The Myth of The Great Recruiter: A Look Back At Rich Rodriguez' Recruiting Classes

Over the last month or so much has been made of the quality, or supposed lack thereof, of Michigan's 2010 recruiting class. On paper, there appears to be good reason. According to the two major recruiting services, Michigan's 2010 class ranks in the upper-middle of the Big Ten and is, at best, a top quarter recruiting class nationally. This does not sit well with Michigan fans who are used to seeing the Maize and Blue in the top ten of national recruiting classes year in, year out.

For all Coach Rodriguez' supposed faults, recruiting was not supposed to be one of them. Looking back a Rich Rodriguez' short tenure at Michigan it appears, on the surface in any event, that he recruited quite well. In spite of the turmoil and the drama the surrounding the program, Rodriguez' classes usually trailed only Ohio State in the Big Ten and ranked in the top 10 nationally. This seemed to justify the assumption that Rodriguez was not just a coach capable of molding talent, but also highly capable of recruiting good talent.

The reality of the last few years has disillusioned us of that notion. Sadly, the talent assembled at Michigan right now is not up to the levels that Michigan fans became accustomed to under the Carr administration. The obvious response to this is "duh," after two straight losing seasons and a 7-6 campaign that got Rodriguez fired. Here's the catch, according to the recruiting services, Rodriguez recruited pretty well.

In spite of three years of subpar play and turmoil, Michigan still reeled in high recruiting class rankings.  Even with the coaching transition in 2008, Michigan did fairly well according to the recruiting services. The 2008 class was ranked 6th by Scout and Rivals had Michigan ranked 10th. In 2009 Rodriguez pulled in a 14th ranked class according to Scout and an 8th ranked class by Rivals. His 2010 class was also respectable, coming in at 12th for Scout and 20th for Rivals.

Those numbers, based on recruiting rankings alone, should have Michigan back in the top 25 for on field play. It's not like Michigan doesn't have some outstanding players. Rodriguez' successes speak for themselves. He recruited a phenomenal talent in Denard Robinson, a game breaking receivers in Daryl Stonum and Roy Roundtree, an NFL calibre Left Tackle in Taylor Lewan, a death bringing nose tackle in Mike Martin and a stellar defensive end in Craig Roh.

But, in spite of these successes, Michigan will be digging itself out of a recruiting hole left by Rodriguez' tenure for the next four years. Despite the rankings and despite the individual successes of Rodriguez and his staff, Michigan's recruiting classes were far, far worse than anyone has realized.

In all, Rodriguez had 3 recruiting classes at Michigan that he was the head coach for. After being hired on December 16, 2007, Rodriguez had two months to finalize Michigan's 2008 recruiting class. He then had all of 2009 and 2010 to recruit. If we give Rodriguez credit for these three classes, he was responsible for 75 young men sending in their letters of intent to Michigan. As I mentioned above there have been some wonderful players brought in under Rodriguez' watch. But if were giving credit for his successes, we have to lay blame for his failures.

There's plenty of blame to lay out, too. Out of the 75 students who signed on the dotted line to play for Michigan under Rodriguez, 24% of them are no longer at Michigan or never made it to campus.

It's hard to be too enthused about a coaches recruiting when almost a quarter of that coach's recruits are no longer on campus. Under Rodriguez, 18 committed players have either failed to make it to campus or left after a short time at Michigan. And it's not like the departing players were sitting on the low end of the totem pole in terms of recruiting rankings either. Look for yourself (Rankings from Rivals):

