Updated: Jul 20
Recruiting has always been extremely important in college football. It’s no secret that in order to win on Saturdays in the Fall, you need to win on the recruiting trail. However, in today’s landscape with NIL and the transfer portal, building and maintaining relationships with high school prospects and college transfers has never been more imperative.
While there is certainly no shortage of football coaches who are tremendous when it comes to building a game plan and scheming up great plays, there is no substitute for having good players. National championship winning coach Kirby Smart said as much last season when he declared “If you don't recruit, there's no coach out there that can out-coach recruiting.” “I don't care who you are, the best coach to ever play the game better be a good recruiter because no coaching is going to out-coach players.
With that being said, more and more emphasis is being placed on recruiting when it comes to hiring/firing decisions in big time college football. Dan Mullen, who is highly regarded as one of the best offensive minds in the game, was fired at Florida primarily because the Gators 2022 recruiting class was far below the program’s standards. Clay Helton was perpetually criticized for his failure to keep the best Southern California talent home throughout his tenure at USC.
On the flip side, more programs are hiring coaches that might lack head coaching experience, but are known for their exceptional recruiting ability/connections with high school coaches. South Carolina’s Shane Beamer had never been a head coach before taking over in Columbia last year, but his dynamic personality has helped him bring in top prospects throughout his coaching career. In this past year’s cycle, Texas Tech hired Joey McGuire, who was a high school coach in Texas for over a decade. His knowledge and connections of the recruiting scene in the Lone Star State has already paid off as the Red Raiders currently have the second ranked class for 2023 according to 247 Sports.
With more schools placing an increased emphasis on recruiting when it comes to hiring head coaches, you’d think that all coaches who are top-notch recruiters would be in play for landing jobs at the FBS level, right? Wrong.
Each year, 247 Sports publishes a ranking of the best recruiters in the country. While their rankings might not be 100% spot on coach for coach, they do give a general overview of which coaches help bring the best talent to their respective schools. There are some head coaches who are on these lists, but oftentimes it is assistant coaches who carry the load on the recruiting trail.
Of the 30 best ranked recruiters on 247’s 2022 list, 22 were black. In addition, of the 34 5-star recruits in the class of 2022, 23 of them had a black coach who was listed as their “primary recruiter.” In looking at previous years, the statistics are strikingly similar, which makes it clear that many black assistant coaches in college football are responsible for bringing in some of the best players we watch compete each Saturday.
With dozens of black assistant coaches holding “ace recruiter” status, you’d think that many of them would be in line for an opportunity to lead a program as a head coach. However, despite a nearly unprecedented amount of head coaching turnover this past season, we didn’t see many of these stud recruiters get head coaching jobs. Of the 28 new coaches hired, only 3 were black (Notre Dame’s Marcus Freeman, Virginia’s Tony Elliott, and Temple’s Stan Drayton).
A few weeks ago, one of the biggest stories in the sports world was Brian Flores’ lawsuit against the NFL regarding discriminatory hiring practices pertaining to race. Whether or not those allegations were true or not, the lack of black coaches and executives spoke for themselves. Unfortunately, college football has a similar problem when it comes to the amount of black head coaches.
Of the 130 head coaches at the FBS level, only 14 are black. Additionally, there are no black head coaches in two power five conferences (SEC, Big 12). Nearly half of the players on NCAA football rosters are black, but just a tad more than ten percent of the men chosen to lead these programs are black. This is a troubling stat that needs to change, especially since there are many brilliant black coaches who are qualified to do the job. As described earlier, some of these men are among the best recruiters in the country.
Now, it’s worth mentioning that many of the coaches who do a lot of the heavy work on the recruiting trail are position coaches who might not be ready to be the head man of a program just yet. Oftentimes, coaches need to work as a position coach for several years before becoming a coordinator. Then, if they excel as a coordinator, they can be in position to become a head coach. However, if this is true, throughout the next decade we should see more progress in terms of the amount of black head coaches in college football.
Schools can’t have it both ways. You can’t claim that recruiting is “one of the most important factors” when it comes to winning, and then ignore the best recruiters in hiring decisions. We live in a world where diversity, equity, and inclusion is more emphasized than ever before and this should extend to college football head coaches. Just like there are countless great white football coaches out there, there are countless qualified black coaches too. Hopefully, schools will give more consideration to them in the future.