The best programs in college football get it.
The best programs know that most college teams have pretty good players, smart coaches, gear and apparel from a shoe company, a nice cafeteria and a weight room that can make a team big and strong.
The best programs know: Most teams all have enough “stuff” to win.
Of course, just having the "stuff" isn't what gives the team a win. The best programs know that organization, communication, chemistry and other intangibles are what make it work.
Here are three key traits of a winning program:
Be willing to take time – and even fail a little – to get the culture right. A few elite programs can make immediate, quick turnarounds. Ohio State with Urban Meyer, for example, was a perfect pairing of top coach and talented roster. But what Meyer was able to pull off at OSU – going 12-0 in his first year – is rare. Most programs need a few years to make mistakes, recruit players who fit the coaches' vision and get the right mixture of veterans and young players. Beware the quick turnaround at non-elite programs, for it usually means a coach pushed hard in that first year and may not have longevity in mind. Programs are better built over several years instead of immediately. Short-term gains don't always lead to long-term buy-in.
Have a recruiting plan that finds players who fit your vision – and stick to that plan. The best two examples of this are teams that have risen from mediocrity to excellence – Michigan State and Baylor. Both programs have been dogged in recruiting the area right around their campus and targeting specific kinds of players who fit the schemes that Michigan State coach Mark Dantonio and Baylor coach Art Briles prefer to run. Both coaches look for certain measurables – speed and length at wide receiver and defensive back positions – that help their teams win games. Both coaches also know how to fit their teams to their respective leagues.
Work to make sure everyone – especially students and academic adminstrators – are generally pulling in the same direction. In a college football program, there can be a lot of competing interests. Although you can't waste too much time attending to squeaky wheels – which tend to squeak more the longer you attend to them – the top shareholders in a college football program do need to feel like they're a part of the deal. That includes students and administrators. There's no such thing as universal buy-in, but there is momentum in a program. The best coaches know how to find it.