As the final Letters of Intent rolled into the Alabama Football Complex yesterday afternoon, there was a considerable amount of wailing and gnashing of teeth on various Alabama message boards and other social media. The Tide had just completed racking up the consensus No. 1 signing class, hauling in six 5-star prospects (equal to the number of 5-stars pulled in by the second, third and fourth best programs) and a whopping 12 4-stars. But it also missed out on a few players that the fans wanted, including safeties Von Bell and Antonio Conner, offensive lineman Laremy Tunsil and defensive lineman Eddie Vanderdoes.
In his post-signing press conference, a mildly annoyed Nick Saban scolded, "everyone worries about the 40 kids we didn't get… we only have so many spots to get them."
TideSports.com’s Cecil Hurt stole my thunder on this. There is no such thing as a shutout in recruiting. Other teams are going to get good players and that happens every year. Sometimes, a kid just grows up dreaming about playing on his favorite team and not even the persuasive powers of Saban & Co. can sway him. Other players see the opportunity to get on the field sooner; some want to stay closer to home so Mom and Dad can see them play; some might be intimidated by the rigors of The Process; so forth and so on.
Every one of the guys the Tide signed yesterday filled a need identified by this staff. Every one of them fit the profile that the staff established for their position. Every one of them was judged to have that combination of physical, mental and academic that made them a low risk candidate. And, every one of them were guys that this staff wanted and intended to sign. They weren’t signed just because of star power or because someone else wasn’t available, and the objective was never about how the class ranked according to the analysts. The fact that the class ended as No. 1 overall is a result of The Process, not its objective.
Contrast this with the recruiting classes from 2002-2006. Even when the weight of NCAA recruiting penalties were lifted, Alabama always seemed to settle for taking a linebacker because the Shula staff couldn’t get the quarterback they wanted. There was no rhyme, reason or discipline in how players were evaluated and recruited. Mike Shula did get a few very good skill players who contributed and proved successful. But he also took risks that didn’t pan out and discipline wasn’t exactly a trademark, in the locker room, on the field and on the recruiting trail.
If there is anything one needs to remember about this staff, it’s that it’s all about discipline.
Unfortunately, even after six years of consensus Top 5 recruiting classes, two conference titles, three BCS titles, a Heisman Trophy and an open pipeline to the NFL, the damage done by the Era of the Mikes to the collective psyche of the Bama Nation may take decades to completely heal.
How many more titles is it going to take? How many more consensus top signing classes? How many more first round draft picks will ease the angst?
I tell anyone who will listen that I stopped worrying about Alabama recruiting on January 4, 2007. I wish more would listen, and I wish more would follow suit.