One of Brady Hoke's recruiting targets also happened to be on Rich Rodriguez’s wish list -- four-star Encino (Calif.) Crespi Carmelite wide receiver, Devin Lucien. (Scout.com)
When news broke Tuesday that Michigan had named Brady Hoke the 19th head coach in the history of its storied football program, many fans' disillusionment with the search process was palpable.
Hoke admittedly wasn't as hot a name as other candidates, but Michigan athletic director Dave Brandon made the proverbial substance-over-style pick. Inspection of that "substance" has focused mostly on the turnaround effort at Ball State (5-8 in 2003 to 12-1 in 2008), and the recent turnaround at San Diego State (4-8 in 2009 to 9-4 and the first bowl game in 12 years in 2010).
That said, one could just as easily cite Hoke's recruiting track record as one of his most appealing attributes.
Such superlatives might sound like hyperbole, but Hoke's recruiting acumen merits it. Unquestionably one of Lloyd Carr's top talent procurers during his time as an assistant, Hoke had a penchant for beating out western powers for big-time talent.
The former Michigan defensive line coach had a hand in recruiting Tom Brady. He headed up the Wolverines' courtship of highly regarded players like Justin Fargas, Larry Stevens and Leon Hall.
But it wasn't until he left Ann Arbor for Ball State, and later San Diego State, that his recruiting ability was fully realized.
Unable any longer to buttress his recruiting pitch with Michigan's great resources, his knack for connecting with kids had to carry the entire load. Ball State alum and Foxsports.com columnist Jason Whitlock watched Hoke closely during his time in Muncie, and sums up his recruiting prowess in two words:
"Lights out," said Whitlock. "(Recruiting is) probably his greatest strength. People love this guy. There is just something so real about the dude that you believe in him. He makes you believe in yourself.
"He is a fantastic recruiter. He has done a marvelous job out on California; now he is coming home (to Michigan). He can recruit the Midwest. He can go down to Florida and get talent. He can go out to California and get talent. The guy's an amazing recruiter."
Whitlock doesn't hide his close friendship with Hoke and admits to having a hand in getting him hired at Ball State. To some that mitigates the outspoken columnist's objectivity on the topic. However, the same can't be said of a far more impartial observer.
Scout.com West Coast regional manager Brandon Huffman echoes Whitlock's sentiments after observing Hoke substantially improve San Diego State's recruiting profile in just two years.
"(San Diego County) is a county that has produced Ricky Williams, Reggie Bush, Marcus Allen and Terrelle Davis," Huffman said. "San Diego State's best football player ever (Marshall Faulk) was from Louisiana. There are all these great players coming from San Diego that never went there.
"(Hoke) comes in and in his first full recruiting class he signed about six guys out of Oceanside High School, which is the best program in San Diego. A lot of these guys had offers from Pac-10 schools. He got them all to turn those schools down. Some were commits to those Pac-10 schools and he got them all to stay together and that was huge."
Assistants usually do most of the recruiting legwork and are the primary relationship builders. Hoke approached the process much differently.
"Hoke, unlike most head coaches, took on recruiting as a challenge," Huffman said. "He wanted to do the recruiting. I think it was crucial, especially at a school that needs to have somebody aggressive in trying to sell the program. He did a fantastic job of going to every single high school in San Diego County and being a presence there. He was relating well to the players, he was relating well to the coaches, and did a good job of being visible. He was identifying these (recruits) earlier on.
"Yes, he did lose a lot of kids from San Diego to the big schools, but you expect that to happen when you have got Cal, USC and UCLA recruiting there. It used to be that San Diego State would not even bother with these kids."
Back to Ann Arbor
At Michigan, not only will Hoke bother with such prospects, expect him to land his fair share. His skills will quickly be put to the test during what is left of the 2011 recruiting season.
With no recruits scheduled to visit Ann Arbor this weekend, the Wolverines have only two official visit weekends before signing day. Under that time crunch, Hoke's first order of business is locking down the commitments already in the class. He insisted that process would begin in earnest shortly after his introductory press conference Wednesday.
"I will be on the phone as soon as we get done with everything we are doing today to the guys who have that love and affinity for Michigan," said Hoke.
Fortunately for him, most of those young men won't require much convincing. At the same time, there are a few that are looking for assurances before any remaining uncertainty about their Michigan futures is removed.
"My first question is, what is your philosophy," asked the father of Army All American cornerback Blake Countess. "How do you plan on getting this thing going (at Michigan)? It just seems like you are going to have a whole lot to deal with coming from all different angles, including the media and the Michigan alumni. How you are going to address that and the current players you have? Do they fit your mold? Does my 5-10 (defensive back) fit your mold?"
Tampa (Fla.) Plant offensive lineman Tony Posada has similar concerns.
"I really can't say for sure, but I'm a Wolverine, I'm still committed, and I'm looking forward to coming up there," the three-star lineman said. "The one main question is to ask him, if I wasn't already committed to Michigan would I be a guy he would recruit to his own football team?"
If Hoke can impress upon the aforementioned youngsters they are definitely still wanted in Ann Arbor, odds are they will be. The same can be said for three-star West Hill (Calif.) Chaminade College Prep kicker Matt Goudis, four-star Traverse City West lineman Jake Fisher and four-star Houston St. Pius linebacker Kellen Jones. All three have set up visits to other schools but also insist those are contingency plans. Michigan will most likely hold on to them as well.
The more difficult task will be filling out the remainder of the class.
Targets for the former staff like Chris Bryant and Hakeem Flowers remain viable options. There is also still a decent chance that Michigan will land Auburn commitment Kris Frost. After that, Michigan's target list will likely consist of prospects with whom Hoke has prior relationships. One such prospect also happened to be on Rich Rodriguez's wish list -- four-star Encino (Calif.) Crespi Carmelite wide receiver, Devin Lucien.
"One of his first offers was from San Diego State," said Huffman of Lucien. "He has already got that relationship with the San Diego State coaches. He already knew about the program. Now you take in a familiar face (at Michigan) -- he knows the coaches like him from before. He's not fighting an uphill battle where he was never on these new coaches' recruiting boards, which a lot of times happens when a new coaching staff comes in.
"Also, now maybe Michigan gets in on a D-tackle like Christian Heyward, who is a four-star kid that has got offers all over and had San Diego State in his final three with Oregon and USC. Maybe he now looks at Michigan because he is a D-lineman and Hoke is a D-line guy. Maybe Michigan becomes an attractive option for him in these last couple of weeks to try and swoop in on him.
"Maybe now (four-star defensive tackle) Mustafa Jalil, who is committed to Cal and committed to San Diego State earlier in the process, looks at Michigan a little bit more closely. Lucien would be the most prominent name, but keep an eye on the others. Then there are guys in the next class that they were already starting to make inroads with that Hoke's hiring could go a long ways with up and down the coast.
"I think he really pays off with the classes down the line."
History suggests that's a pretty safe bet.
Sam Webb is managing editor of GoBlueWolverine.com and co-host of the "Michigan Insider" morning show weekdays on Sports Talk 1050 WTKA