With apologies to Peyton Manning and his business partners, better ingredients do not guarantee a better pizza. You need a pretty good cook, too.
All of us who’ve set foot in the kitchen know that there have been times when you were missing ingredients, forced to improvise and were still able to produce something everyone liked to eat. On the other hand, who hasn’t purchased a prime cut of steak and then burned it?
The same idea applies in team sports. As the Denver Broncos proved, having the best roster of players is not enough. It’s what you do with that talent you have; it how you make the whole even better than the sum of the parts that determines champions.
Which brings us to college sports – college football in particular – and the frenzy that’s created by the first Wednesday in February. It’s almost funny now how wrapped up we all get (yours truly included) in National Letter of Intent Day for college football, the day that programs stock their rosters with new, raw, completely unproven and yet exciting high school (and sometimes junior college) talent. We produce multiple “rankings” based on arbitrary “star” systems and even crown paper champions. Every coach boasts that his program signed a great class and their future is golden. Yet a ball is never snapped.
While there is truth to the mantra that “recruiting is the life blood of college football,” it’s even more important that the right cook is on hand to create a winning recipe after these “ingredients” have been brought in. Otherwise, you simply have a collection of nice talent, not a championship team.
Some coaches get it.
“In the end, it’s not about the stars next to their name,” said new Colorado State head coach Mike Bobo during his first Letter of Intent media briefing in Fort Collins. “It’s about what’s inside them. How much want-to they have. It’s about development.”
Which is why recruiting is only half the battle, and why ultimate success in the sport has absolutely nothing to do with geography. Regardless of whether a program is located in Los Angeles or Manhattan (Kansas), Boise or Gainesville, having the right coach and the necessary resources are even more important than your recruiting ranking.
The No. 1 element in big-time college football success is resources: Top-of-the-line facilities, big-dollar donors and great fan support. If you don’t have these elements, you won’t get a top of the line coach which means you won’t get top of the line recruits.
The places that truly care understand all this, which is why Michigan will break the bank for Jim Harbaugh. They have the resources in Ann Arbor – they were just missing the right coach. And if you have the coach, but not the resources? You probably won’t hold on to him long. Urban Meyer coached Utah – then a member of the Mountain West conference – to an unbeaten season and a Fiesta Bowl win in 2004. The Utes were not considered for a place in the national title game. But when Meyer jumped to resource-rich Florida, he coached the Gators to two national titles. He just won his third at Ohio State, and is there any doubt that if Meyer moved to Penn State or Texas or any other traditional power that he wouldn’t be challenging for more national titles?
It starts with having the right man in charge. Great coaches win. Great coaches with resources win championships.
All of which makes the signing day hoopla all that more humorous. It’s fun to follow and it’s great TV, but it’s not a true indicator of what’s in store when we reach the opening kickoff. Only the coaches that can take these ingredients and develop them with a recipe for success will taste a championship.