I've been covering college football recruiting for 31 years and nobody does it better than USC's Pete Carroll. He heads my list of the top 10 recruiters in the head coaching fraternity, which includes Illinois' Ron Zook and Notre Dame's Charlie Weis.
Carroll has great charisma. He doesn't have great facilities to show to recruits and the USC camps is located in Watts, not Beverly Hills. But USC has more talent than a few NFL teams. His third-string players are better than many first-stringers on other Pac-10 teams. Success breeds success and USC, located in one of the richest of all breeding grounds for high school talent, keeps reloading every year.
Here are the other leading recruiters, listed alphabetically:
Tommy Bowden, Clemson: He has learned a lot from his father Bobby, who built a great program at Florida State and was one of the great recruiters of the past. He has done an exceptional job of recruiting out-of-state. An underrated recruiters, he has done an excellent job in Georgia and Florida.
Tim Brewster, Minnesota: He has recruited two good classes in a row. In fact, last year's class was the school's best in 30 years. When he was an assistant, he always ranked with John Blake of North Carolina as one of the two best recruiters in the country among the assistant coaches. He has landed two of the best running backs in the class of 2009 and has been selling a new state-of-the-art stadium that will be ready next year.
Mack Brown, Texas: Like Pete Carroll, he has a great natural resource base. But three coaches before him couldn't get it done in the Longhorn State. Now he gets anyone he wants in Texas. He has a winning personality. He is an underrated coach. He sells great facilities, the best in the country along with Ohio State.
Phil Fulmer, Tennessee: He slips under the radar most of the time but he has the ability to recruit out-of-state. That's important because Tennessee isn't a good state for football. He always is under criticism because it is the nature of Tennessee football. Called "Fat Phil," he has the ability to persuade out-of-state kids to come to Knoxville.
Urban Meyer, Florida: He was successful at Utah, where it was tough to recruit, and he is successful at Florida, where it is easy to recruit because he has great natural resources, better than any other state. He is relentless, has a take-no-prisoners attitude. He lives for recruiting. He used to text message 200 kids a day. The youngsters of all the leading recruiters, he learned early that you can't win consistently without great talent.
Nick Saban, Alabama: He is a carbon copy of Meyer. At Michigan State, he was a great recruiter. He went head-to-head with Michigan and won at times. At LSU, he put a fence around Louisiana. Now he is doing the same thing at Alabama. He is a non-stop recruiter and innovator who is one step ahead of the NCAA.
Jim Tressel, Ohio State: Very underrated, he belongs with the elite coaches. He is in the national title picture every year, even more than Woody Hayes. He has great natural resources to choose from and has an almost complete hold on Ohio. But, like Carroll, he is very good nationally. Kids feel comfortable with him.
Charlie Weis, Notre Dame: Last year's 3-9 record tarnished the image but he has recruited three top 10 classes in a row--7, 3 and 2.Some critics say he is arrogant and hard to deal with but that certainly isn't the case when he is recruiting. He is smart, to the point, relentless and very personable. Kids love him.
Ron Zook, Illinois: He turned around Illinois' program with his charm and personality and recruiting skills. He has a bull-in-a-china-shop attitude, relates to his players,communicates well with anyone and is very aggressive. Illinois always has been a tough sell--it has been known more as a basketball school by many--and Notre Dame, Wisconsin, Purdue and Northwestern are closer to the Chicago' recruiting base than Illinois is. But Zook has been smart enough to bring in recruiters like Mike Locksley who knows the Washington D.C. area. And he has done a good job in Florida, where he made his reputation as one of the nation's foremost recruiters.