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Diagnosing Texas Tech’s struggles with recruiting

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Can you get recruits to Lubbock, and is recruiting holding this program back?

Scott Wachter-USA TODAY Sports

Matt Wells’ first class is nearly all locked in following the early signing period. Sitting at 7th in the Big 12 is essentially the norm for Texas Tech recruiting, something attributed both to the program’s abysmal decade and the general challenge of luring top talent to Lubbock. Not necessarily bad, but not something considered good. After a 4-8 season this class is probably stronger than some pundits anticipated, but it is in line with the historic mediocrity of Texas Tech’s classes.

Is Lubbock the problem, or is it the lack of winning? The question comes up every year, and I guarantee opposing coaches negative recruit Tech on both fronts.

Location is easily the weakest argument against Texas Tech or any football program. If anyone out there is under the impression that Norman is a lively city, as someone who has lived there for years let me assure those people it is not. Looking at programs with less of a blue-blood status, recruits looking at Wisconsin are not thinking about the town.

There are going to be recruits who do weigh location for family reasons, and a few more will consider living conditions in certain cities. But fit, playing time, and a factor I will get to later is what drives the bus.

This excuse gets thrown around by Tech fans because it is an easy answer. Lubbock has a terribly boring reputation. But even within Texas Tech, two of the major sporting programs have blown away this argument.

Unless basketball recruits are somehow wildly different than football recruits, it clearly did not matter to the superstars now rolling in to the USA. Hell, one doesn’t even need to look at a different sport. Kingsbury managed to bring in a borderline top 30 football class after a 4-8 season.

Here is what this means, you can recruit to Lubbock. The problem with recruiting goes deeper, and it becomes a self defeating prophecy. The simplest answer is the program just does not win enough. Kingsbury’s best class likely fed off the excitement of the 2013 season despite the failure that was 2014.

Recruits believed in Kingsbury, until he started losing constantly. Tech fans believe Kingsbury got lazy, which is nonsense. His worst classes are the result of losing, and his job security being nonexistent as a result of that losing. Otherwise he recruited as well as any Tech head coach.

To get recruits to buy in to a program and the coaching staff there needs to be winning. If Wells turns it around in year 2, and Texas Tech is an 8 or 9 win team I will bet any amount of money his recruiting class is top 30 in the nation.

The problem with that theory is can you win games without the elite talent that enable other programs to dominate? On the one hand, failing to bring in top recruits does build a ceiling of sorts on sustained success. Alabama is Alabama because they reload, never rebuild. But to be competitive I argue there is no evidence you need recruiting classes of that caliber.

Baylor’s last two classes were Kingsbury like, borderline top 30 classes. This year they had a legitimate shot to play for a national championship. Kansas State under Snyder built a perennial contender without ever recruiting well, and Iowa State is looking at a similar model.

The truth is while the absolute best recruits are really that good, high school recruiting is a crap-shoot. Arkansas, for instance, had a roster loaded with “talent”. Development and coaching trumps stars next to a signee every single time. Recruiting analysts can never feasibly watch all the talent in the nation, so guys in bigger venues get noticed more and thus evaluated while guys without the attention are assumed to be lesser athletes. Additionally, high school recruits can come in with attitude problems, or just are not prepared to compete against the increased competition leading to busts every single year.

I am not saying Tech wouldn’t love to bring in players with a championship pedigree, but what is more important is getting guys who buy in, work hard, and get better. A program can win with three and four star guys. There are only 3 or 5 players a year who are legitimately college ready in their senior year of high school, so who gets bigger and better once in the program defines success.

I believe that to be a Big 12 contender, Texas Tech needs to maintain top 40 classes. Once you start regularly falling behind that, only the true titans of coaching can win. Guys like Snyder, Saban, or Dabo could find ways to win with teams lacking talent to that degree. If Wells can get into that sweet spot, recruiting will not break the program.

So while it is discouraging most years to not see Texas Tech among the elite recruiting classes, it will never define the program. Winning comes from coaching, effort, and luck. Matt Wells’ first class is good enough to build from, but if he does not win the level of talent will erode to a point that just like Kingsbury, there just is not enough three and four star guys to seriously compete.