On Thursday came one of my favorite pieces of the Mizzou football recruiting calendar: Dave Matter’s post-signing day chat with Danny Heitert.
Heitert posts the STC Grid Report and has been around St. Louis recruiting forever. He speaks about prospects and recruiting battles in an incredibly unique way, as if no one else has ever spoken about those things, and I enjoy it immensely.
Obviously a combination of the words “Mizzou football” and “St. Louis recruiting” at the moment isn’t all that enjoyable. The St. Louis area produced six four-star prospects in the 2018 recruiting cycle, and Mizzou came away with exactly zero of them. Matter asked Heitert about the “double standard” that some say exists between those two entities — as in, Mizzou has to prove itself twice as much as other places do — and in some ways, I’ve definitely seen it through the years. Heitert both agrees and (mostly) disagrees with the premise.
There’s something I call the ‘outside consultant’s halo,’ which means there might be an assumption that an organization from a more exotic location has a competency that might not be any more desirable than what you have locally. There could be some of that going on.
But to me, the facts are that there’s a singular standard. That standard is playing in games that count, winning those games, and facilities. Ohio State or Oklahoma are playing by the same standards as Missouri — they’ve just done those things (winning games that count, and with better facilities).
In the end, two of those six four-star prospects chose Ohio State (Kamryn Babb and Cameron Brown), two chose Oklahoma (Ronnie Perkins and Michael Thompson, for whom Mizzou basically finished as runner-up), one chose USC (Trevor Trout), and one chose Texas (Ayodele Adeoye). For that matter, Kansas City four-star Mario Goodrich chose Clemson as well.
Granted, Texas hasn’t won a ton of games of late, but the other four schools mentioned there have made a combined seven College Football Playoff appearances in the last four years, with two national titles, nine conference titles, and a Rose Bowl win to boot.
Heitert points out that against schools like Nebraska — a.k.a. a program that hasn’t been any more successful than the Tigers in recent years — Mizzou did just fine one-on-one.
But in the end, the national brands won out. They usually do.
As far as the overall lack of success with the Tiger 10 goes, though, I think “national brands!” ends up only being part of the story.
It feels like Mizzou gives up on recruits faster under Barry Odom than Gary Pinkel.
Now, let me be very clear that this is a purely educated guess. While I have, with my SB Nation or stat hats on, begun to build relationships with some college football coaches here and there, none are at Mizzou. I have no inside information, only the knowledge gleaned from watching Mizzou Football recruiting for 20 years*.
* Holy crap, it really has been 20 years.
I have very much gotten the sense, though, that Odom and his staff very closely read the tea leaves with a given player’s recruitment. The moment they see warning signs that something isn’t going to work out, they cross the name off the list and move on to the next one.
A year ago, Mizzou did what it thought it needed to do regarding the Tiger 10, the 10 in-state players (St. Louisans and Kansas Citians alike) who had all received early offers from the home-state school. For a little while, it looked like those efforts were paying off. But the moment a couple of the players chose other schools, it appeared as if Missouri immediately downgraded its effort level with a few of the other prospects. And I think one of Barry Odom’s Wednesday quotes was particularly revealing in this way.
Some may be disappointed with the relatively low number of Missouri signees in a loaded class, but Odom was happy with what his staff came away with and said the interest has to go both ways. “I want guys that want to be at the University of Missouri too,” he said. “I feel very strongly about our program, the foundation that we’re on, and the direction that we’re going.”
It seemed some of the Tiger 10 were giving lip service more than they were showing serious interest, so Mizzou moved on. Maybe an extra layer of fight would have swayed another prospect or two to visit or give Mizzou serious consideration. But Odom appeared far more interested in going out and finding prospects elsewhere.
Mind you, I’m not saying all of this as either a good or bad thing. Right now, it’s just a thing. The quality assessment will come in the coming years.
And if Mizzou had done a better job on the field in Odom’s first season and a half, then he’d have probably seen a whole lot more mutual interest. Obviously.
It’s certainly not hard to see how this approach (“Locals get the first shot, but we’re not waiting around,” basically) could work, though. By choosing to home in on the players who truly want to be here — and if you’re thorough enough, you can probably find some; it’s a big country — you potentially get in better with the second tier of players in that high-three-star range. In theory, you can find a higher retention rate with these guys, with fewer guys transferring down the line. In theory.
Mizzou is proof that players in that range — Chase Daniel, Henry Josey, Marcus Murphy, Kentrell Brothers, Shane Ray, Damarea Crockett, etc. — can become stars. And if those guys develop well, and there is indeed a correlation with retention, then you sacrifice a bit of star power and potential for depth and a high floor. You will win a lot of games that way, even if recruiting class rankings, which tend to give you exponential bumps for landing the higher-rated guys, punish you for it.
It’s easy to see how this approach could fail, too. For one thing, I think Pinkel saw value in putting up an extended fight for the local prospects just as a means of relationship building. My own impression over these last 20 years is that coaches everywhere (but particularly in St. Louis) appreciate a certain amount of lip service, of effort for effort’s sake. Show us we mean something to you, and it might work out for you in future years. If Odom is putting up less of a fight than Pinkel in that regard, then that could obviously have consequences.
Plus, no matter what tactics you pursue on the field, talent wins. Building an entire roster of three-star guys can work, but it requires you to constantly find the right three-star guys. It puts an immense amount of strain on your system of talent evaluation (development, too), and if you ever have a dud class — one that doesn’t produce a ton of starters, or one that suffers an inordinately large amount of attrition — it’s going to hold you back for multiple years.
By the way, If Odom indeed made a trade of sorts, sacrificing some in-state effort for out-of-state success, it does appear to have worked to some degree.
Average 247Sports Composite rating of Missouri’s top five out-of-state high school signees:
- 2018: 0.8826
- 2017: 0.8693
- 2016: 0.8753
- 2015: 0.8932 (note: this class included five-star tackle East St. Louisan Terry Beckner Jr.)
- 2014: 0.8740
- 2013: 0.8731
- 2012: 0.8680
- 2011: 0.8605
This out-of-state haul was either Mizzou’s best or second-best of the last eight years. Odom missed on top in-state guys and appeared to give up on a few others, but he made up for it to a degree.
I do think, though, this administration’s ability to identify and persuade good out-of-state talent to come to Missouri, it may be better than Gary Pinkel’s group.
For as long as you’ve been a Mizzou fan, you’ve heard about the importance of sealing the borders. Gary Pinkel did a better job of it than most and won quite a few games.
Odom isn’t doing a very good job of it at all; he’s going a pretty terrible job, actually. But he can still carve out success if his talent evaluation model and his ability to retain and develop players — his ability to build the program in his image, not Missouri’s — are up to the task. We’ll see.