The Rodriguez Washouts
RB - Sam McGuffie(4*) - Played in 2008, transferred following the season.
OL - Dann O’Neill (4*) - Redshirted, transferred.
DB - Brandon Smith(4*) - Redshirted in 2008, Played in 2009, Transferred in 2010.
LB - Marcus Witherspoon(4*) - DNQ.
OL - Kurt Wermers (3*) - Redshirted, Failed out.
ATH/QB - Justin Feagin (3*) - Played his freshman year, but was booted off the team for a failed drug deal.
LB - Taylor Hill (4*) - Left the program after 2008 fall camp and transferred to Youngstown State.
DB - Boubacar Cissoko(4*) - Played in 2008 and 2009 before getting booted off the team. 
DB/S - Vladimir Emilien (4*) - Played, transferred at start of 2010 season.
DE - Anthony LaLota(4*) - Redshirted. Transferred before 2010 season.
QB - Tate Forcier (4*) - Played, booted off team by Rodriguez, transferred to Miami.
DB - Justin Turner (4*) - Redshirted, and transferred to West Virginia before 2010.
DB - Adrian Witty (2*) - DNQ
DB - Demar Dorsey (4*) - DNQ
ATH/QB - Cornelius Jones (3*) - DNQ.
LB - Antonio Kinard (3*) - DNQ.
LB - Davion Rogers (3*) - DNQ.
RB - Austin White (3*) - Transferred/effective DNQ

The breakdown goes as follows: 7 offensive players and 11 defensive players. On the offense 3 QBs, 2 OL, and 2 RB. On the defense 4 LB, 6 DB, and 1 DE. In terms of stars, the washouts were 11 four star athletes, 6 three star and 1 two star. In short, during Rodriguez' three year tenure Michigan lost an entire recruiting class. A (washout)recruiting class that would've averaged a 3.56 star rating on Scout and come in 9th in the country in average star rating in 2011 on Scout and 9th on Rivals. In three years Michigan has lost a recruiting class that most schools would kill for. Puts the won-loss record into perspective doesn't it.

What makes the washout list seem even more dire is where these kids placed in their respective recruiting classes. In the 2008 class Cissoko and O'Neil were both Rivals rated recruits, with Witherspoon, Hill and McGuffie all being 5.8 rated recruits. In the 2009 classJustin Turner was the highest rated recruit in Ohio with a 6.0 rating. Then you had Tate at 5.9 and LaLota and Emilien were 5.8's. Finally, the 2010 class'swashouts were mostly three stars (though Scout liked Austin White as a 4*), but Demar Dorsey was a 5.8.

I mean... damn.

Here's the disturbing thing. If you were rated as a 4 star football player or higher, and went to Michigan as one of Rodriguez' recruits, you had an almost 30% chance of washing out (11/38 = 28.9%).

Again.... damn.

This isn't to suggest that washouts and transfers weren't a fact of life before Rodriguez showed up. As has been chronicled at length, Michigan's defense retained only 58.3% of its defensive recruits from 2005-2009 (meaning that only 58.3% reached a fifth year [redshirted]). Since we can't assess Rodriguez' classes until they reach their fourth and fifth years I won't compare current class retention to the fifth year argument posed in the linked Diary. We can, however, look at defensive retention of Rodriguez' recruiting classes prior to reaching a fourth year.

Out of 75 recruits, Rodriguez recruited 31 total defensive players in 2008-2010. Of those players, only 20 made to or are still at Michigan. 11 of Rodriguez' recruits either failed to qualify or have left Michigan for one reason or another. So before we even get to the issue of reaching a fifth year, Michigan is short 35% of the defensive players that signed a letter of intent to play for Michigan between 2008 and 2010.

Rodriguez' strength seems to have been identifying diamonds in the rough. While Denard was a highly rated ATH in both services, both thought he'd be a corner or slot receiver rather than a Heisman candidate QB. Roy Roundtree had committed to Purdue and jumped to Michigan (as it was his best offer). But he's also had a history of recruiting players that do not live up to their potential. Will Campbell, Jeremy Gallon, Fitzgerald Toussaint, Je’Ron Stokes, Quinton Washington, Ricky Barnum, Terrence Robinson, etc... And these are just some of the players he's recruited that have stuck in Ann Arbor (washout's excluded) but never really made an impact despite their pedigree.

