Dean Legge / Dawg Post

Kirby Is Out-recruiting Saban? Actually, Yes.

ATHENS - If someone told you Kirby Smart would not just bring Alabama’s recruiting blueprint to UGA, but improve on it would you believe them?

You should because so far that’s true. 

Last week was a heck of a week in recruiting for Kirby and the Bulldogs - three players considered top 70 prospects nationally. It was another feather in the cap of Kirby Smart. I long ago came to the conclusion that Kirby knew how to recruit, and he’s doing nothing but reinforcing my (and most others’) view that he excels in that department. 

What we don’t know, and I will write more about this later, is if he can coach and make his teams win. My view currently is that he’s going to do very well as the head coach at UGA. But there’s no way anyone can know that for sure right now (although it must be pointed out that the Bobby Dodd Award, which recognizes the top college head coach in the country, already has Kirby on their short list of candidates heading into the season).

Still, what is quantifiable at this time is that Kirby and company are recruiting at a clip we’ve never seen at UGA. Mark Richt was a good recruiter, but he was not an elite recruiter. 

The false narrative about Mark Richt - perpetrated by lazy media types (Terrence Moore last night on WSB) and sour fans - was that Richt always had the top talent on the field. That wasn’t always the case. It was nearly never the case when the Bulldogs played the top teams in the SEC - particularly in the last five seasons. 

Nonetheless, we are seeing now that Kirby very well could be one of the best recruiters in the entire country, and it hasn’t taken him long to transition from being an elite recruiter as a coordinator to an elite recruiter as a head coach. You don’t have to take my word for it. The numbers back up that assertion (more on that later). 

By why does all of this matter to start with? First, I’ve always been in the Jimmies and Joes camp. “Coaching” itself is overrated. If you disagree that’s fine. I’m not going to start a holy war about why you are incorrect. The simple fact is that you can’t develop what you don’t have.

Players > Coaches. 

College sports is about the acquisition and development of talent, but the acquisition is the critical part of that two-step process. Because while development is not guaranteed for any prospect (injury; lack of ability; coaching error), the likelihood of developing a player you sign exists whereas the development of a player your rival signs is non-existent. 

In other words, Florida’s Jim McElwain can try all he wants, but he can’t develop Jacob Eason… Eason doesn’t play for him - pretty simply concept. That underscores that it is critically important to actually sign the players you need to win as development without signing them is impossible. And because development itself is not guaranteed, the more high-level players you sign the more likely you are to succeed as a coach. 

With all of that said, have a look at the current trajectory of Kirby’s recruiting vs. Mark Richt’s time in Athens as well as some of UGA’s peers in college football. Kirby has signed or gotten commitments from 36 players who qualify to be ranked in Scout’s Top 300 (2019’s Luke Griffin will almost certainly be considered a Top 300 player, but our ranking for rising sophomores is not out yet). Of those 36 players, 27 of them are Scout Top 300 players. That’s a 75% rate of Scout 300 prospects secured by Kirby so far in seven months - pretty good. 

What happened in the Richt era? From 2008 to 2015, Mark Richt signed 190 prospects - 97 of them were Scout Top 300 players. That’s 51%, or every other prospect being one of the top 300 players in the country. Pretty good. At least good enough to win division titles and pretty much win ten games a season. 51% is a rate many programs around the country would take in that time. 

Had Richt signed players at the same clip Kirby is signing them right now he would have signed 143 Top 300 players - about 46 more of them over eight years. That means UGA would have had a floating average of about 20 more Top 300 players each year in the program (a little more than five per class). That would have made a difference, because those players would have been near the top of the list of the 85 scholarship players - not at the bottom simply due to the fat that they were Scout 300 players. In other words they would have played - many would have been starters. 

That Kirby is outperforming Richt in recruiting is not a surprise. That he’s going at a higher rate than his old boss is. 

Remember, 75% of Kirby’s current signees or commitments are in the Scout 300 for their given year. Last season Alabama class was at a Scout 300 rate of 72%. As of July 11, Nine of Alabama’s 15 2017 commits are ranked in the Scout 300 - a rate to 60%. 

That means since Kirby arrived in Athens his program has out recruited Alabama, and continues to out recruit Alabama. 

When you are the likes of Alabama, the top recruiting program in college football since Nick Saban arrived, you have the best players because you have proven that you can win at a high level with the best players. It becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. Its that simple. Can Kirby do the same thing at UGA? Could Kirby be better at UGA than Saban at Alabama considering the demographic advantages Atlanta and the state provide?

He's going to have to prove it, but actually, yes.

Alabama has signed (including the 2017 class that’s not signed, so they are commits) 252 players since 2008. 164 of them were Scout 300 players, or 65%. Of late Alabama has been even better. Saban’s last four signed classes have been even more impressive (this doesn’t included 2017 commits). 101 prospects have signed; 71 of them are Scout 300 players. that’s 70%

So Kirby is still outpacing the top college football recruiting machine out there right now. The question is if he can outpace them on the field. That’s a mighty challenge.

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