Miami's got a top-ranked class and a plan to hold onto it

Miami locking down local kids en route to top ranking (2:42)

The Hurricanes keep a slight edge over Penn State thanks to its ability to recruit its area so far. (2:42)

Miami is again at the top of the recruiting class rankings. And Mark Richt’s staff is only cautiously optimistic.

“Two years ago, or three years ago, they were No. 1 [in class rankings] and then they finished 23rd in recruiting,” Richt said. “I don’t really care too much about where you’re ranked, there is some validity to it.”

The Hurricanes are currently hanging on to the No. 1-ranked recruiting class for 2018. Miami had the No. 5 class for 2017 last April, No. 2 in 2016 and 11 for 2015, but it was what happened after the spring that Richt is now trying to deter.

“We could open 2-4 and some recruits decide to bail, and everybody thinks the sky’s falling and it turns to crap,” Richt said. “It could happen. So who knows, but if we hang onto the kids we’ve got right now, it’s a hell of a class so far.”

The Class in 2017 fell from No. 5 in April to 12 on signing day, from No. 2 in 2016 to 19 on signing day and in 2015 fell 12 spots down to No. 23 overall.

That’s why Richt has bulked up his recruiting class and refined the Canes’ strategy with a familiar tactic.

When Richt first got to Miami, the recruiting department was lacking. In fact, most of the day-to-day recruiting responsibilities fell on the director of football operations, rather than an enormous staff as employed at other schools. That’s where Matt Doherty comes in.

Doherty was previously at Miami before going to Michigan. Richt brought him back to Coral Gables, this time with a staff and volunteers. Doherty says his second time around is a very different experience.

“The responsibilities of what a traditional recruiting department should be, in my mind, were kind of strewn out throughout the program and you would have one group of people planning official visits, but the others booking venues,” Doherty said. “My responsibility now is the entirety of the recruiting process and [that] it’s structured like an NFL scouting department. When I first started here in 2011, before I left for Michigan, I was a one-man band doing recruiting, so it has expanded considerably.”

Once the recruiting department was up and running, the staff started building relationships with local high school coaches. Since the majority of Richt’s full-time coaches are not from South Florida, this step was crucial.

Clinics and camps were held in the Hurricanes’ staple areas: Dade, Broward and Palm Beach counties. Furthermore, every coach at Miami has a piece of the tri-county area in his recruiting territory and at least seven of the nine coaches all have an area that is close to campus.

“If there are players we’re looking for beyond Dade, Broward and Palm Beach County, they had better be beasts, the elite of the elite,” Doherty said. “Our strategy is, let’s go after the kids down here that take pride in this area, and take pride in this university. I think it is the total all-in commitment on recruiting players from South Florida and building this program with those players.”

So far, it’s working. In the 2018 class, only five of the 16 commitments are from outside South Florida.

The staff also decided to do away with big, hyped-up recruiting events when massive amounts of prospects visit all at once. Richt and Doherty agreed that having a select few recruits visit at once would provide the coaches a better opportunity to build the relationships and give the coaches more personal time with the recruits.

Focusing on South Florida certainly isn’t unique to Miami coaches, but attacking it with an entire staff, with the power of relationships and bonds in getting a commitment is a big part of why Miami is currently the top-ranked class.

Richt changed a few things when he got to Miami, but he had a lot of success as the head coach of Georgia just being himself. That was one aspect he knew he would keep and knew his coaches needed to believe as well.

While they believe they have the right strategy and the right people in place, they also know that anything can happen in recruiting. They are putting in the work, trusting the relationships they’re building and hoping that, come signing day, Miami is still at the top of the rankings.

“We all know these things are a fluid business,” Richt said. “You hope to attract the right kids and we’re trying to keep everybody, understanding that until they get on campus they’re not in. They make commitments and we hope they follow through, but we know it’s a long battle and a long haul and we’re just getting started.”