Recruiting: Foundation for The Game

By John Brandon on November 29, 2013 at 4:30p

On November 28th, 2011 a new rivalry within the rivalry was born. A coaching rivalry that many hoped would approach a Woody-Bo level. Since Bo Schembechler retired in fact, the coaching battles have been a bit lopsided: Gary Moeller and Lloyd Carr dominated John Cooper, then Jim Tressel dominated Lloyd Carr and Rich Rodriguez. A promising first year from Hoke and the hiring of Urban Meyer set the stage for a possible resurgence of the rivalry, though on the field that doesn't seem to be the case just yet. Since the hiring of Meyer, Ohio State is 23-0, while Michigan is just 15-9 in the last two seasons.

Off the field though it's been a different story. Brady Hoke reeled in the 6th ranked class in 2012, the 4th ranked class in 2013 and currently holds the 11th ranked class for 2014 (according to 247 Composite Rankings). Meanwhile, Urban Meyer landed the 5th ranked class in 2012 (in three months, no less), the 2nd ranked class in 2013 and has the 5th ranked class for 2014, though is likely to finish even higher.

Stylistically, Meyer and Hoke are quite different, but despite these differences both have been very successful. Both coaches know that recruiting is critical for success in the rivalry as well as competing for championships, and have made securing top talent a major priority.

Words like "rockstar" and "all-business" are thrown around when describing Meyer's style, while Hoke is known for promoting a "family atmosphere" in the Michigan program. A lot of us have heard these descriptive phrases thrown around, but may not really know the specifics of how these two men recruit. Meyer's success on the trail is a bit easier to understand - many high school kids are simply mesmerized when they see him, think about his success at Florida and are told that he wants them. Meyer's track record on the field speaks for itself, but Hoke? Not so much. Yet Hoke continues to pull in top five and top 10 rated classes.

I can't count the number of times on this site and on others when I've seen people asking why players want to play for Hoke and why he is having so much success on the trail - even comparable to Urban Meyer. In fairness, Hoke hasn't really accomplished much on the field, but this is Michigan! Doesn't the brand recruit itself?

Well, yes and no. Lloyd Carr won a National Championship* at Michigan, but here are the rankings of his recruiting classes according to Rivals from 2002 to 2007: 16, 17, 8, 6, 13, and 12. While these classes are certainly good, Hoke has been better in his stint at Michigan despite not even winning a division title. Even Rich Rodriguez was a much bigger name than Hoke when he took the Michigan job, and he brought in classes ranked: 8, 8, 20 and 21 in his short time at Michigan. The fact remains, in the BCS era Brady Hoke has been Michigan's best recruiter (albeit in a small sample-size) despite little on-field success and not being an iconic name.

So what is Hoke doing? Well take it from Ben Gedeon, a consensus 4-star and one of the best players in Ohio for the 2013 class. Gedeon shared some details about the recruitment with an 11W source close to the Michigan program. The thing that stood out to Gedeon about Hoke was how down to earth he was. Gedeon said that when Hoke came to visit him, Hoke and Gedeon's dad had a beer together, which Hoke opened with his wedding ring. Gedeon called it "the sweetest thing I've ever seen." He actually went on to say that if Tressel was the coach at Ohio State he would have gone there, but Hoke is the reason he went to Michigan. When asked about Meyer, Gedeon called him "the biggest jerk I've ever met." Now this view obviously isn't shared by all of the recruits the two coaches are fighting for, but the source said that this style of recruiting is very effective with the blue-collar type kids and is a big reason why Hoke has been successful.

Hoke has done better than expected on the trail for Michigan and Urban Meyer is at least one of the top two recruiters in the nation, thus setting the stage for some classic recruiting battles.

The Battles Fought

Things escalated quickly between Meyer and Hoke shortly after Ohio State announced the hiring of their new coach. Bri'onte Dunn was one of the Buckeyes top targets at running back, and Michigan was making a strong push of their own for him.

Dunn was Meyer's first victory at Ohio State

Most felt that the Buckeyes would eventually land Dunn, but the highly touted running back from Canton vistited the Maize Sun and Blue twice in November, and Hoke appeared primed to steal a top running back from the Buckeyes.

Urban Meyer was named head coach on November 28th, 2011 and called Dunn the same day. Shortly after, Dunn announced the Buckeyes were his leaders and committed to them two weeks later. He had barely been announced head coach and Urban Meyer had already set the tone with Brady Hoke.

