Devils hunting for turf
By Bob Moran, Tribune
The most significant game plan Arizona State's Dirk Koetter needs to develop is figuring out a strategy for finding, signing and developing Pac-10 quality football players.
Otherwise, his tenure won't be any more as successful or as long as his predecessors.
For all the complaints about the defensive scheme, use of personnel, play-calling, etc., the bottom line on the consistently inconsistent years at ASU is talent. Or lack of it.
And with USC now clearly back as the beast of the Pac-10, the talent issue becomes even more significant for ASU.
No coach can be a "genius" unless he's got good players.
ASU's recruiting has been uneven since the early years of the Pac-10, which has resulted in a 97-86-1 record since 1987. In eight of those 16 years, there was six-win mediocrity.
Legendary coach Frank Kush perpetuated the belief ASU could stand toe to toe with USC in recruiting by landing the California players of the year (Willie Gittens, Mike Richardson) back to back as part of powerhouse classes in the first two years in the Pac-10.
Darryl Rogers, Kush's successor, had his moments, too, recruiting the players that John Cooper coached to ASU's first Rose Bowl in the 1986 season. Rogers' 1982 group included Los Angeles City Player of the Year linebacker Greg Battle, linebacker Scott Stephen, tight end Stein Koss, defensive lineman Jimmy Reynosa, running back Paul Day, defensive end Frank Rudolph and a quarterback named Jeff Van Raaphorst.
But that was 20 years ago, and the landscape has changed dramatically since.
Higher academic standards instituted by the NCAA, the Pac-10 and an ASU administration determined to build a university that would get national acclaim for academics and not just the football team meant many of the players Kush and Rogers signed could no longer be admitted.
That in essence took away one of ASU's recruiting edges.
Another ASU recruiting advantage — the program's reputation for churning out NFL players — were significantly lessened when the scholarship limitations provided opportunities for teams in the Midwest and Northeast to become successful. Why travel West when you can stay home and go to bowls and be seen on TV playing for Boston College
, Syracuse, Pittsburgh, West Virginia, Wisconsin and Illinois?
ASU was ahead of the Pac-10 in facilities during the Kush-Rogers days, but every ASU fan knows that's no longer true. Even the splendid new football locker room has been checkmated by a $3.2 million Taj Mahal at Oregon. And there's just so much that can be done with a weight room, lifting being a task many players don't enjoy in the first place.
Given the changes in recruiting over the past 20 years, Koetter needs to map out a successful recruiting niche for his program that will have some life at ASU after he leaves (meaning the players will have a great experience at ASU win or lose), something Bruce Snyder failed to do during his nine years.
Koetter has paid for Snyder's uneven recruiting with two losing seasons in three years, but his fate will be the same as Snyder's if he doesn't find places where ASU can consistently get good players.
Not only that, Koetter needs to re-examine the kinds of players he's bringing in.
Recent seasons have shown ASU has not recruited enough of what can be termed "football athletes." ASU has been unable to make in-season position changes to bolster an injury-depleted or non-performing area because the roster is devoid of players who have the athleticism, intelligence and football savvy to be productive at more than one position.
Last year Pete Carroll needed to shore up his defensive line, so late in the season he moved Tucson senior tight end Doyal Butler, who was buried on the depth chart, to defensive end. Butler played four games at defensive end, starting one, and participated in two sacks.
And what ASU fan can forget the versatility of Kansas State's Terrence Newman, a great cornerback, receiver and kick returner? Sometimes you recruit athletes and make football players out of them. Oregon's leading rusher this season, Terrance Whitehead, was recruited to play safety or outside linebacker.
Koetter may have to borrow some of the Washington State recruiting game plan.
Former Cougars coach Mike Price used the outline of taking high school fullbacks with good speed and making them linebackers, taking tall high school linebackers with speed and an attitude and making them defensive ends and taking rangy high school defensive ends and making them defensive tackles. Next year Washington State is counting on redshirt freshman Mkristo Bruce, who played quarterback and linebacker in high school at 6-foot-5, to be a starting defensive end.
WHERE'S ASU'S TURF?
The turnover in coaching staffs since Kush-Rogers has killed much of the continuity in recruiting. Cooper and successor Larry Marmie
got ASU into places like Oklahoma (Eddie Grant), Kansas (Brett Wallerstedt) and Virginia (Vic Cahoon), but those connections dried up upon their departures.
All of Kush's ties to Pennsylvania and the northeast are gone. Rogers' contacts in the Midwest from his coaching days at Michigan State are gone.
So just where is ASU established outside of Arizona? Everybody — including SEC, Big Ten, Big East and Big 12 schools — is successfully recruiting the Los Angeles and San Francisco areas. It's even more incumbent upon Koetter to find new reliable recruiting areas.
When coach Rich Brooks was building his program at Oregon, he discovered one year that it costs just as much to fly to Denver as it does to San Francisco. So without needing to spend more money, the Ducks ventured into Colorado.
That investment paid off with two of the greatest players in school history, quarterback Bill Musgrave of Grand Junction and cornerback Alex Molden of Colorado Springs.
Washington State supplements its state and California recruiting with finds from Montana and Idaho. Additionally because TV stations in Spokane are beamed into Edmonton, Alberta, the Cougars are the popular choice of Canadian football players. WSU currently has two defensive linemen from Canada.
Arizona has established a beachhead in Texas — 20 players on its roster — that new coach Mike Stoops will certainly cultivate.
Koetter has mentioned ASU becoming more of a factor in Texas, recruiting Hawaii and the southeast. Snyder's last staff tried to get back into Chicago. "We want to be a little more national," Koetter said when asked about changes.
ASU is also having the position coaches recruit interested prospects instead of the assistant assigned to the high school, "to build up relationships," the coach explained.
ASU will also attempt to be more selective.
"We have to continually restate the fact that we have to recruit guys that want to play football for all the right reasons," Koetter said. "It's become clearer than ever that if a guy doesn't want that combination of academics, football and citizenship. . . You take a number of guys each year that you know have a risk factor. Most of the guys we've taken a risk on haven't panned out. We have to really focus on taking as few risks as possible."
All that will mean little until ASU develops recruiting zones that can truly be called Sun Devils turf.