Marc Daniels: How Gus Malzahn's Recruiting Plan Is Working


Mississippi State v Auburn

Every coach talks about their recruiting plans at that introductory press conference. They all talk about recruiting the best, locking down their area and how their coaches will work harder than anyone.

When Gus Malzahn was hired at UCF he said "we will recruit like our hair is on fire." 

Well, three months into Malzahn's tenure at UCF and his recruiting plan for the present and future is beginning to play out before he coaches his first game.

After evaluating his roster, Malzahn identified areas he felt his team needed to get better at and create more competition. That is no different than any other coach. But Malzahn and his staff used a social media splash and a regional billboard campaign to announce their arrival at UCF and their plans to hit the recruiting trail. 

"The Future of College Football" is a slogan Malzahn has pitched and it's built on the idea that UCF should not be identified as G5 or non-power. He wants it known as one of the best programs in college football. Results will determine perception. But the veteran coach is also campaigning recruits on UCF's location, style of play and path to a major bowl and possible playoff berth.

So far results are quite favorable. The transfer portal has been busy for everyone in college football, but few teams have been as active as the Knights. UCF added impact players to its defensive line to play along with Kalia Davis on the inside. Davis, who opted out of the 2020 season, has drawn interest from NFL teams and is expected to have a huge 2021 season. With newcomers and returning players, UCF should have one of the best defensive lines in the conference. The Knights added running backs and receivers to their explosive offense and are not yet done when it comes to tapping into the transfer portal.

And with all this, Gus Malzahn also is laying out his plan for years to come when it comes to how to recruit for UCF, not Auburn or an SEC school. He will go after any player, regardless if they are 4-star, 5-star or any-star. Will he land some of the biggest names? Maybe. Maybe not now, but maybe in one to two years.

In a new world of one-time free transfers and whatever the Name, Image and Likeness world becomes, Malzahn believes you will see a number of top recruits choose a school and learn it's not what they envisioned it to be and then look for a new home. By recruiting top players now the relationship and foundation is in place to reconnect when a player goes looking for a new place to play. A number of the players Malzahn has brought in he already knew and recruited or his staff did. This will become part of UCF's recruiting plan because the transfer portal is evolving but not going away.

Some coaches believe they will be adding 5-8 transfers a season. Stop and think about that for a second. There are 130 programs playing FBS football. Even if the average is five transfers a year, that means 650 high school players will not find a place at a FBS program. That is alarming for many high school coaches but perhaps an opportunity for UCF. 

With fewer scholarships for high school players, it may lead to a few of those 4-star and top 3-star recruits to realize UCF is a better offer than waiting for a blueblood program who may not have an offer for you or go and find yourself stuck on a depth chart with no sign of playing time for 2-3 years.

Here's another big part of Malzahn's recruiting pitch: "Let your players sell your program."

Some of the biggest names transferring to UCF have heard from Malzahn and his assistants but imagine if Dillon Gabriel pitches you on catching passes from him and the style of play awaiting in Orlando? Gabriel has been a huge factor in the team acquiring talent and there's no one better to pitch the campus and program than one of the top quarterbacks in the country. 

All of this is great but it all comes down to winning. Malzahn knows that and has no problem telling people what he believes is the formula for UCF on the national stage. Schedule a top P5 and beat them and run the table in your conference. Easy, right? Well, not easy but his point is the UCF brand has been established and his name adds to its value. An undefeated UCF team has poll credibility. It doesn't guarantee a playoff berth in the current format but that format is likely changing in a few years. Whether or not an expanded college football playoff saves a slot for the top G5 team (something I don't believe will happen), the thinking is a 8-12 team playoff means an unbeaten UCF has a better chance of being invited to the party. The American has gotten better and better each season. The top of the conference is as good as any middle of a P5 league. But a path to an unbeaten season in the AAC is easier than the gauntlet of the SEC. UCF has played in three major bowl games in the last eight seasons. Few P5 can claim that accomplishment. Getting to a major bowl at UCF, in some seasons, is easier than the SEC or other P5 leagues.

Malzahn is not rebuilding UCF. If he was, this plan would take 3-4 years to execute. If that was the case, Malzahn likely is talking on the SEC Network this season and not at UCF. But he saw what UCF has been and sees what it can be and thought about the best and quickest way to upgrade talent, take advantage of the recruiting zones around his campus and sell a program that is not labeled unless it wants to be. 

All college coaches are salespeople, you have to be today. Malzahn is selling the present and future with a product he believes is top shelf. Who's buying? He hopes the best players, who want to be part of a plan that is already in motion.

Final thought: Walnuts are the oldest food tree known to man and dates back to 7,000 BC

Photo Credit: Getty Images


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