As Washington embarks on its search for the next football coach, each candidate’s recruiting acumen will be a factor as important as anything other than wins and losses. Jimmy Lake was reputed as one of the best recruiters in the country as an assistant, but wasn’t able to carry that success into the head coaching job. It will be imperative for the next coach to bring in the quality and quantity of players that Chris Petersen recruited if the Huskies are going to return to national prominence in short order.
It’s difficult to grade a coach’s recruiting ability because it has so much to do with the school they’re recruiting to. Even if New Mexico State’s coach was the best recruiter in the country, he’d lose most head-to-head battles with schools like USC, even if their coach was not a good recruiter.
I compiled the relevant recruiting data for some of the top UW candidates with recent head coaching experience. These tables show the number of commitments, the number of five- and four-star prospects, the national rank, the average recruiting score, and the total class score, as rated by 247sports. It’s important to try to contextualize these results, so I have also included the last full recruiting cycle at the school before the coach in question was hired (marked with “^”). I did not include the final class for a fired coach because many recruits will leave when the coach is fired, so that class is not a reliable baseline for comparison. Also, note that the 2022 class is still in progress. Many of the classes are currently smaller than they will be in the end, so the average recruit score is probably a better metric for that year.
In short, how have these coaches recruited compared to others at the same program?
First, to put these rankings in context, here are the recent results for UW. The differences aren’t enormous, but you can see a clear peak in the classes of 18 and 19. Jimmy Lake has taken a great deal of criticism for the drop in recruiting. If you look at the ratings of individual players, his 21 and 22 classes are only barely behind the 17 and 20 classes that were largely viewed as successful under Petersen. What Lake has lacked is quantity. The 16 signees last year had a lot to do with scholarship numbers. While there are some limitations again this year, getting only 10 commitments so far has been a failure.
Kalani Sitake has won a lot of games at BYU the last two years, but its fair to ask whether he can recruit at the top of the Pac-12. His recruiting accomplishments have been marginally better than what Bronco Mendenhall did at Provo. Which is good! But peaking at 58th in the country would be a problem at UW. On the positive side, Sitake has an automatic in with many LDS prospects. On the other hand, the school’s religious affiliation might turn off non-followers. Sitake’s track record neither proves nor disproves that he could recruit well enough at win at UW.
It’s no surprise that Stoops was swimming in the deep end of the recruiting pool at Oklahoma. Conversely, it might come as a bit of a surprise that the Sooners didn’t make it into the top 10 in the recruiting rankings in any of his last six season in Norman. Even so, it’s safe to say that Stoops’s name recognition, resume, and recruiting track record make it nearly certain that Stoops would be a good recruiter at UW.
When a transformative coach pulls a program out of the depths, it’s easy to forget just how bad they were before he got there. Iowa State, like a couple other schools on this list, were so bad before Campbell got there that dragging them up to the lower end of what UW has recently accomplished in recruiting is a triumph. Campbell bringing a top-25 class to Ames tells me that he can recruit anywhere.
Napier’s accomplishments at Louisiana are akin to what Campbell has done at Iowa State, but from an even lower baseline. The Ragin’ Cajuns have historically been one of the worst programs in all of FBS and Napier has been bringing in recruiting classes that could survive in a Power 5 conference.
Dave Clawson has had almost a decade at Wake Forest. In that time, he has gradually raised the profile of the prospect he has brought in, but not to a degree that would satisfy UW fans.
Nobody wants another school’s reject, especially since the last one UW hired was such a miserable failure. With that said, Herman is an elite recruiter. He exceeded the high bar for recruiting at Texas. In his brief time at Houston, he signed Ed Oliver and D’eriq King to the #36 class in the country, sandwiched between classes rated 89th when he arrived and 69th after he left. Herman has the best track record as a recruiter of any candidate I have seen associate with the UW job.
Jonathan Smith has been just ok as a recruiter at Oregon State. What this table doesn’t include is the transfer portal, where Smith has found a large percentage of his squad’s production. If UW wants to hire Smith, it would be a bet that his offensive acumen is enough of a foundation for success that he would have time to grow as a recruiter and program builder.
Bronco Mendenhall already popped up as a baseline for Kalani Sitake’s BYU recruiting. He has done better at Virginia despite a high degree of academic rigor. He has built a good and entertaining team in the ACC and would only need to improve his recruiting output slightly at UW, which has a better football pedigree and more resources. Even so, in seven years at UVA, he has not elevated them to anything close to a powerhouse.
Jay Norvell’s success at Nevada stood out to me in evaluating these numbers. While he has not had any great classes, he has steadily improved the average recruit quality year over year. The 22 class is a work in progress with only seven signees so far. Paired with an upward trajectory of on-field performance, Norvell is a more interesting candidate than at first glance.
Like Jimmy Lake at UW, Kalen DeBoer took over a team in pretty good shape. Jeff Tedford led Fresno State to two 10+ win seasons in three years. In that time, his recruiting has been solid. Hiring DeBoer would be a bet on his potential rather than his accomplishments to date. That goes for his on-field success as well as his recruiting ability.
Given that Wilcox seems to be the name connected to UW most often, I was pleasantly surprised at his recruiting profile. The 21 class would fit in with UW’s recruiting trajectory at a school where it’s much more difficult to recruit.
Based on that information, I would categorize these candidates as follows.
Recruiting is a clear strength: Stoops, Campbell, Napier, Herman, Wilcox
Recruiting is not a clear strength: Clawson, Smith, Mendenhall
Not enough information: Sitake, Norvell, DeBoer