National Signing Day 2013 has finally come and gone and once again the Florida Gators signed a consensus top five class. Of course, head coach Will Muschamp certainly won’t take full credit for securing this top class, he praises his coaching staff, office staff, and all the members of the university who play a role in getting top talent to come to Gainesville. He began his signing day press conference this way.
“Really proud of our staff,” Muschamp said. “Today’s the culmination of a lot of work effort. Sometimes two and a half three years put together on a young man. You sit down on signing day and hope that fax comes through.”
“People don’t realize how much time and effort you put into all this,” he added. “You’re talking about unofficial visits, phone calls, spending more time with somebody else’s family than you do your own. It takes a lot of time and effort on everyone’s part. In my role I see all that and I see the emphasis that our place puts on being excellent. I appreciate the support they give us. It’s a culmination of a lot of hard work by a lot of people.”
In the south, National Signing day is almost considered a holiday or a religious ritual. Fans call into work in record numbers to spend their day watching commit announcements on ESPN and manning their computers for the latest info on their schools Letter of Intent signings. Recruiting websites enjoy record enrollments and site hits yearly as fans clamor to find out the latest inside info on their schools and to get up to the minute information on LOI faxes as they come in. Recruiting analysts spread out across the country to cover these signing ceremonies and get stories written about their beat schools.
So why exactly do fans act this way in the South? Why do websites get millions for inside and up to the minute info? Why do grown adults act a fool over the decisions of 17 and 18 year old young men?
For the answer one only need to look at the last seven BCS championship games. All were won by teams from one conference, the SEC. And what separates the SEC that would enable it’s teams to create a monopoly on the college football championship game? In a word, recruiting. In real estate the old saying is there’s one important thing: location, location, location. In college football it’s recruiting, recruiting, recruiting.
For a little perspective consider this: traditional SEC bottom feeders Ole Miss and Vanderbilt both had higher ranked recruiting classes than every school in the Big Ten except for Michigan and Ohio State. Think about that for a minute.
Recruiting is what separates the SEC from all other conferences. The SEC had six of the top ten and seven of the top eleven teams in the final ESPN team recruiting rankings. Recruiting at a high level is required just to compete in this conference and it makes for a highly competitive environment.
“It’s about competition” Muschamp said. “People always asked me when I first got here the difference between Texas and here. It’s the competition on the recruiting trail. Everybody understands the importance of what it takes to go out and recruit, evaluate, and develop players. That’s what it’s all about.”
” The competition within your campus, it’s two hours away, it’s three hours away, it’s four hours, it’s not eight where you have a stronghold on the proximity of guys in your area,” he added.
So once again the Gators have a top rated class, fans can gloat, and the beat goes on in Gainesville. It’s not just top level talent that Muschamp is interested in, however. He’s looking for players with character and commitment as well. A lot of times fans criticize a staff for not going after certain top level guys even when they obviously want to come to their school. They don’t understand why a staff would basically turn their back on a highly regarded player. Muschamp made it clear star rankings mean nothing to him or his staff. Asked how much consideration they give to recruiting rankings he responded tersely and slightly tongue in cheek:
“Absolutely no consideration at all. We commit most of our guys before they ever come out so maybe they look at our rankings.”
And how much does character and commitment and ability in the classroom factor into staff player evaluations?
“It’s important,” Muschamp said. “I always tell our assistant coaches ‘Don’t fall in love with the film, you got to look at the transcript, they’re going to be mainstreamed immediately into the University of Florida’. Our academic people do an outstanding job of supporting all of our student athletes. But those guys have to be able to compete on and off the field at Florida. To be able to recruit the right kind of guy, we do pass on guys and they’re really good players and could certainly play very well for us here in the Swamp.”
So they pass on certain players who don’t have the right fit for their lockerroom either because of character issues, academics, or attitude issues. He’s made it clear he wants high character guys who get it done off the field as well as on.
“You look at a football team last year that came from behind eight times, that’s a team with character,” Muschamp said. “That’s the kind of people you want. At the end of the day you win with good people, you need to have some difference makers absolutely. You also need to understand you can’t compromise what you believe in as a coach for the grace (sake) of a good player.”
And no matter how good or underrated a player is, Muschamp makes it clear the only promises they make are opportunity. The opportunity to come in and compete equally for playing time, according to Muschamp.
“I always tell them ‘We’re going to promise you an opportunity, I’m not going to promise you anything past that. And we’re going to recruit real good again next year. So we’re going to have a bunch of good players coming behind you’. So you better understand you’re going to have to compete at Florida.”
No favoritism, no guaranteed spots, bring your lunch pail, go to work, and earn your spot. Earn your playing time. Everyone on the roster has that opportunity from the moment they step foot on campus.
“All those guys, everybody we signed in this 28 will have an opportunity to contribute to our football team and they’ll determine how much,” Muschamp said. “I tell them the same thing I just told you, I tell them in every home ‘ you’re the one that will determine how much you play not me’.”
So the plan is to recruit talented, high character guys and then give them the opportunity to compete. The reward is the opportunity to play for one of the top programs in America against the toughest competition week in and week out in high profile contests televised weekly across the country. With a little luck they’re playing for championships. The reward for Muschamp and his staff?
“Seeing a guy come in here and graduate, seeing a guy come in here and getting a great education and winning a championship,” Muschamp said. “That’s one of the things I really enjoy about college football as opposed to professional football is you see the developmental stage when a young man comes in and then you see him developing into a young man. You certainly know you’ve had a positive impact on a young man’s life.”
And if he keeps reeling in these types of recruiting classes, he will have a positive impact on so many more lives. The fans and alum that make up the Gator Nation who invest a lot of time and energy as well as dollars rooting on their team.