The Nick Saban plan has many followers

The Alabama coach's recruiting system works and his former assistants are using it, too

Originally Published: April 21, 2011
By Jamie Newberg | ESPN Recruiting

Recruiting is far from a science, but Alabama coach Nick Saban just seems to have a method that works.

Saban's extremely disciplined and thorough approach worked at LSU, where he won a national championship, and is working for the Crimson Tide, which has had top-three recruiting classes since 2008 and won the national championship in 2010. However, maybe even more telling is the fact that coaches who have worked under and learned from Saban, such as Kevin Steele at Clemson, Derek Dooley at Tennessee, Will Muschamp at Florida and Jimbo Fisher at Florida State, are using his method and having success.

"I base everything off what I did with Nick [Saban]," Muschamp said. "We really identify the critical factors of each position. We are looking for size and speed on film, character and work ethic. All of these intangibles are part of the evaluation process for each position. We know exactly what we want to fit into our scheme in that mold."

Gran It's as thorough as it gets. And it never ends. You go back, you go back again and then you go back again. It's the area coach, position coach, coordinator and head coach all watching, evaluating and scrutinizing everything. It's more thorough than ever before. ... To be honest, recruiting is more like the NFL because it has been so intensive. We are pretty darn thorough.

-- FSU running backs coach Eddie Gran.

The Tigers had their best class in quite a while. Dooley and his Vols continue to replenish their roster with great success on the recruiting front. Muschamp is off to a terrific start with his 2012 class, while Fisher has Florida State recruiting like the Seminoles of the 1990s.

Call it the Nick Saban doctrine of recruiting. It is meticulous, methodical and relentless in every single aspect of the recruiting process.

"Saban's model is based on what I would call a series of critical factors," said ESPN's national director of football recruiting, Tom Luginbill. "Those factors are some traits like athletic ability and a player's personality. They measure their conduct [off the field] as well. It's a whole set of parameters position by position when they recruit. It's very similar to the [Bill] Belichick mold of fitting guys into spots or positions that work best for them."

Belichick, Bill Parcells and other player pro directors all influenced Saban and his recruiting approach. It's a five-phase process that first begins with identifying needs of your current personnel based on attrition two to three years down the line out of a five-year player cycle.

Second, Saban sets a standard at each position, identifying key characteristics within each position with the offensive and defensive systems that he runs. Each prospect who is recruited, depending on the position, has to meet certain measurables (height, weight, speed, etc.), among other criteria. Rarely will Saban deviate.

"They take some heat publicly because there could be a big-time guy that may not meet their critical factors," Luginbill said. "It doesn't mean he's not a great player. It just means he's not the right fit for Alabama. You know if Alabama takes a corner under 5-foot-11 he better be so good in the other critical areas he meets because of how they run their scheme. They would have to be so convinced. There are undersized linebackers that can run all around college football. They can be great players and big recruits but they may not meet Alabama's height, weight standard for the position."

Thirdly, he watches the tape and identifies the standards of that particular recruit and the position he plays.

Next, the real evaluation process begins with the new recruits. Names of prospects are put into a system and lots of tape is evaluated. The area coach gets first look, then it's passed on to the position coach, then to the coordinator and finally to the head coach.

The fifth and final phase is a nonstop 12-month cycle of looking at the recruiting board and talking about all the player's critical factors. Some of those factors include size, speed, character and academics, but other things are brought into consideration as well. Have they been on campus? Do they have a connection to Alabama or has a family member attended the school?

Over the course of a recruiting cycle, the staff will meet roughly four times a week between the months of February and August and a few times a week for the duration to discuss the recruiting board. It's fluid and there's always movement of recruits depending on information uncovered -- positive or negative. Movement on the board can also be impacted based on what happens with players already on the team, including injuries or late bloomers, etc. It varies day to day and meeting to meeting.

"I call it the relentless pursuit of information and communication on that board," said Steele, who served as Saban's defensive coordinator at Alabama for two years before moving on to Clemson. "The truth of the matter is that I have seen it work and I am completely sold."

Last season, Florida State finished with the top recruiting class in the nation, edging out -- wait for it -- Alabama. Fisher learned firsthand from Saban during their time in Baton Rouge and you can bet that the FSU model of recruiting is closely related to how they do things in Tuscaloosa.

"It's as thorough as it gets," said Florida State running backs coach Eddie Gran. "And it never ends. You go back, you go back again and then you go back again. It's the area coach, position coach, coordinator and head coach all watching, evaluating and scrutinizing everything. It's more thorough than ever before. You also have to find out what's important to each recruit. What about their character? Are they a student in the classroom? Are they a student of the game? Do they love football or just like to wear the uniform? To be honest, recruiting is more like the NFL because it has been so intensive. We are pretty darn thorough."

Dabo Swinney took over the Clemson program in 2009, and one of the first things he did was apply the same recruiting philosophies as the Crimson Tide.

"Day 1 under Coach Swinney is when it changed," Steele said. "It's all about decisions based on documented information. When a recruit comes to campus every coach on our staff knows everything about that prospect because we have discussed them so much in our meetings and we have evaluated them. Last season, when WR Charone Peake came on campus, I guarantee you I knew everything about him and I'm a defensive guy. That's just how it works."

Going to 'The Opening'
Nike will have a new event this summer in July called "The Opening," which will have 150 recruits selected from their spring/summer Nike Football Training Camps. Wednesday, running back Mike Davis (Stephenson, Ga./Stone Mountain) was invited. He will be one of 12 running backs who will attend. Davis, an ESPNU watch list member, has committed to the Gators.

Noles lead for Georgia LB
Ukeme Eligwe (Stone Mountain, Ga./Stone Mountain) is one of the South's best linebacker recruits. He was impressive at the Athens Nike Camp on Friday. He said after the event that Florida State was his leader. In fact, Eligwe made it sound like FSU was the overwhelming favorite at this point. The Seminoles have landed their share of linebacker talent the past few seasons, such as Arrington Jenkins, Christian Jones, Jeff Luc and potentially James Wilder, and Eligwe could be another one headed to Tallahassee.

Speaking of the Nike camp …
One of the most impressive wide receivers there was Cory Batey (Nashville, Tenn./Ensworth). Last weekend, Batey had no scholarship offers. Since Monday, Kentucky and Vanderbilt have offered him.

Cards lose DL
Defensive end Tyrone Pearson (Louisville, Ky./Seneca) suddenly left his high school and withdrew his commitment to the Louisville Cardinals. It looks as if he's headed to the Hoosier State and will finish out his high school career in Indiana.

"All I can say is that he's no longer here at this high school," said Louis Dover, Seneca's football coach. "And as far as I know he's no longer committed to Louisville. I think that was a mutual thing. That's all I want to comment on."

Jamie Newberg has been covering recruiting in the Southeast and nationally for 19 years. He can be reached at jamienewbergbw@yahoo.com.