The 2013 class featured a couple critical battles as the Buckeyes tried to steal a player out of Michigan and the Wolverines tried to sneak one out of Ohio. Actually, both David Dawson (4-star OL) and Gareon Conley (4-star DB) were committed to Michigan at one point before Meyer made every effort to try and flip them to Ohio State.

After committing to Michigan in February 2012, David Dawson picked up a scholarship offer from the Buckeyes in late July and ended up de-committing from Michigan in October. The Buckeyes, along with Michigan State and Florida were right in the thick of things until Brady Hoke and company eventually won out when Dawson picked the Wolverines for good in December.

Gareon Conley, on the other hand, was not going to get away from Meyer. Conley committed to Brady Hoke in March 2012 after taking a visit to Ann Arbor. Meyer and his staff were eventually able to get Conley to de-commit from the Wolverines and flip to the Buckeyes in December.

If 2012 and 2013 were any indication, Hoke and Meyer appeared destined to not only go head-to-head on the field, but on the trail as well. In the 2013 class Ohio State offered 134 prospects and Michigan offered 137. Fifty five prospects were offered by both Urban Meyer and Brady Hoke. Of the 55, eight picked Michigan and seven picked Ohio State. If you account for the fact that one of Michigan's eight (Dymonte Thomas) was committed to Michigan before Meyer even took the Ohio State job, the coaches were an even seven apiece. Now, not all of these commitments resembled the head-to-head battles of Dunn, Dawson or Conley. However, this is a good indicator of the success each coach has had recruiting against each other.

In 2014, the coaches have been statistically even again, with seven of Michigan's commits holding Ohio State offers and seven Buckeye commits holding Wolverine offers. This being said, only a few of them were truly "battles."

Landing Damon Webb has quite possibly been Urban Meyer's biggest victory over Brady Hoke on the recruiting trail.  With Webb, Ohio State secured arguably the best player in Michigan for 2014 and they stole him right out of Michigan's biggest pipeline, Cass Tech. Getting Webb to commit to the Buckeyes would be like if Michigan signed Marshon Lattimore - it was huge.

Kyle Berger was another big victory for the Buckeyes. Berger is a guy that both coaching staffs wanted very badly, and Michigan was confident they were going to snatch him out of Ohio. Landing Berger filled a major need for Ohio State and kept one of Ohio's top players in-state.

On the flip side, Drake Harris was a player that Ohio State really wanted, and Lawrence Marshall was originally a Buckeye commit (albeit for a blink of an eye). Both Harris and Marshall hail from the state up north, and preventing Ohio State from stealing three of the top four players in Michigan was a huge save for Hoke.

While Meyer's recruiting classes have been overall better than Hoke's, the two have been pretty even when they have gone head-to-head for kids. Some may argue that the players Hoke beat Meyer for were better or vice versa, but the fact remains that the coaches have been about dead even when they've gone head to head for players thus far.

Battles to come

For the remainder of the 2014 class, there doesn't appear to be any potential for Meyer and Hoke to go head-to-head on any prospects. Yes, Ohio State may have a small shot at Malik McDowell and Michigan may have a sliver of hope for Marshon Lattimore and Erick Smith, but in reality these players are most likely going to sign with the big boys in their respective states.

Looking ahead to 2015, things could once again get interesting. While Ohio State has started hitting the recruiting trail harder than Michigan for 2015, already giving out 88 scholarship offers compared to 35 by Michigan, the Wolverines have already landed a pair of major commitments of their own.

More so, 2015 could be the year where Hoke and Meyer go head-to-head on more than a few players. Blue-chippers Justin Hilliard (5-star LB from Cincinnati, OH), Mike Weber (4-star RB from Cass Tech, MI), Hjalte Froholdt (4-star DT from Warren, OH), Sterling Jenkins (4-star OT from Pittsburgh, PA) and several others all have Ohio State and Michigan near the top of their lists. Next season will be a defining year for Brady Hoke and company on the field, and it will be a time for the coaching staffs to really go head-to-head off the field. 2015 will be Meyer's third complete recruiting class and Hoke's fourth, with the coaches now fully established it may be the most competitive year yet.

The War

When the teams take the field tomorrow, the rivalry's next generation of players will line the sidelines. Nobody knows exactly what the rivalry will look like in two, five or ten years. Meyer has been dominant on the field and Brady Hoke has been far from it. Meyer is on top of the world and Hoke is on the hot seat. But on the recruiting trail the rivalry is strong and growing stronger. It probably won't look like it tomorrow on the field, but the work being done by these coaches in the recruiting trenches is laying the foundations for a return to competitiveness and national relevance for the rivalry, the way it was in the past and the way it always should be.


