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Op-Ed: Recruiting By Itself Isn’t Sufficient for Success

Bill Callahan and now Mike Riley prove that if coaches don’t get coaching and development right, the stars won’t matter.

Iowa v Nebraska
When you are getting outcoached by Kirk Ferentz, it’s time to find another job.
Photo by Steven Branscombe/Getty Images

I could tell today that recruitniks have been feeling the blowback towards recruiting as of late.

I’m one of those guys that push back on recruiting; not so much because I don’t think it’s important, but because it’s importance have been overinflated. Yes, schools like Alabama and Ohio State have great talent. They recruit well, and more importantly win. But there there are schools that recruit well...and don’t win.

I had hoped this is one of those lessons that we had learned ten years ago after Bill Callahan crashed and burned, but we had to repeat that lesson once again with Mike Riley. Let’s be honest: if it’s just a matter of putting talent on the field, Nebraska should have been MUCH better than 4-8 last season. Just look at 24/7’s recruiting rankings of the Big Ten West the last five seasons:

Nebraska: 22, 35, 30, 26, 23
Wisconsin: 40, 32, 41, 35, 39
Iowa: 56, 58, 59, 47, 41
Northwestern: 53, 47, 55, 52, 50
Illinois: 51, 72, 48, 73, 46
Minnesota: 67, 57, 63, 46, 59
Purdue: 61, 70, 67, 80, 72

Nebraska had the highest ranked recruiting class in the Big Ten West division four out of those five seasons (Wisconsin edged out Nebraska by three positions in 2014). You’d think that Nebraska would have won the division once or twice as of late, right?

Well, we know that hasn’t happened since 2012. And instead, Nebraska’s suffered embarrassing losses in the last three seasons. It’s one thing to get trucked by Ohio State; it’s another matter entirely to leave Iowa City and Minneapolis bloodied.

I’m not going to argue that it’s not important to have great players; just look at Nebraska basketball this season and it’s turnaround. What I am going to argue is that if you don’t have great coaching and development to turn that talent into a great team, it simply doesn’t matter how many stars you have.

I’ll use an analogy with cooking. A great chef can make a very good meal out of everyday ingredients. It’s true that to make the finest meal, you’ll want the finest ingredients available, but you don’t necessarily have to start with the best ingredients.

Put those same fine ingredients in the hands of an inexperienced cook, and you’ll get awful food. Burn a kobe filet mignon, and it’ll taste just as awful as a burned chuck steak from Walmart.

If Scott Frost develops players in Lincoln like he did in Orlando, Nebraska football will get to the point where stars will matter. But right now, after a season where both Minnesota and Iowa hung fifty-burgers on the Big Red, stars simply aren’t as important as getting the coaching and development problem fixed around Memorial Stadium.