While the college football world has been largely quiet the past few weeks, behind the scenes, most coaches have been busy crisscrossing the country, working the phones and frantically writing letters and cards in an effort to woo the nation's top high-school recruits. Following an NCAA-mandated "dead period" the rest of this month, they'll be back at it most of January, culminating with national signing day Feb. 1, when official letters-of-intent start rolling off the fax machine.
For many, recruiting is a necessary evil, a seemingly endless nuisance in which the future of a program hangs on the whims of often immature teenagers. The coaches that do it best, however -- the ones who get their man more often than not -- are the ones who truly enjoy it. They have the ability to not only evaluate talent, but also foster relationships with prospects, sweet-talk family members and shine as salesmen.
After consulting with numerous insiders who follow the process closely, SI.com has identified the 10 best recruiters in college football today:
Eric Bieniemy, running backs coach/recruiting coordinator, UCLA: The former Colorado star and Los Angeles native has significantly boosted the Bruins' efforts in inner-city L.A. since bolting Colorado in 2003 (not coincidentally, the Buffs' SoCal pipeline has dissipated since his departure). Bieniemy was largely responsible for landing star tailback Maurice Drew at UCLA and current Wisconsin standout Brian Calhoun (formerly of Colorado).
Tom Bradley, defensive coordinator, Penn State: Joe Paterno's chief Western Pennsylvania recruiter for more than 25 years, the list of All-Americas Bradley has landed stretches from Shane Conlan to O.J. McDuffie, LaVarArrington and Brandon Short to Paul Posluszny. One of last year's gems, cornerback Justin King, cited Bradley's persistence -- including 30 hand-written letters in one day -- in his decision to come to Happy Valley.
Mack Brown, head coach, Texas: The Longhorns have been a recruiting juggernaut since Brown's arrival in 1998, twice landing consensus No. 1 classes (1999 and 2002). His 2006 class could finish as high as No. 2. Taking advantage of a rich talent pool in Texas, Brown and his staff often land their top targets early and build momentum from those announcements. While assistants have come and gone, Brown, a personable, father-figure type, has been the constant.
Pete Carroll, head coach, USC: Even before the Trojans were competing annually for national championships, Carroll took the recruiting world by storm, turning long-dormant program into the hip destination for elite prospects. His passion for recruiting, infectious personality and NFL background score major points with today's players, as does his track record of playing true freshmen, including Shaun Cody, Mike Williams and Reggie Bush, in significant roles.