Comments Show All Comments

Killer nuts's picture

Seems like a short matter of time before recruits start distinguishing Meyer from Hoke by their ability to develop talent once it arrives on campus

John Brandon's picture

Exactly, recruiting has been pretty close but Meyer has proven the ability to develop talent and Hoke has not 

Buckeye1996's picture

What is up with Gedeon calling Meyer the biggest jerk he'd ever met? Strange.

BKshepherd's picture

When you really want an offer, and you think you deserve it...but it never appears.  That guy is a jerk for not offering......

TexasBuck11's picture

Well, hoke opened a beer with his wedding ring and urban opened it with a championship ring therefore urban = jerk

tdible2132's picture

2015 Will be interesting to see how some battles shape up with Meyer and Hoke.  Although Froholdt was mentioned in the article OSU didn't make his top 3 so I will exclude him, but there should be some interesting new names that pop up as we go along.  
The whole Gedeon thing cracks me up a bit too.  I can see how some would prefer Hoke's methods, but clearly being friends and down to earth with recruits isn't as effective as being business like and a straight shooter.  That has become pretty clear with the on field results this year.  If you want to have success, your coach can't be your buddy all the time.  It's the same way with parenting and being a boss in life.  It's about making these players the best they can be and allowing them to have the brightest future possible.  
Meyer > Hoke.  Even if the recruiting is close.

Buckeye1996's picture

I agree, and with time, I believe Hoke will fade with respect to recruiting. The shininess wears off quickly. Meyer has proven to be both a great recruiter and coach over a long period of time. His whole career in fact.

Hovenaut's picture

Also agree....hard to sustain recruiting success if you're not producing on the field. 
Hoke's s_oke and _irrors act is wearing thin (there's a pun if you want it) up there. 

jkrk's picture

Yes, eventually you realize that the kind of guy who drinks beer with your dad isn't the kind of guy who can turn you into a great football player.

Seattle Linga's picture

You know some of those recruits are regretting their decisions as we speak - I am glad Boren woke up and came over from the DARK SIDE before it was too late.

mtrotb's picture

Mike Weber, RB from Cass Tech will be picking Mich State anyday per one of the Detroit papers I was reading today.


brband64's picture

Please help me, what am I missing here?

...Hoke and Gedeon's dad had a beer together, which Hoke opened with his wedding ring. Gedeon called it "the sweetest thing I've ever seen." 

"Maybe the Big Ten is not that bad. Maybe it's pretty damn good.'' ~ Urban Meyer

buckeye_heart's picture

The kid was impressed when he saw something new. When someone does something out of the ordinary that kids see as "cool" they can't wait to show it off to their friends. It seems Gadeon acquired a new skill and maybe Hoke didn't get that belly from merely eating just doughnuts.

Buckeye1996's picture

LOL. I had to read that sentence twice. That sounds corny as heck. Ring? Sweet? Did Hoke propose over a fine slug of beer? 

bux_booster's picture

Brady's wedding ring
Perhaps Brady's was gold-plated?
Ring Bottle Opener -
UFM's rings don not open anything for a recruit except great futures.

buckeyedude's picture

If Gedeon thinks that is impressive, wait until Hoke opens one with his teeth and then consumes the cap.



toledobuckeyefanjim's picture

Hoke probably chowed down a double burger in one gulp, then washed it down with that beer he opened with his wedding ring. Gedeon must be a real redneck-type to be that impressed with that slob behavior. BTW, he must not have been impressed with Urban's championship rings. Those who go up north will not become champions.

CGroverL's picture

Said PERFECTLY!!!! Besides, Hoke has yet to win almost anything. He has zero conference championships despite supposedly "rebuilding a couple of teams" on his way to AA and his overall head coaching record is remarkably MEDIOCRE at best. Being married to a Florida redneck, I take no offense by your "redneck" comment and really understand you completely... BUT the fact still stands that Hoke (besides his lucky trip to a BCS bowl in his first season in AA that ended up with a win) has done almost nothing impressive with ANY of his recruits and STILL has yet to bring HIS ground powered offense to the table.
Before long, recruits are going to truly believe your words: "Those who go up north will not become champions." GREAT COMMENT!

"I hope they're last in everything". One of Meyer's comments when speaking of TTUN after being hired at Ohio State.



