The Answer is Still Recruiting

The best part of the move from the Willingham era to the Sarkisian era has been the impact on recruiting. Regardless of what the rankings said - that Washington was the 10th best class in the Pac-10 and something ridiculous, like 66th, or whatever, nationally - I think they are making great progress. They have already added another kid, Jordan Wallace - CJ Wallace's brother.

They are up to 19 players for this class, and I don't think they're done yet.

Signing Day ratings are crazy anyway. Look who was the number one class in the Pac-10. Rick Neuheisel is selling his classes at UCLA just like he did at Washington. Everyone is always excited on signing day but it never covers all of the changes and continual updates you do to your roster.

I read a great piece by Nick Daschel, of Buster Sports, about the four classes that were the death of Husky Football. He talked about the 2002 and 2003 classes of Rick Neuheisel, the 2004 class of Keith Gilbertson and the 2005 - the first class of Tyrone Willingham. Three of those classes were fairly high ranked and one was terrible. Two of them were transition classes, which collectively resulted in the demise of the Huskies. Looking at those classes after the completion of 4-5 years gives you a better understanding of why Husky Football has been so bad. It wasn't all coaching, but they were the ones most responsible for recruiting, so it does fall in their laps.

That is why what Steve Sarkisian and his staff did for their first class is even more amazing; they put together a class without even knowing their product. They sold each other and the tradition of Husky Football as well as the opportunity for playing time and helping rebuild a program.

Daschel said that Neuheisel's 2002 class - which was rated third and fourth in the Pac-10 and 19th or 23rd nationally, depending on who you choose to believe - actually started the death spiral. Their big get was Nathan Rhodes, who never passed a physical and consequently never played. There were seven players who quit, and their very best player left after his freshman season and ended up in the NBA as the most recent slam dunk champion - and who the Huskies were reluctant to even offer until mid-December. I know Isaiah Stanback was and is a great athlete but that class was way overrated.

Who did that evaluation in all those recruiting services?

Then in 2003, Coach Neuheisel signed 26 high school and two JC kids and got his class ranked second and fourth in the Pac-10, 18th and 23rd nationally. Robert Lewis was the highest rated player. Who? CJ Wallace was the only player who ended up any good. Nine players quit from that class. That's 16 over two years of recruiting who didn't finish their careers at UW. It was also a class that had seven or eight signed receivers, which totally screwed up the balance in recruiting.

Chuck Heater, probably the best recruiting coordinator the Huskies have had in the last decade, stayed around and helped Keith Gilbertson put together his one and only signing class at Washington. They signed 20 high school and 2 JC players, and the class was ranked third and fourth in the Pac-10, and 19th and 22nd nationally. The best player from that class, Matt Tuiasasopo, never showed up and signed with the Seattle Mariners to play pro-baseball. The next best, Keauntea Bankhead, never qualified academically. Seven players quit, making it one of the worst top-20 rated classes ever. Greyson Gunheim and Dashon Goldson ended up good players but Roy Lewis, who joined as a transfer from San Jose State, was never even counted in that class. He now owns a ring as a member of the Super Bowl champs Pittsburgh Steelers.

The 2005 class was blown off by Tyrone Willingham, who I think falsely assumed that it was Washington and therefore there were already lots of good players. Little did he know that the program had lost 23 signed scholarship athletes who either never got into school or quit after they got there. I think it was primarily due to poor evaluations based upon what the recruiting services said rather than their own research.

The level of talent in the program at Washington has not been good for years and I have been criticized for pointing that out in my defense of the coaches. I'm not talking about Tyrone Willingham because obviously his four years were a failure. But, when one of your assistant coaches gets hired by the Denver Broncos, one by the St. Louis Rams, one by the Buffalo Bills, one by the Detroit Lions, one by Florida, and one by Notre Dame, obviously you had some pretty good coaches.

That's not to say they didn't fail in recruiting and it's not said to throw the kids under the bus, but it takes two or three years to get your recruiting system in place and another couple to get a true rating or ranking on any group of kids you bring in. This last staff proved that with their last two classes. That is the point; signing day ratings are based upon only the kids who sign on that day when in fact you are always adding players to your scholarship count.

