Recruiting: If It's Not Broken, (Don't Fix It) Break It And Make It Better
Let's indulge in a bit of American history for a moment.
During the Cuban Missile crisis, President Kennedy (or RFK depending on whom you believe) referred to reading an obscure book about WWI, The Guns of August, as a turning point in how his administration handled the crisis. Kennedy mentioned one of the premises of the book was that an error combatants in WWI made were fighting a new war and using old forms of wartime etiquette and paradigms.
What's the potential relevance to the tome of the new look Seminole staff? Strategies and terrain change. For Florida State there appears to be a potential change in strategy and terrain moving forward. Why? The three simple digits to consider: 484.
The importance of the number four hundred eighty four isn't an area code for a specific recruit. Nor is it a winning lottery number or the name of pass route in the Seminoles playbook. Its significance is it's the mileage from Tallahassee to Miami. Consider momentarily some other mileage numbers:
a) Distance from Tallahassee to Mobile: 243 Miles
2) Distance from Tallahassee to Atlanta: 273 Miles
d) Distance from Tallahassee to Birmingham: 303 Miles
Many people don't realize Birmingham, Mobile and Atlanta are all closer to FSU's campus than Miami is. And Atlanta and Mobile are just a hair closer than Tampa. Culturally and geographically, Tallahassee is smack dab in the middle in one of the most fertile areas in the country. How fertile? The backbone of recruit classes that made up all last national championship teams since 2006 all come from the territory. Tallahassee and any recruits within five hours outside Leon County, tend to reside right in the heart of SEC territory.
Add to that, members of the Southeastern Conference have intelligently branded themselves as a conference and leveraged that brand into the consciousness of both recruits and the numerous talking heads that discuss college football in mainstream and social media. The chant of "SEC, SEC, SEC" is omnipresent on Saturday afternoons in late fall and a testament on how they've creatively and aggressively marketed that brand. Which also has created an inadvertent side effect: When it comes to recruiting in the south, those without sharp elbows need not to apply.
At first blush, FSU's response is seemingly to double down in the DMV & Carolinas (Sunseri, Graham and Haggins) and add staffers with ties to Tennessee (Graham, Sanders, Pruitt), Alabama (Pruitt, Kelly), Mississippi (Brewster) and Georgia (Kelly, Pruitt) and appears to be an indicator that Florida State is going to run into more recruiting battles with school in the Southeastern Conference in the future. And that changes a bit of the paradigm that most are accustomed to when thinking of Florida schools in the national championship picture in the past.
We know the oft-sited recruiting pitch schools under the SEC brand present to hit Florida State: Going to an ACC school means that you're soft, etc. With a seeming shift of focus, what are the possible FSU counters with its new staff? Here's a small sampling:
#1 You won't get coached up like you would in the SEC...
Take a moment to look at the current Florida State coaching staff. With the exception of Odell Haggins, EVERY coach has some SEC experience. And every NEW member of the coaching staff hired explicitly has a SEC connection or SEC experience. Even the Director of Football Operations (Arkansas) and the Strength and Conditioning Coach (Louisiana State) have experience in the Southeastern Conference. With the exception of the conference affiliation, there isn't anything to distinguish the current Florida State staff and one from a Southeastern Conference school in terms of experience in that league or hypothetically "the SEC level." A potential counter from a new Florida State staffer: "Y'all might hear SEC is better, we've all coached in that league and we're here now and we can tell you, we're better."
#2 SEC competition gets you ready for the NFL because the ACC is soft...
One of the things that make Alabama, Alabama is their consistent ability to churn out draft picks. Based on this past year's NFL draft and the current crop of draft eligible athletes out on the Dunlap practice fields, Florida State is poised to have unprecedented back-to-back NFL Draft Classes. And if you're a quarterback, Fisher's record speaks for itself as a one of the two best coaches in the south in preparing quarterbacks for the NFL.
#3 There ain't nothing like being in an SEC Facilities...
"FSU facilities finally to impressive level." - Phil Savage, observing Florida State fall practice
The idea of working in a small "turf room" is now laughable when compared to the new $15 million Indoor Practice Facility that's been erected on campus. A coach trying to get recruits to buy into the fact that FSU is a team of the present and future now has the facilities to show in comparison. A shift in staff (and to a degree philosophy) means that Florida State will run into more of the heavy hitters nationally in terms of presentation within the region (Alabama, Georgia and Auburn) who are not afraid to spend and all understand how presentation is a part of the recruiting and marketing game.
Ultimately, what's the best counter? Win your league consistently and get into BCS bowl game or National Championship playoff picture. It's what worked for Southern Cal in what was perceived as a weaker conference overall, the Pac 12. Until Florida State does that, perception will persist.
End of the Southern Strategy?
Most reading this submission thus far may be thinking: What about the important south Florida recruiting territories? To win a national championship we have to dominate South Florida. At least, that's the way it's always been. That's how Miami and FSU did in the past - "Are you saying we're not going to recruit south Florida anymore?"
No, no one is suggesting that Florida State needs to neglect South Florida, nor will it ever. It's not an all or nothing approach. Florida State's best national recruiter, Brewster, along with Fisher are now concentrating there to go head to head with the Canes because FSU does need to get its fair share - As long as they are of the upper echelon variety. And it should as there will always be a fan/alumni and recruiting base in South Florida because FSU is one of the two large state schools in Florida and the state capital is in Tallahassee.
But perhaps there is a mindset now that geography dictates that pulling a 4 or 5 star out of Georgia, Tennessee or Alabama (a Telvin Smith, a Jalen Ramsey, or a Jameis Winston) is just as important as pulling a Matthew Thomas out of South Florida. Just as in The Guns of August analogy, the terrain seemingly has changed with more and more teams yearly pulling talent from the sunshine state.
Which begs to question, "What of the state of Florida State's own athletic administration and the recent hire to lead it?" A discussion for tomorrow.