CGroverL's picture

While Hoke is obviously a strong recruiter, I truly believe the _ichigan name combined with their all-time record has more to do with his success than his "beer opening mechanics". I can see defensive recruits wanting to play for Mattison as he may be the best defensive coach in football, college or pro...but what RIGHT NOW, is so appetizing for a top notch football prospect to actually commit to _ichigan over Ohio State? After all, _ichigan is mired in mediocrity in a conference that has been deemed WEAK and _ichigan seems to be getting progressively worse through Hoke's reign there.
With Hoke's head coaching record and having the distinction of winning nothing big after 11 seasons, it is very surprising that he is a strong recruiter... Maybe his visits to families often involve him pulling the tops off of liquor bottles with his wonder bra as he brings half baked weaker recruits to be "so-called" Victors? On top of it all, _ichigan has won just a half of a national title since when???? 1948? Great job there, weasels! Keep up the fantastic work and it was really tight work to grab the worst coach available from OHIO. If it weren't for the state of Ohio, you would have just one Heisman winner and he was from INDIANA. What does _ichigan have that IS good, anyway? Good luck in 11 hours, 4 minutes....You'll need it and a few miracles. Go Buckeyes!!!!

"I hope they're last in everything". One of Meyer's comments when speaking of TTUN after being hired at Ohio State.



aabuckeye's picture

Nicely put. The fact that Hoke's team has gotten worse over the course of the season will probably open a few recruits' eyes and make them think twice before committing to TTUN.
And you're right, Hoke has never won anything, anywhere.

13THandSummit's picture

He would have done it with a championship ring, but...

harleymanjax's picture

It won't matter when Hoke is fired next year.........

"Because I couldn't go for 3"

HolyBuckeye1093's picture

I like the rare picture of Brady Hoke wearing a headset. Probably using it to order take out.

NJ_BUCKEYE's picture

It does look like he is having a tough time deciding what to grab off the dollar menu. 

Homey1970's picture

(C)hoke's next trick to impress the kids...

CGroverL's picture


"I hope they're last in everything". One of Meyer's comments when speaking of TTUN after being hired at Ohio State.



+1 HS
ogama843's picture

This is an animation of Hoke trying to chase UFM to the top... It only ends in disaster for him.

Holy Buckeye!

+1 HS
Iwearmocs's picture

I'm of the opinion that if you consistently reel in top 15 or so classes, you can compete for national titles.  The difference between 1 and say 10 is IMO pretty negligible.  However, Urban has proved he can develop championship level talent, and the jury is still out on Hoke.  scUM has to have a positive season next year, or Hoke might be out of a job.

Jeremy Birmingham's picture

Someone close to the situations (re: coaching staffs at Ohio State and Michigan) once described the difference between the two in this way:

"Michigan's staff is very down-to-earth, very 'cuddly.' They're the fat, drunk and happy uncle and it's easy to like them. (Ohio State's) staff? (They) don't really care if you like them, because they know what they're doing is going to work. They can be mean (expletive.)"

Hovenaut's picture

I'_ a fan of both schools' respective recruiting strategies then....and how they are translating onto the field.

MN Buckeye's picture

While Urban seems to be 'all business', it is also clear that he takes care of his players. I have not heard anyone describe UFM as a guy to kick back and share a beer and have casual conversation, but I think that he and the staff develop their own sense of family, one that is focused and speaks the truth.

Coach Rich's picture

This isn't exactly the way it always should be.  Maybe it's because I'm extra fired up because The Game is close at hand.  Maybe it's because I was never recruited to play football for a big time school so I don't understand.  Regardless, it never fails to rub me the wrong way or put me in a bad mood when I hear of an Ohio kid going to that team up north.
As far as I'm concerned, they're traitors!  I make exceptions for kids who weren't offered scholarships to OSU.  I also realize that no one college or football team is for every student/player.  So if a young man doesn't want to play for OSU for whatever reason, fine.  Go play for Alabama, Oklahoma, USC, Oregon, LSU, Florida, Miami, Florida St., Texas.  Hell, even play for Notre Dame or Penn State!  GO PLAY ANYWHERE EXCEPT FOR THAT TEAM UP NORTH! 
We need to start a culture around here where OUR boys are taught at an early age that playing for that team up north is never an option.  Doing so makes you a traitor to your state and community.  Just like the story Chris Speilman recalls when telling the story of how he was almost recruited to that school up north.  Then his father told him he'd disown him if he went there.
And as we all know, when you take OUR players and coaches away from that team up north, they don't have much. 

-2 HS