than there are Jahvonni Simmons' and they're as overwhelmed as our staff appears to be. The bright spot is Whit Babcock's commitment to build the staff that has influence AND impact on our competitive landscape BEFORE it's too late.
We batted around the Recruiting Landscape of College Football in the Southeast (SEC, ACC) with Bud Elliott, SB Nation's National Recruiting Director the other day and several pearls fell from our discussion - why VT is trending down, how to reverse that trend and what it will take to regain national prominence for talent. Reviewing the success or lack of recruiting lies in the ability to evaluate talent that translates onto the field. Coach and his staff have been models of this formula for over two decades. So, why the recent hiccups? In order to have a good year, sometimes you have to have a bad year or years - no different in your business scooter! In the past 6-8 years, VT has a netted a 26% rating of talent placing us in the top 25 schools for recruiting. More recently that statistic has dropped behind Miami, FSU, Clemson and is now neck-in-neck with UNC at 19%. While stars don't translate to wins, the ability and capability to retain top talent has decreased resulting in lack of depth, determination, desire, you get the picture...less wins...I know, tell you something you don't already know.
Other factors contributing to an erosion of talent to Spring Road include the uncertainty of coach's retirement, the fact that Mike London may well be on his way out as his Charlottesville seat is en fuego and the past four years of a dreadful offense and/or offensive identity is well...offensive. So, for some kids, why even look at the state of VA. The kid for tomorrow's Va Tech class sits in a middle school in Dam Neck, Mosby St. or Rodgers St. and all he knows is his boys are going to Michigan, Alabama and elsewhere. Top 10 schools rate on average up to 50% four- and five-star talent. Va Tech consistently hits 19% in the more recent years. Not that judging our results by the lack of stars but here's a real LIVE and honest question for example - if the Fuller pipeline wasn't built decades ago would Kendall have come anyway?
Coach has and is addressing the reversal of this trend as has Whit Babcock and a game plan is in place even if you don't know or realize it. In our "have-it-your-way-Burger-King" society, we've created this mess with all the social media outlets, digitized film that can be emailed and texted in seconds not CD's mailed or FedEx'd in days heaven forbid. Hell back in my day, we used film - swear to God - we physically used cut-ups and hated every minute of watching film. Today it's frickin' bomb dot com easy, fun and immediate feedback for everyone! The secret sauce that was the hallmark of FB's success was the kid who everyone else didn't know about is gone. Gone forever are the days when a Daryl Tapp, Xavier Adibi and a Bruce Taylor flew under the radar! Kids today are exposed at 6th grade and considered "in the pipeline" by 8th grade at the latest with NUC, VTO, NFTC, FBU, The Opening and the like.
What will it take to turn our fortunes or lack thereof around? I don't know and neither do you. We can speculate all we want and in our own wisdom, we know the fundamentals of how to turn it around as in any other multi-million dollar business. I do know this however, the awestruck 43-year old former batboy has a plan, a plan to replace a well loved and respected legend who did the same 26-plus years ago. We know there isn't a consistent national voice in the media from Coach and that may be part of the disconnect between Blacksburg and today's social media savvy recruits. Even in his 70's, Coach Bowden was consistently heard across the country throughout the year not just August to December. It's not coach's style, but true to his CEO-style of leadership, he's letting the "kids" be that voice and it is in THAT duty where Lefty, Searels and Aaron, our Three Amigos or New Kids On The Block, have to become more visible and produce better results. Baby steps albeit big ones need to be taken, because you can't rush the process and look where we are - Whit is developing his stride, Kevin Jones is back on campus, The Amigos are making inroads across the US - it takes time. As my old grandad used to say down on the farm, "Son, ya just can't rush the corn. It'll grown when it's damn good'n ready." So I'll leave this thought with you, my trusted Friends of the Program...give it time, yes we may suck a bit here'n there, but ya just can't rush the damn process.