We have all heard the cliché "recruiting is the lifeblood of a program". More recently, Tubby Smith said it about his efforts to improve the University of Minnesota basketball program. Fans say this all the time. Since you only have athletes for at most 5 (or 6 years with medical issues), you have to replenish your roster constantly with new players. To put it coldly, it is the renewal of a short-term resource with varying degrees of unsustainability. But is recruiting the actual "lifeblood" or just the valve that pushes the talent through the body of the program?
That brings us to the main question. Is recruiting or player development more important to a program's success? Naturally, you want a healthy mix of the two. You want to get great athletes and then develop them in the best ways possible. But that is the exception to the rule for most programs. In fact, the top end talent is usually a very limited resource for middle or lower level teams. Rebuilding squads have to rely on the player development and superior coaching or scheming or pretty much any edge that isn't raw talent to get to the point to get that increase in talent.
Take a look at the Scout.com team rankings from 2007-2011 for a particular squad: 4th, 35th, 8th, 16th, 10th. You would expect a program that finished in the Top 16 all but one year, and had three top 10 classes in 5 years to be a really good team. Now take a look at their records in 2008 through 2012: 5-7 (3-5), 7-6 (4-4), 6-7 (3-5), 5-7 (1-7), 5-7 (1-7). Their average recruiting ranking over that time was 14.6 and that got them an average record of 5.6 wins and 2.4 conference wins over that stretch. The recruiting was great, but the development of that talent was not. The program that was used as an example here is the University of Tennessee, a Top 10 squad as recently as the 2002 and 2003 seasons.
However, getting talented players is always going to be the best and more sure-fire way to become a top team and National Championship contender. Since 2006, Alabama has ranked 18th, 22nd, 1st, 2nd, 4th, 7th, 2nd, and 4th. Of course, the Tide has won three of the last four BCS National championships and are the favorite in 2013. You would expect that with those recruiting ranks and the tremendous coaching staff they have.
There are plenty of examples of teams like the Vols as well as opposite examples of "coaching them up" and getting to 10 or more wins such as Boise State, TCU, Vanderbilt, Baylor and Northwestern. But let's take deeper look at the Baylor Bears, and why they have turned their program around. Join us inside the Bears's Den as we take a deeper look at the best developmental success under coach Art Briles, and some guys that could get on that list in the coming few years.