I will not discount that there are flaws in this analysis (passage of time, inevitable failure of the services to get it right, potential break out seasons ahead, etc.). Even so, it's readily apparent that Michigan is in a fairly big recruiting hole that started under Carr and worsened under Rodriguez. And it's not going to get better in a single recruiting class. It's going to take a number of large classes to fill the holes left on the defense and the offense in order to bring Michigan back to the depth it is/was used to having.

Now before people lash out and tell me about how it wasn't Rodriguez' fault because of the admissions fiascoes, that Cissoko was Carr's recruit, or any number of reasons why these numbers lie, lie, lie; remember, I'm just looking at the numbers from the services and the resulting players. You can feel free to disagree with me about the potential of the players remaining at Michigan, but the numbers of departing players are concrete.

My point is that in spite of the great rankings, Michigan's recruiting from 2008-2010 was awful. While the Wolverines pulled in some amazing talent that's produced on the field, the final retention from these classes would drop these classes well out of the top 25 and probably into the 40's.

It wasn't too long ago we were looking for reasons for our misfortune. Sadly, we're going to be right back where we started three years ago, and it's going to take a while to dig our way out.

Below are the three classes Rodriguez saw through to national signing day, with player rankings, retention, quality, and contributions included. Special thanks to Ann Arbor dot Com's for Rich Rezler compiling a good deal of the information below. 

2010 Recruting Class - 27 LOI

Recruits That Saw The Field (13)
DB - Cullen Christian (4*) - Platoon starter as a freshman.
QB - Devin Gardner (4*) - Played in a handful of early games, hopeful Redshirt (medical).
LB/DB - Marvin Robinson (4*) - Platoon starter at S/LB.
DB/S - Courtney Avery (3*)  - Platoon starter as a freshman.
DE - Jibreel Black (3*)  - Platoon player as a freshman.
SWR - Drew Dileo (3*)  - Limited playing time as a freshman as a return man.
P - Will Hagerup (3*) - Starter.
RB - Stephen Hopkins (3*) - Played significant minutes as a freshman.
WR - Jeremy Jackson (3*) - Played as a freshman mostly of special teams.
DB/LB - Carvin Johnson (3*) - Platoon starter as a freshman.
WR - Ricardo Miller (3*) - Played in one game.
DB - Terrence Talbott (3*) - Platoon starter by end of the year.
DB/S - Ray Vinopal (2*) - Platoon starter by end of the year.

Recruits Receiving a Redshirt (9)
DT - Richard Ash (4*) - Redshirted.
DE - Kenny Wilkins (4*) - Redshirted.
ATH/LB - Josh Furman (3*) - Redshirted.
OL - Christian Pace (3*) - Redshirted, potential career ending knee issue.
DE - Jordan Paskorz (3*) - Redshirted.
WR - Jerald Robinson (3*) - Redshirted.
LB - Jake Ryan (3*) - Redshirted.
DT - Terry Talbott (3*) - Redshirted.
WR - D.J. Williamson (3*) - Redshirted.

Recruits Failing to Qualify or Transferring (5)
DB - Demar Dorsey (4*) - DNQ
ATH/QB - Cornelius Jones (3*) - DNQ.
LB - Antonio Kinard (3*) - DNQ.
LB - Davion Rogers (3*) - DNQ.
RB - Austin White (3*) -Transferred/effective DNQ

2009 Recruiting Class- 24 LOI 

Recruits That Saw The Field (8)
DT - William Campbell (5*) - Plays, but not a starter.
ATH - Denard Robinson (4*) - Potential Heisman Candidate QB.
DE - Craig Roh (4*) - Starting DE.
ATH - Jeremy Gallon (4*) - Fumble prone return specialist/WR
WR - Je’Ron Stokes (4*) - Back-up wide receiver
RB - Teric Jones (3*): - Special teams, injuries.
DB - Mike Jones (3*) - Played on special teams in 2009, broken leg in 2010 (medical redshirt candidate?)
RB - Vincent Smith (3*) - Platoon starter in 2009, 2010.

