Coaches hit recruiting trail

Published 9:39 pm Wednesday, December 6, 2006

The Egg Bowl wasn’t the end of the competition between Mississippi and Mississippi State. It was just the beginning.

Ed Orgeron has been on the road almost daily since the Rebels’ Nov. 25 victory over the Bulldogs, trying to entice some of the best players in the state and nation to Oxford. The same goes for Mississippi State’s Sylvester Croom.

“We came home,” Orgeron said. “Then we had a recruiting weekend.”

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That effort is starting to show dividends.

The Rebels’ recruiting class is ranked 11th out of 119 NCAA Division I teams by and will likely be in the top 20 when releases its rankings Tuesday. The Bulldogs aren’t that high, but are a respectable 26th, according to, and likely will be in the low 30s in the rankings.

Each ranking is based on nonbinding oral commitments made by high school seniors who can’t officially sign until Feb. 7. The scouting services assign a number to each recruit, usually based on a star system. The school with the highest average is ranked No. 1.

Some coaches, like Orgeron, place a lot of merit in the rankings. Ole Miss was a certified top 15 team last season with a ranking as high as 13th according to one service.

Others, like Croom, don’t place too much stock in the rankings and use other criteria in addition.

As the commitments change — and they always do — so do the rankings. But they help coaches and the public keep an eye on the process. It’s college football’s version of the hot-stove league.

It’s early,” Orgeron said of his performance so far. “It only matters where you finish. But those rankings mean something to us. … We’d like to maybe crack the top 10 this year.”

Allen Wallace, national recruiting editor for and publisher of SuperPrep magazine, believes it’s just a matter of time before Orgeron joins the top 10 on a regular basis.

“Ed Orgeron is the best recruiting coach I’ve ever seen,” Wallace said. “He’s relentless and he’s committed and he likes it.”

Wallace remembers walking out of a movie theater to find Orgeron, then Southern Cal’s recruiting coordinator, talking on a cell phone in the lobby.

“I passed him and it was a Friday or Saturday night and he was on the phone with some kid and I decided that makes so much sense,” Wallace said. “That’s Ed.”

Orgeron said he found himself drawn to recruiting while working as a young assistant at Miami and Syracuse.

His mentors were people like Jimmy Johnson and Butch Davis. Over time he put together the pieces of a recruiting program that, when transplanted to sunny Southern Cal, blossomed.

“It’s not only recruiting the recruit,” Orgeron said. “You have to recruit the family, everybody involved, and you have to make them feel like they’re involved in the ownership of where the young man is going to go to school.”

Wallace also believes Mississippi State is making progress. He said any team with a ranking in the top third of major college football is moving in a positive direction.

He said it takes at least three top-end recruiting classes to start turning a program around. If both Ole Miss and Mississippi State continue their current trend from well out of the top 50 in 2004 to consistent top-third teams, Wallace believes success will soon follow.

“You can still recruit some very good people, get to some good bowl games and do some real damage to people,” Wallace said.

Croom said he looks at the scouting service rankings, but uses his own criteria when evaluating players.

“There might be 10 guys somebody else likes and we might like No. 50 better,” Croom said. “We’re going to offer (a scholarship to) No. 50. We might like No. 50 better than No. 1 to fit our offense.”

Other programs have been sniffing around the Bulldogs’ oral commitments this year, Croom said.

Some have been asked to make visits to other schools even after they have decided to play in Starkville.

Of course, if a recruit calls Croom with the news he’s not as solidly committed to Team X as he once thought, the coach isn’t going to end that conversation, either.

It’s all part of the game.

“Recruiting, it’s a jungle out there,” Croom said.