The Effect on Recruiting

Something different is not always something better especially when it comes to recruiting high school athletes. Verbal commitments are won and lost on the basis of relationships. When a coaching change occurs, the new staff is often starting from ground zero when it comes to building a relationship with a player they did not offer a scholarship too, but will probably be signing come February.

No matter who the new coach at Mississippi State is he will inherit a very good recruiting class to work with.

A class in much better shape than the one Sylvester Croom inherited some five years ago.

The day that Coach Croom was announced as the new coach at MSU the program had two commitments towards the class of 2004. Offensive line prospects Jeffrey Farr and Roland Terry has already made their college decisions and both tabbed State as their post graduate destination.

The Bulldogs had their first big recruiting weekend the weekend of January 9th, 2004.

The first commitment of the Croom era came a few days later during an in home visit to a lightly recruited linebacker out of Tuscaloosa named Titus Brown.

Titus had this to say about his commitment.

"Mainly, it was due to Coach Croom. I haven't ever known a coach like him and I only knew him for two or three days. I felt like I have known him for all my life. That is what kind of person he is."

Two or three days?

Brown went on to a stellar college career and made his NFL regular season debut this past weekend for the Cleveland Browns.

Titus is certainly the exception rather than the rule. It will take more than a weekend or two to land players with more options and more importantly fend off opposing schools who are looking to poach the Bulldog commitment list.

State signed twenty three players that year, four of whom never made it to campus. Nine more signees transferred or were dismissed.

Only a half dozen or so including Brown could be called true contributors.

The 2004 class was plagued by rumors and innuendo about the NCAA investigation and the less than ideal pace of getting a staff together and on the road to recruit while Croom completed his duties with the Green Bay Packers.

Croom uttered the now famous line "The only color that matters here today is Maroon" on December 2nd, but he didn't report for full time duty in Starkville until Donovan McNabb and the Eagles of Philadelphia knocked the Packers out of the playoffs in a 20-17 overtime affair on January 11th.

Things are markedly different this go around.

The current commitment list, seventeen strong, contains some of the state's best and brightest with even more prospects keeping a watchful eye on the hiring process while making their own decisions.

State is no longer on probation and there is not even the hint of any NCAA indiscretions. There are no internet rumors of "the walking death penalty" if such a thing ever existed.

No, the new head man will find the recruiting landscape a lot more favorable than his predecessor did.

Facility upgrades over the past five years have put MSU on par or above most of their SEC brethren.

Mississippi State was one of the first programs in the country to have an indoor practice facility when the Shira fieldhouse was constructed.

The Palmerio Center and it's 100 yard indoor field now does the heavy lifting when it comes to indoor practices.

The Holliman Center, The Croom Room, The Miskelly recruiting center, Shira, and Turman fieldhouse are all new or have been renovated in the past five years.

The newly constructed Templeton Center will bring even more advantages to the new coaching staff when the time comes for them to host prospects and their families.

No, the old back forty ain't what it used to be.

The running start of seventeen commitments including the state's top quarterback prospect in Tyler Russell, the top defensive end in Fletcher Cox, the top defensive tackle in Josh Boyd, the top fullback in William Shumpert, the top player in MPSA in Cameron Lawrence, the nation's top JuCo pass rusher in Pernell McPhee, an All-American Juco linebacker in Chris White, the nation's top JuCo punter in Heath Hutchins, one of the nation's top running backs in Montrell Conner and an All star quarterback from Alabama in Josh Hollingsworth just to name a few is an attraction in and of it's self for a coaching candidate.

The key now is to hold that group together. The group is extremely close, but with every passing day recruiters from opposing schools are in the ear of these commitments trying to create some doubt.

The remaining assistants on hand in Starkville are doing their best, but that task becomes more difficult by the day when their own futures are in limbo.

It took Anthony Rogers less than twenty four hours to choose another school. Upon learning the news he called his high school coach and soon after he called Oklahoma State.

Rogers had not been to Starkville since the spring and he had never had a phone conversation with another MSU commitment at any point during his recruitment. He was committed to the coaches that were recruiting him rather than the program he was committing to.

Relationships were everything in his recruitment and once those relationships were gone there was nothing familiar for him to hold on to.

Rogers is the exception. Within moments of the announcement Tyler Russell's cell phone became mission control. Close to a dozen prospects were in touch with Tyler to gauge his reaction to the news.

Sam Watts, Jonathan Banks, Chris White and William Shumpert are all on record that they are signing with State no matter who the new coach is.

The rest of the prospects, Russell included, have taken more of a wait and see approach to the process.

The concern for these players is the unknown.

What if the new coach runs a system I am not comfortable with?

What if I don't like him?

What if he doesn't like me and wants to bring in some of his own players?

The MSU administration has already contacted these players to inform them that their offers still stand, but there will continue to be some lingering doubt until a new coach is hired and some relationships are established.

Opposing recruiters will look to feed that doubt, so timing is critical.

The most pressing concern is the signing period December 17th. I will save you the look at the calendar, it's the Wednesday after next.

Prospects like Sean Brauchle, Maurice Langston and Heath Hutchins will put pen to paper somewhere around that date and prepare to enroll for the spring semester.

State can count Hutchins among the committed and could very easily have added Langston and Brauchle before the signing period opened. Those two may still come aboard, but it would be difficult to expect them to sign without knowing who would be coaching them.

The bottom line is that the signing of this class is extremely important and it will have major effects on the future of Mississippi State.

If you need proof take a look at that 2004 signing class and see how many of those guys made an impact or more to the point did not.

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