When Rick Neuheisel was chosen to replace Jim Lambright, he was heralded as a premier recruiter. One-on-one he was one of the most dynamic, young, and perhaps innovative recruiters in college football. He was very impressive in homes, on the phone, and in public functions. He did not shy away from the responsibilities of recruiting but rather placed himself at the "point" in the whole process.
His boss thought he was a great recruiter but knew little of the system or programs he used and knew even less about the rules or at least how he was interpreting them. He was so impressive to the UW hiring panel that interviewed him that he appeared to be a can't miss hire, at least from the recruiting standpoint. This guy was simply too impressive for recruits to say no to.
Coach Neuheisel's recruiting coordinator at Washington, Chuck Heater, has proven to be one of the better coordinators in the country by guiding Urban Myer's Florida to the number one recruiting classes in the America this year. Chuck is thorough, comprehensive, and highly organized.
Unfortunately for Husky fans, Chuck Heater didn't get much of a chance to show his prowess at Washington because he wasn't allowed to. It was Rick's show all the way.
Rick relished this, and was constantly on the cell phone talking with kids. He played the edges of the rules with ease and actually had Washington in the picture with many great national players - like Reggie Bush to name one. Players like he and Lorenzo Booker were at least taking a hard look at Washington, and Neuheisel was one of the main reasons. No one will ever question his enthusiasm, commitment, or energy in recruiting.
It was, however, the lack of in-depth evaluation that has come into question by the results of the past five NFL drafts.
The year before Jim Lambright was fired, the Huskies had led the nation in the number of players selected in the 1998 NFL draft. Ten players were selected that year, including two early entries. Of that ten, five (Jerome Pathon, Tony Parrish, Cam Cleeland, Benji Olson, and Olin Kruetz) are still active professional players. The following year, 1999, immediately after Lambright's dismissal, the number shrunk to two with only Brock Huard and Tony Coats being selected.
The 2000 draft produced two more Lambright recruits in Lester Towns and Jabari Issa, but that was followed by five more Lambright recruits in 2001 being selected - led by Marques Tuiasosopo. The following year, 2002, three more Lambright recruits were drafted in Jerramy Stevens, Larry Tripplett, and Omare Lowe.
That adds up to 22 draftees over a 5-year period or an average of a little over 4 per year. That is not to say it's great or anything, it's just kind of a benchmark to use going forward.
The next year, the draft of 2003, represented the first recruiting class of the Neuheisel era. It was comprised of players he recruited combined with other Lambright leftovers, and that class played in four straight bowl games.
When it was all said and done, however, not one kid from that class got drafted. Not even a seventh rounder. It was the only time in the modern Husky football history that no players had been drafted.
Shortly thereafter, the gambling scandal brought down the house and with it Coach Neuheisel's firing. Subsequently, the recruiting classes of 2000, 2001, 2002, and 2003 were also the products of the Neuheisel era.
As a result, the 2004, 2005, and just completed 2006 drafts are all tracked to the Neuheisel era. 2004 saw four Huskies get drafted with only three being Neuheisel recruits (Cody Pickett really committed to Lambo). The 2005 draft saw only two Dawgs picked, including Khalif Barnes, who is arguably Neuheisel's best recruit ever. This year, only one Husky, Joe Toledo, was taken last weekend.
That ties the Huskies with Furman, Cornell and Bloomburg, three powerhouse football programs. If you do the math, that means that so far, only six total Huskies were drafted that were recruited by Rick Neuheisel.
Hopefully those numbers will be buoyed a bit next year, as those will still belong to Neuheisel, but it's hard to see that number jumping up much to be honest.
As I always say (and get hounded for saying it), you cannot properly evaluate a recruiting class until the kids of that class complete their eligibility. You may try to say I'm using logic where "hindsight is 20-20", but I'm not trying to be right or wrong here. I'm just pointing out what is and where we are as a program.
From strictly the numbers standpoint, the recruiting of the Neuheisel era would not hold up very well against any benchmark, fairly or unfairly.
For years, playing professionally was to be one of the greatest selling points in Husky recruiting. At one time in the 90's the Huskies had the second most active players in the show. It sort of validated the recruiting efforts. The NFL scouts used to tell me they loved Washington kids because they played for ten years in the pros. They took Huskies because they were used to winning and understood the work ethic to succeed. That has changed.
That being said, I was thrilled to see Evan Benjamin be given a chance by the Seattle Seahawks. He was always one of my favorites on the team and for him to get an opportunity to play at home is simply too good to be true. He and three of his team mates, Robin Meadow, James Sims, and Manase Hopi were all signed to free agent contracts to join Toledo as possibly NFL bound Huskies. Best of luck to all of them! They endured the lowest of the low in all the years of Husky Football. They all deserve another chance to win.