Un-Connon Opinions: It’s time to start worrying about football’s slow recruitment
UCLA football coach Chip Kelly is 1-5 in his first season with the Bruins after bringing in 30 recruits during the last recruiting period. In the current recruiting window, UCLA has only received commitments from eight players. (Liz Ketcham/Assistant Photo editor)
By Sam Connon
Oct. 17, 2018 1:24 a.m.
In Chip Kelly’s first offseason in Westwood, UCLA football reeled in the No. 19 recruiting class in the nation.
Coach Kelly convinced 30 prospects to sign with the Bruins last winter, giving him the largest recruiting class among Power Five programs.
And that tends to be the goal for most first-year coaches – establish your culture and get as many guys that fit your game plan as possible.
Kelly was hired less than one month before the first national signing day, so he did well with the hand he was dealt.
But this year’s recruiting window has not started off on the right foot for UCLA.
The Bruins have received commitments from eight players, good for the second-fewest in the Pac-12. All eight of those prospects are three-stars.
Meanwhile, one of the other first-year coaches in the conference, Arizona State’s Herm Edwards, already has two four-stars and 13 three-stars. Edwards was a head coach in the NFL for eight seasons, and he re-established his image as a personality on ESPN for almost a decade.
But make no mistake – Edwards is no Chip Kelly.
Edwards’ average annual salary is half of Kelly’s. Edwards has no experience coaching in college, and he has never had a coaching stretch at any level that has matched the success of Kelly’s 46-7 run at Oregon.
Arizona State didn’t just spend $75 million on a football-specific training facility, but UCLA did.
Yes, the Bruins are having a rough year. A 1-5 start for any program is bound to hurt a coach’s recruiting pitch.
But not being able to recruit half as well as a program that hasn’t been inside the preseason AP top 10 this century is inexcusable.
UCLA continues to send players to the NFL on a regular basis. Josh Rosen and Kolton Miller went in the first round in the 2018 draft, while Takkarist McKinley was the Falcons’ top choice the year before.
Kelly is an icon. UCLA plays in the Rose Bowl, one of the most historic stadiums in the world. UCLA Athletics has poured money into the coaching staff and the facilities, and the results look great on paper.
But those factors haven’t translated into recruits.
According to 247Sports, UCLA is only targeting two five-star recruits for its 2019 class. And one of them, athlete Bru McCoy, is expected to be out of Kelly’s reach and on his way to USC.
Five-star receiver Kyle Ford is the Bruins’ only hope. UCLA is in his top six schools, but once again, USC is the favorite.
Which leaves Kelly in a similar situation as he was in this past year: With the best of the best gone, it’s time to turn to quantity over quality.
That shouldn’t be an issue for Kelly. He made his name at Oregon by dominating opposing defenses with players who weren’t necessarily superstars coming out of high school. Every now and then, he’d haul in a big-time home run hitter – like he has here in freshman quarterback Dorian Thompson-Robinson – but he would complement them with countless specialist playmakers all over the field.
But with eight recruits and a 2019 class that currently ranks 85th in the country, it’s reasonable to question where exactly those playmakers will come from.
Yes, Kelly has plenty of time left to shape his recruiting class, and obviously his first priority should be what’s happening on the field this season.
But as Kelly learned last year, the new early signing date in December can hurt programs and coaches who typically wait to make a big recruiting push.
The time is now for Kelly to go after his favorite prospects, and for whatever reason, they just haven’t been crawling to him like they used to.