A friend sent me an interesting link yesterday. The link takes you to a PDF file that gives a pretty in-depth analysis of the Alabama recruiting classes from 1980-1982, the last three inked under Paul Bryant.
Click here for the entire thing.
It's pretty interesting stuff, and the overall conclusion has to be that recruiting fell off the final three years under Bryant. Certainly his age was used against him greatly by opposing coaches, and it does seem that there was a drop-off in the overall talent level.
But, then again, maybe not.
Bryant was always a bit of an odd-ball when it came to recruiting, and there is no disputing that. Certainly we signed our fair share of highly-rated recruits, but there was more to it than that. Bryant was also widely known for not even looking twice at recruits that other top schools were drooling over, and he often times went hard after recruits that no one else looked at.
Woodrow Lowe is the perfect example of the latter. Coming out of high school, he received no scholarship offers, and planned to enlist in the Navy. Bryant saw something, though, and offered him a scholarship when even the Sisters of the Poor wouldn't. Of course, Lowe became one of the greatest linebackers in Alabama football history (three-time All-American), and went on to play eleven years in the NFL for the San Diego Chargers.
It's evident in other players, too. Just look at Musso: he was small and slow for a tailback, but Bryant loved him as a player, and he thrived at Alabama in both a pro-style offense and in the wishbone.
Many people have pointed out that, had recruiting been as closely scrutinized then as it is today, most of Bryant's recruiting classes would not have been rated particularly high. And honestly, it's hard for me to disagree with that. At bottom, to a large degree, Bryant went after a lot of players that no one else saw anything in. Players like that were his specialty, and he was very open and honest about that fact. Admittedly, Bryant was often straightforward about the fact that he often times struggled to get the most out of the incredibly talented players. He literally thrived on players who weren't very good but didn't know it.
And it's hard to say that the talent was running out towards the end of the Bryant era. After all, as posted in this forum before, in Bryant's final year we were 5-0 and number one in the country after annihilating eventual national champion Penn State. It was the failure of Bryant's health that got us, not a lack of talent. We may not have had a lot of highly-rated players, and we may have not had a lot of players who went on to great success in the NFL, but you don't do things of that nature without a lot of talent on hand.