Gary Doran

Recruiting the Southwest: Is the Gas Tank Half Full or Half Empty?


Recruiting should be focused in an area that is no more than a ‘tank of gas away from the school,’ or so goes the old adage. Arizona State head football coach Todd Graham has  stated this exact intention for ASU’s recruiting efforts several times during his tenure in Tempe. With that in mind, ASU Devils Den decided to see just how well that advice has been followed by the last three coaching staffs, and more importantly, how effective location has been in getting an official visitor to commit to ASU.

We analyzed recruiting over the past three coaching staffs to see if there has been a difference in where recruiting has been focused from a location standpoint. Our analysis used database of official visitors to ASU from 2002 to the current recruiting cycle. We only looked at high school recruits with at least a three-star rating, with the rationale being these are the type of athletes that should be a school’s core foundation recruit.

The first thing that jumps out is how much less Graham has relied on lower-level recruits, especially compared to Dirk Koetter (almost a third of all the official visitors during Koetter’s tenure were rated less than three-stars). Coach Graham has relied more on junior college recruits than the two previous staffs, even though both other staffs leaned heavily on the junior college ranks.

The most troubling numbers within the table above is that even though Graham extols the virtues of pursuing recruits that are within a tank of gas, more than half of all the recruits getting an official visit to ASU during his tenure have come from areas beyond a tank of gas. On top of that, over half the visitors coming to ASU from within a tank of gas have ended up committing to the Devils, while roughly a third of those visiting from beyond a tank of gas have committed.

During  Graham’s tenure, only about one-in-four official visitors has been from the Southern California area. That’s roughly half of what the two previous coaching staffs brought in during their time at ASU. What’s even more troubling is that in Graham’s first four recruiting cycles, nearly 31-percent of the visitors were from the Southern California area, while in the past two cycles the percentage has dropped to 16-percent. That means in the past two recruiting cycles, an average of five out of every six official visitors have come from areas other than Southern California.

Even though Coach Todd Graham isn’t bringing in the number of recruits from the Southern California area Devil fans would like to see, he has been doing a better job of closing on those recruits compared to either of the other two coaching staffs. Compare this to his record with Texas recruits, where he feels comfortable bringing in a greater percentage of them, and yet he has not been overly successful in getting a commitment from this group, compared to the other regions he is recruiting. What’s surprising is the success he has in closing on recruits from areas beyond a tank of gas that are not from Texas or Northern California. Nearly half these recruits taking official ASU visits have committed.

Another interesting point is that even though Graham has stressed over and over his intention to establish a strong presence within the state of Arizona, the percentage of visitors from within Arizona is really no greater than the two previous staffs. However, a closer look shows that in his first three recruiting cycles, the percentage of Arizona-based recruits taking an official visit to ASU was only 11.2-percent, whereas over the past three recruiting cycles it jumped to 21-percent.

Looking over the past 16 years, it seems clear that ASU has not been overly successful in closing on visitors that come during the season. From a timing standpoint, that period has consistently produced the lowest success rate in getting a commitment experienced by all of the coaching staffs. With the lowest success rate during the season, why is it that over half of all the official visits during Dennis Erickson’s tenure happened then? On the other hand, Graham has had the best success at converting an official visitor into a commitment in the month of January, and that’s when he has brought in the largest percentage of recruits.


Many people believed it, but the numbers prove that Graham has brought into the program a much smaller percentage of lower-level recruits, and a greater percentage of junior college athletes than the two previous coaching staffs. The downside to such a heavy reliance on junior college athletes is the need to keep feeding the program from the junior college ranks. The shorter shelf life of too many of these athletes causes a problem with depth at too many of the positions.

The fact that Graham has brought in more recruits that reside beyond a tank of gas from ASU, and that this group of athletes have been committing to ASU at a lower rate than those within a tank of gas doesn’t sound like a long-term winning strategy. The trouble with reversing this trend is that the assistant coaches currently on his staff (a fluid statement considering the changes made over the past two seasons) do not have currently strong ties to areas within a tank of gas, so this recruiting trend may continue.

Within the professed target areas for ASU, there are two trends headed in opposite directions. First off, over the past two years, ASU has brought in a greater percentage of Arizona high school recruits, but a much smaller percentage of recruits from the talent rich Southern California region. When five out six of your official visitors are from areas outside the Southern California region, ASU is missing out on a lot of quality athletes.

Through 16 recruiting cycles and three different coaching staffs, ASU has not been very successful at converting official visitors during the season into commits.  Yet almost half of all the visitors coming to ASU during those years visited during the season. The lower success rate may be why Graham has begun bringing in more recruits after the season ends.

Overall, this brief analysis seems to point to a mismatch between where ASU should be focusing its recruiting and where it is actually focusing that attention. And why is more effort is being paid to recruits outside ASU’s prime area, yet the conversion rate is lower than for the recruits in the prime area? How does this make sense for the program?

About Gary Doran

Gary Doran

Gary graduated from ASU many years ago. After careers working in banking, finance and the financial administration of academic research funding, he is now interested in utilizing his passion for numbers towards two things he thoroughly loves; Arizona State University and college football. He is looking forward to finding the “stories” buried within the numbers on a football stat sheet. He has gone to ASU football games all the way back to the days of Frank Kush and the WAC. He has been married to an amazing ASU graduate for almost forty years, and they currently live in Ventura, CA. Although this may disqualify him from talking football, he and his wife enjoy the practice of yoga and dancing the Argentine Tango. Ole!

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