Willingham's 2005 class was probably the worst ever in a 40-year period of Husky recruiting. He signed 11 high school kids and three JC's. Two never even got into school, six quit or were kicked off, and only two ended up being productive players - Daniel Te'o-Nesheim and Ben Ossai. The signature signing was JR Hasty, who bombed out at Washington and couldn't even start at Central Washington. Incidentally, CWU's tight end Jared Bronson, who walked on at Washington before transferring to Central, just might get drafted over any Husky. Bronson is a potential draft choice that was never counted in any signing class.

Looking at the four year period it's easy to see those are not good numbers. I totally agree with Nick Daschel that those four classes were the death of Husky Football as we knew it. It all goes back to recruiting and that is the only way coach Sarkisian can turn this thing around.

I thought he really addressed needs with this last class and even though it was short on offensive linemen and had no running backs, I'll bet in four years it will prove pretty good. Besides that, he has already offered dozens of kids for next year and even has two commitments. This guy doesn't waste time and I'll bet money they didn't pay any attention to any rankings or ratings.

Most of you know I've never put much respect or relevance into the comparing or ranking a group of kids who have never played a game of college football - none of whom are even enrolled academically, many who have played at different levels, and there is always a tremendous variance in everything related to evaluating, including measuring and timing, and especially character and academic evaluation. I also question many of the evaluators and their knowledge of the game. I also know all kids lie about their speed and especially about their height and weight. If you don't measure them in bare feet and weigh them in yourself then they will all tell you they are bigger than they are.

I think this last Husky class was good simply because it addressed their needs and will help plug some holes in their roster. Believe me, there are plenty of holes to plug.

I think that the recruiting aspect of college football has become a cottage industry by itself. The internet has created it and our site is a classic example of it. Naturally, we American sports junkies want as much information as we can possibly get. But if you're in the business, you just can't pay attention to ratings and rankings. It doesn't make any difference how many stars a player has been assigned to his name because no one can possibly look at all the kids in America, much less cover all the criteria which makes a kid a player or not. The whole rating and ranking system is so fundamentally flawed that it's really a joke.

I know for a fact it's rigged. I know it's tremendously biased. I know lots of people who are the sources of ratings who have never really watched tape, video, CD's or whatever. And even if they do, they don't know what they're evaluating or even what they are looking at.

How can you rate or rank JC kids with high school kids? How stupid is that? How can a class be rated when you don't even factor in transfers, grey shirts, red shirts or any other changes in your roster?

How do you factor in the walk-on program? Clay Matthews was a walk-on at USC, just as players like John Fiala, Jerome Pathon, Joe Jarznyka, Todd Johnson, Ben Mahdavi, Dane Looker, or better yet, Hugh Millen, Stewart Hill, Chuck Nelson, Jeff Jaeger, and most recently Michael Gottlieb, were walk-ons at UW. All were great Huskies, all-league players, and many were NFL and CFL players. We would never have won as many games as we did without the walk-on program or transfers, but they are never part of any class.

I really believe coach Sarkisian gets it with regard to the overall recruiting process. He has hired a group of young and aggressive assistants who don't take no for an answer. They are really organized with an Director in charge of player personnel, Jared Blank, and an energetic an experienced recruiting program assistant, Matt Peterson.

I have met and have felt the energy of this group of coaches. They are straight-up guys and I think they will change this program through recruiting. I don't care what anyone else thinks, good players make good coaches and not the other way around. Good players are those who fit your system and that is more important than their recruiting rankings.

Incidentally, I think readers should understand that recruiting is in large part sales and an even larger part evaluation. It really doesn't matter what others think, you have to be continually manipulating your roster. You need to systematically get your kind of kids. You need energy and it has to be positive. You've got to expect to win and that's especially true in recruiting. You can't pay attention to negatives like being lowly ranked for your efforts and above all you can't worry about those you don't get. You have to concentrate on the ones you do get.

Washington will be back, and they will be back because these guys will put recruiting first and foremost in their efforts. I know X's and O's are important, but nothing compares with sound and thorough recruiting when it comes to building a team.


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