National Signing Day Five reasons Alabama lost ground in 2018 recruitment

Now, the very factors that made Smart such a recruiting force for Alabama his influence, charisma and ruthlessness make him the Tides biggest competitor on the recruiting trail. If you need confirmation on his ability to recruit against Alabama, you need only look at a story that came from the Tides camp before their meeting in the College Football Playoff national championship: Many within Alabamas program feel Smart showed mutual targets a picture ofAlabamas big board telling them they were low on Alabamas priority list and using that as a tactic to flip prospects.

Now consider that Alabama has had four offensive coordinators (Lane Kiffin, Steve Sarkisian, Brian Daboll and Mike Locksley) and three defensive coordinators (Smart, Jeremy Pruitt andTosh Lupoi) since the start of the 2016 calendar year. While that seemingly hasnt had an adverse effect on the on-field product, it may have done a number on the Tides ability to maintain those all-important relationships.

Alabama has several new coaches to compete against in the fertile recruiting grounds of the South  Texas A&Ms Jimbo Fisher, Tennessees Jeremy Pruitt and Florida States Willie Taggart but no coach had as big an impact on Alabamas recruiting in 2018 as Smart. The former Alabama defensive coordinator was one of Sabans most successful and influential recruiters, helping the Tide get off the ground in 2007 and working to maintain an incredible streak of top classes.

Heres what befell the Tide in this recruiting cycle and what theyll need to combat in the future, if they want to reclaim that recruiting title.

So how, exactly, was Alabama usurped as the top recruiting team in the country? It comes down to a combination of several factors, all of which converged on Nick Saban and the Tide in 2018.

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Its part of the game at every major college football program: Successful assistants will capitalize on the teams success and move on to greener pastures. But the fact several high-profile coaches have left Alabamas ranks in such a short period of time definitely adds another recruiting hurdle for it to overcome.

If Saban wants to truly compete for a top spot in future classes, hell need to take lessons from 2018 and learn to navigate the early signing period.

National Signing Dayhas passed, and so too has Alabamas incredible run of seven consecutive No. 1 college football recruiting classes.

Alabamas seven-year run atop the college football recruiting ranks ended in 2018. So how was Alabama finally usurped?

Consider this: Jackson Carman, the No. 2 offensive tackle in the 2018 recruiting class, claimed Clemson coach Dabo Swinney said Urban Meyer was in theback half of his career,which potentially helped Clemson land the five-star prospect. Meyer, 53, is 13 years younger than Saban.

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National Signing Day: Five reasons Alabama lost ground in 2018 recruitment

Alabama finishes with what will likely be the countrysNo. 6 class its first class to finish outside the top five since 2007. Meanwhile, Georgia and Kirby Smart who, its important to note, is Alabamas former defensive coordinator claimed a class that, on the surface, ranks as one of thebest of all time.

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Three Alabama defensive commitments (Vernon Jackson, Bobby Brown and Quay Walker) all decommitted from the Tide: Brown and Jackson flipped to Texas A&M, while Walker went with Georgia.

It seems Alabama got a taste of its own medicine in 2018.

High school prospects are told to choose programs, not follow coaches. But its impossible to put aside the relationships they build with coaches during the recruitment process and, in many cases, they can be the difference between a player honoring their commitment and signing elsewhere. Its easy to see, then, why coaching turnover can negatively affect a teams ability to maintain those relationships.

While that report hasnt been confirmed, its exactly the type of maneuver that could help a team finally beat Alabama on the recruiting trail.

While that may be true, it also removed one of his greatest weapons: Flipping prospects late in the recruiting process. Players ability to sign with teams in December not only removed Alabamas ability to flip them before National Signing Day, but also allowed competing schools to showcase their early signing period haul as a means to lure even more recruits.

Saban, of course, has said he willkeep coaching the Tideas long as he enjoys it and continues providing the right stuff for the program. But his age will be the No. 1 target opposing coaches use to steer prospects away from Alabama. The fact Saban has four former assistants coaching in the league will be a factor as well.

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At 66 years old, Saban is college footballs fourth-oldest coach, leaving many to wonder exactly how much longer he intends to stay in Tuscaloosa.

Adding to Alabamas (relative) struggles in 2018 was the fact they couldnt close on recruits for whom they were still in contention on National Signing Day. The Tide took an about-face in 2018 from their typically strong finishes, with several targets either flipping their commitments or otherwise going against projections.

Alls fair in love, war and recruiting, and using negative tactics is just one of myriad weapons programs will use to secure a commitment. Theres no doubt several coaches used those very tactics on Saban in 2018. And those tactics wont go away as he continues his Alabama tenure.

Elsewhere, Justyn Ross, the No. 1 player in the state of Alabama, spurned the favored Tide and went with Clemson. Alabama was a finalist for two other top recruits in Olaijah Griffin and Jacob Copeland, though they ended up choosing USC and Florida, respectively.

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MORE:Top uncommitted recruit Patrick Surtain Jr. signs with Tide

Saban hasnt been shy aboutsharing criticismof the early signing period, particularly the strain it puts on coaches time as they prepare for bowl games and, potentially, conference championships.

Published on Feb. 8, 2018 Updated on Apr. 11, 2018

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