“Personnel evaluation is a very inexact science because of one thing,” Alabama football coach Nick Saban said. “It is very hard to figure out what is in somebody’s head, what kind of passion they have for whatever they do and all that kind of stuff.”
So how does Saban master this difficult task? He talks to the prospect’s high school coaches, people who know the players and the prospects. And these conversations with the player can be very important to whether or not the prospect winds up with a scholarship offer from the coach.
“I had a guy one time that we recruited that everybody was recruiting when I was at Michigan State, and I asked tough questions,” Saban said. “‘What do you think you need to do to become a good player?’ This guy was 40 pounds overweight. The guy sat there and looked at me. He hadn’t figured it out, after we had talked to him all weekend about how he needs to loose forty pounds. So we didn’t recruit the guy. Because if he doesn’t know he doesn’t know, then it is going to be hard for us to convince him he needs to do it.”
When you hear this story, you understand why Saban resented the Saban Rule, which prohibits the head coach from making a visit to schools during the spring evaluation period.
You have something that is an “inexact science” anyway, and the new rule makes it that much harder. But Nick Saban continues to be a relentless recruiter. How does he do it? With a complicated process. What else?
The Recruiting Process
Before a player’s name even reaches Saban’s desk, the player has been vetted by three members of the staff. Each coach on the staff has a two-fold responsibility in recruiting, Saban said. The coach is responsible for recruiting an area or region. This is so the coach can build relationships, which help identify rising football prospects. The second part of the coach’s responsibility is to help evaluate players who could play at the position they coach.
With all these eyes looking at a prospect, you might think this would be the end of evaluation.
Not even close.
“At this point, the prospect gets a grade and he gets categorized,” Saban said. “We put them in tiers.”
How does Saban grade a prospect? Simple. Kind of.
“Their grades consist of size and speed for their position, athletic ability to play their position, character and attitude, and academic criteria,” Saban said.
But wait, there is more to this calculus.
“We have a lettering system to explain if a player has a character issue or academic issue or injuries or size,” Saban said. “Not one of these things can kill you. In other words, you could be a a little short for the criteria we want, but you can overcome it with your ability and your production as a performer and the type of person (you are) and all that type of stuff.”
Need an example about how a prospect can overcome a deficiency?
“We have a scale 1-5 for let’s say linebacker, 6’3″ may be a one, 6’2″ a two, and you go right down the scale, also you have a weight criteria that is on the same scale and then you have a speed criteria that is on the same scale,” Saban said. “So, if we had a 5’11″ linebacker for example and the number one scale was 240 and the running speed was 4.6 and he was 5’11″, 240, 4.6, he is a 5-1-1, which is 7 divided by 3. Because he overcomes his size with great speed and has the weight, he ends up being a guy that is a potential prospect, as long as you go to the position criteria and he ranks very highly, because he has to overcome a deficiency.”
And you thought Saban was done. Not hardly.
To play a specific position, you need specific physical attributes. To explain this, he detailed the things he looks for in defensive back prospects.
For DBs there are three critical factors, according to Saban, you have to be able to tackle, to play the ball in the deep part of the field, and you’ve got to be able to play man-to-man.
But wait, there is more. Saban has a dozen criteria to analyze if someone can do those three things. And these dozen attributes are ranked on that same 1-5 scale.
“And a guy comes out with a player number, then he comes out with a character/attitude number, then you figure out this is the best guy for us to recruit,” Saban said.
But how do you measure the player’s physical attributes? It isn’t like high schools provide accurate information.
NCAA rules restrict much of the evaluation a coaching staff would like to do. But you had to know Saban would have a work-around.
Saban’s attention to detail also helps. He knows how tall each member of the coaching staff is. This allows Saban to make an eyeball evaluation of a player’s size.
And that is just a glimplse at a small portion of Saban’s recruiting process. This how you get a reputation for being one of the best recruiters in football.