Recruits Receiving a Redshirt (9)
WR/S - Cameron Gordon (4*) - Redshirt, now starting safety.
OL - Michael Schofield (4*) - Redshirted. Played special teams 2010.
RB - Fitzgerald Toussaint (4*) - Redshirted, platooned in 2010 when healthy.
OL - Quinton Washington (4*) - Redshirted, special teams contributor in 2010.
OL - Taylor Lewan (4*) - Redshirted. Starting LT with NFL potential.
LB - Isaiah Bell (3*) - Redshirted, did not play in 2010.
ATH - Thomas Gordon (3*): Redshirted, Platoon duty at DB/LB in 2010.
LB - Brendin Hawthorne (3*): Redshirted, played special teams in 2010.
K - Brendan Gibbons (2*) - Redshirted, platoon starter in 2010.

Recruits Failing to Qualify or Transferring (5)
DB/S - Vladimir Emilien (4*) - Played, transferred at start of 2010 season.
DE/OL - Anthony LaLota (4*) - Redshirted. Transferred before 2010 season.
QB - Tate Forcier (4*) - Played, booted off team by Rodriguez, transferred to Miami. 
• DB - Justin Turner (4*) - Redshirted, and transferred to West Virginia before 2010.
DB - Adrian Witty (2*) - DNQ

2008 Recruiting Class - 24 LOI

Recruits That Saw The Field (6)
DT - Mike Martin (4*) - Played as freshman, arguably Rodriguez' most important recruit after Denard.
RB - Michael Shaw (4*) - Played as freshman, nominal starter at RB when healthy.
WR - Darryl Stonum (4*) - Lightning in a bottle since day one. A very fragile bottle.
SWR - Martavious Odoms (3*) - Day one starter at slot receiver.
TE - Kevin Koger (4*) - Day one starter at Tight End.
LB - J.B. Fitzgerald (4*): A three-year platoon player at MLB and WLB.

Recruits Receiving a Redshirt (10)
OL - Ricky Barnum (4*) - Redshirted, back-up in 2009, 2010.
LB - Kenny Demens (4*) - Redshirted, played special teams in 2009, finally supplanted Obi Ezeh at MLB in 2010.
OL - Elliott Mealer (4*) - Redshirted, played special teams in 2009/2010.
TE - Brandon Moore (4*) - Redshirted, backup tight end in 2009/2010.
RB - Terrence Robinson (4*) - Redshirted, limited playing time at receiver/returner.
SWR - Roy Roundtree (4*) - Redshirted, has since become Michigan's leading receiver.
RB - Michael Cox (3*) - Redshirted, played sparingly in 2009, 2010.
ATH/DB - J.T. Floyd (3*) - Redshirted, played sparingly in 2009 and started at CB until an ankle/knee injury in 2010.
OL - Rocko Khoury (3*) - Redshirted, played in 2009 and 2010. Critical backup at Center.
OL - Patrick Omaneh (2*) - Redshirted, played sparingly in 2009. Now a potential All-Big Ten starter at Guard.

Recruits Failing to Qualify, Failing Out or Transferring (8)
RB - Sam McGuffie (4*) - Played in 2008, transferred following the season.
OL - Dann O’Neill (4*) - Redshirted, transferred.
DB - Brandon Smith (4*) - Redshirted in 2008, Played in 2009, Transferred in 2010.
LB - Marcus Witherspoon (4*) - DNQ.
OL - Kurt Wermers (3*) - Redshirted, Failed out.
ATH/QB - Justin Feagin (3*) - Played his freshman year, but was booted off the team for a failed drug deal.
LB - Taylor Hill (4*) - Left the program after 2008 fall camp and transferred to Youngstown State.
DB - Boubacar Cissoko (4*) - Played in 2008 and 2009 before getting booted off the team.

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