Ed. Note: Welcome to Opinion Week, your go-to source for five days of only the hottest and most intense Georgia Tech and college football takes as we count down from the century mark to the start of football season. Though we love sharing our own opinions, we also welcome your dissent or support in the comment section below. Enjoy!
Year after year, watching the NFL Draft provides a resounding testament to the sheer volume of football talent that comes from the state of Georgia. The 2017 Draft alone saw the Peach State run away with the crown for most players selected, as 27 Georgians heard their names called by professional teams after wildly successful college careers.
Wildly successful college careers outside of Georgia, that is. Of those 27 players selected, just one decided to play for one of the two biggest schools in his home state: Georgia Tech’s Harrison Butker, originally of Decatur. Was this an aberration? Perhaps, but the fact is that it’s a microcosm of a much larger issue: Georgia has become a rich poaching ground for major football factories, and neither Georgia Tech nor UGA has been successful at protecting blue chip recruits within the state.
Paul Johnson has created a consistent program. What’s the issue?
Only three states — Texas, Florida, and California — have churned out blue chip recruits at a higher rate than Georgia since 2013. Over that time, Tech’s home state has been responsible for 8.5% of all four- and five-star recruits in the entire country. That’s a total of 141 players over a five-year period, more than the bottom 30 states combined. That should be an incredibly exciting statistic for Georgia Tech supporters, but it instead stands as a strong indictment on the recruiting done by head coach Paul Johnson and his staff. Of those 141 blue chip players, Georgia Tech has pulled in exactly one — offensive lineman Shamire Devine, a four-star prospect from Tri-Cities back in 2013. That is a pitiful number, especially when you consider all that Tech has to offer for in-state students: proximity to home, football tradition, academics, recent on-field success, and plenty of other factors.
Home-state schools are supposed to have an advantage over the opposition when it comes to retaining in-state talent, but we’ve seen the exact opposite phenomenon since Paul Johnson took over the reigns back in 2008. Johnson’s recruiting style has always placed a strong focus on finding overlooked talent and making the most of it, and he has created an incredibly consistent program with that foundation. The simple truth, however, is that the country’s most successful programs all bring in blue chip recruits at an incredibly high rate — many of which come from within their home states. It’s what allowed Jimbo Fisher’s Seminoles to rise to national prominence and permitted the building of a true powerhouse by at Ohio State by Urban Meyer, but Georgia Tech has been suspiciously incapable of capitalizing on homegrown talent. Is the expectation that Tech recruit on the same scale as either of those two examples? Of course not, but it isn’t unreasonable to expect for an ACC school to be able to bring in more than one four-star recruit from its own state over a four-year period.
Who or what is to blame for in-state recruiting woes?
Recruiting rankings have been proven to matter, and there’s no way around it. The best teams get the best players because the best players want to play for the best teams — it really is that simple. Georgia Tech has been a consistent winner, but the top-quality players still haven’t come. It points to a fundamental issue with the way that Paul Johnson is selling his program and calls into question the tactics used by himself and his staff when visiting potential players. Perhaps it’s a cultural disconnect between Newland, North Carolina-born Johnson and metro Atlanta’s top talent or something else entirely, but it truly seems that he has been unable to leverage everything Tech has going for it while speaking with top-tier recruits.
There is plenty working against Paul Johnson when it comes to recruiting. He has always been incredibly open about the challenges that face him as the head coach at Georgia Tech, with everything from negative recruiting to a small staff size and subpar facilities working against him. Unfortunately, one can’t absolve the head coach of all blame when it comes to failing to secure commitments from the best talent in his own state. From an outsider’s perspective, Johnson seems to have a slight unwillingness to adapt to the current recruiting landscape. Other coaches are more visible on the recruiting trail, more active on social media, and more willing to accept new practices such as satellite camps that Johnson has largely rejected.
Satellite camps in particular may play a larger role in the in-state recruiting issues. Having the likes of Jim Harbaugh and others come to town hardly helps Tech’s case, especially when it comes to keeping local talent. Short of placing a giant bubble around Atlanta, there’s nothing that can be done to stop Nick Saban’s helicopter from landing at any given high school and leaving a tremendous impression on everyone that sees it. It’s a natural disadvantage that Tech has due to a smaller budget, but it doesn’t feel like much has been done to circumvent such issues.
What can be done to make Georgia Tech a more attractive option for Georgia’s blue chips?
Start early. Though this is much easier in basketball thanks to the prominence of independent youth leagues, an effort needs to be made to make Georgia Tech a household name within the city of Atlanta. People around the country grow up dreaming of playing for their local school, but that just hasn’t been the case in metro Atlanta. The way to go is to make everyone a fan — free tickets, school visits, whatever it takes to make the school a place that people grow up wanting to go to.
Be more visible. It’s hard to go a day without hearing about hearing the latest and greatest Kirby Smart endeavor or initiative, but things are always quiet on the Paul Johnson front. Much of that is because the media grants more coverage to the teams that more people care about (UGA, in this case), but it couldn’t hurt for the Tech coaching staff to be more vocal. There’s also the fact that most of the Paul Johnson quotes that hit the local news are overwhelmingly negative — something that we all appreciate for the most part, but it does come off as whiny or annoying to casual onlookers.
Continue to reinvent the Georgia Tech brand. New athletic director Todd Stansbury has shown a renewed commitment to alleviating the perceived disadvantages that Tech faces while recruiting in order to help Georgia Tech become a more attractive destination for the state’s top players. Russell Athletic seems to be on the way out (mercifully), which will have a bigger impact on recruiting than most can fathom. The recent billboard campaign has been cool, but it’s clear that they are aimed at ticket sales rather than recruiting based on location. It’s all about name recognition, something that Georgia Tech really doesn’t have outside of the academic community.
Embrace the culture of Atlanta. I don’t care how much it would cost to have Migos wearing Georgia Tech gear in their next music video, just make it happen. Some way, somehow, make Georgia Tech the team of choice for Atlanta’s music scene. Yes, it would matter. Also, no more “Tribute to Math” halftime shows. Looking at you, marching band. When that’s all done, go to Calvin Johnson and buy him out of retirement so that he can go around and blow recruits’ minds before the name recognition starts to wear off. These are my demands.
Paul Johnson has done an excellent job at Georgia Tech and his recruiting classes have been trending in the right direction lately. However, it is not unreasonable to expect the head coach of a consistent and successful ACC school to be able to pull in more than one blue chip player from his own state over the course of five seasons -- particularly when his state has one of the richest football cultures in the nation. It is quickly becoming commonplace for Georgia’s top athletes to leave home in favor of greener pastures, but it doesn’t seem like much is being done to ease the bleeding. This isn’t to say that Tech hasn’t performed well over the past few seasons, but rather that the program’s true ceiling cannot and will not be reached until the staff can effectively protect and recruit its own backyard. We’ve felt it so far in the form of depleted depth and lack of talent at key positions and will continue to feel it more in the future as rivals like Clemson take talent from the Atlanta area and use it to their own advantage. Paws off, Dabo.
Days to Kickoff: 98