Alabama's Nick Saban is the greatest recruiter in college football history, which has him at the forefront of the greatest college football coach argument.
Georgia has assembled the nation's No. 1 signing class under the guidance of Kirby Smart two of the past three years, while Tennessee's Jeremy Pruitt compiled a top-10 contingent this past winter, which was just his second full recruiting cycle in Knoxville. Smart and Pruitt are former Alabama defensive coordinators who benefited under Saban's tutelage, but all three are having to recruit future classes in a landscape altered by the COVID-19 pandemic.
"For us, it's really about FaceTime, communication and talking to family members," Smart said. "We're checking on the well-being of everybody we recruit. We're not making it about selling Georgia as much as, 'Hey, what's going on in your community now?' Or, 'How is your high school doing with this?' Or, 'How are your parents and grandparents?' We're making it personal and trying to talk to them.
"I know these kids are getting bombarded because recruiting is a competitive market. They're getting a lot of calls because a lot of college coaches don't have anything going on right now, and they're calling all these kids a lot."
The coronavirus impact on the basketball world occurred March 11, when the NBA suspended its season, and March 12, when the Atlantic Coast Conference, Southeastern Conference and other major college conferences brought their respective league tournaments to a screeching halt. On March 13, the NCAA implemented a recruiting dead period for football and all other sports until April 15.
That meant all campus visits for prospects came to an end, and coaches were relegated to communication that did not include the preferred face-to-face opportunities. Even stricter guidelines were enforced for the recruits of 2022 and beyond.
On April 1, the NCAA extended the dead period to May 31.
"The whole world is turned upside down," Saban said, "so it's a little bit different for everybody."
Saban holds Zoom meetings with his assistant coaches weekday mornings at 7:30, during which they discuss what they want their players to do that day. Alabama's staff uses the latter part of the mornings to work on the 2020 opponents, which Saban admits is not a task that is performed so specifically this time of year.
"In the afternoon, we try and do as much as we can to stay in contact with recruits through video conferences and phone calls," Saban said.
Saban's Crimson Tide, Smart's Bulldogs and Pruitt's Volunteers have a varied display of 2021 commitment crops to this point.
The Vols have 10 commitments that include one four-star prospect — receiver Jordan Mosley of Mobile, Alabama — and eight three-star talents. The Bulldogs have six commitments, with five listed among the top 150 prospects nationally in the 247Sports.com composite rankings, while the Tide's lone commitment is Mobile four-star weakside defensive end Deontae Lawson.
College football's early signing period that made its debut in December 2017 has moved up the recruiting calendar at most Power Five programs, which has resulted in the more established coaches getting a quicker head start on future classes. The ongoing pandemic seems to be preventing those opportunities this time around.
"When it comes to social media, it gives you a really good opportunity to communicate with this class," Pruitt said. "Where there are really restrictions is on the next class, because you can't contact them with social media right now or text, and it's tough to get those guys on the phone. It's pretty easy to get this next class.
"There are lots of guys who have been on our campus and there are some who have not. We have to do a really good job for them to get a really good feel for what it is like on game day at Tennessee and what it is like in the classroom."
The next hurdle coaches face on the recruiting front is the likelihood of no summer camps. Pruitt believes he and his counterparts will experience what NFL coaches are enduring as they prepare for a draft within two weeks that has followed a stretch in which a majority of college pro days across the country had to be canceled.
"They've had to go back and trust their scouts and the scouting department from their evaluations on when they saw practices, and it's very similar to us," Pruitt said. "We have to gather as much information as we can so we can move forward and understand. You have to have a board. You have to say, 'Here are the quarterbacks we are looking at. Here are the defensive backs. Here are the kickers. Here are the centers and the tackles and the guards.'
"We have a plan of who we stack on our boards and how we evaluate the things we are looking for. We have to do a really good job to gather the information and make good decisions and trust our evals."