Master salesmen have changed recruiting landscape
Posted: Wednesday February 7, 2007 7:33PM; Updated: Thursday February 8, 2007 6:29PM
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The nation's No. 1 defensive tackle, Marvin Austin, turned down the likes of USC, Florida State and Miami to play for a North Carolina team that's had two winning seasons the past eight years. The nation's No. 1 running back, Joe McKnight, spurned home-state power LSU to play 2,000 miles away for a team, USC, that's already got more running backs than Paris Hilton's had boyfriends. Of all the schools that drooled over highly ranked receiver Arrelious Benn, the Washington, D.C., native chose ... Illinois?
It's probably safe to assume Austin did not choose the Tar Heels because he loves the shrubbery at Keenan Stadium. McKnight is not going to L.A. to become a movie star. And it's doubtful Benn is just a really big fan of Chief Illiniwek. Recruiting is a sales job, and if we learned anything from Signing Day 2007, it's that it's more important than ever for your head coach to be a master salesman.
The Tar Heels were barely on Austin's radar before acclaimed recruiters Butch Davis and John Blake (whom Davis hired away from Nebraska to be his recruiting coordinator) showed up in Chapel Hill. On Wednesday, Austin and receivers Greg Little (previously committed to Notre Dame) and Dwight Jones (who nearly signed with Tennessee) enabled a UNC program that went 3-9 last season to reel in a Top 20 class. Think those guys can recruit a little?
Rivals in both the Big Ten and around the country are still baffled as to how exactly Ron Zook lured the likes of Benn, defensive end Martez Wilson and defensive tackle D'Angelo McCray to an Illinois program that's won a combined four games in Zook's first two seasons. But while Zook's coaching abilities are still a subject of much debate, no one can ever doubt the guy's ability to land talent. Florida fans still basking in last season's national title can attest to that.
Meanwhile, look at the teams that finished atop Rivals.com's team recruiting rankings -- Florida, whose coach, Urban Meyer, has been dubbed "the King of the Text Message," and USC, where Pete Carroll is known as the ultimate "player's coach." Not far behind: Tennessee, where Phillip Fulmer has been landing top-five recruiting classes as far back as the mid-'90s, and Texas, where Mack Brown was once known as "Mr. February" before one of the umpteen five-star recruits of his tenure, Vince Young, helped him win an even bigger title in January.
What do all these men have in common? They're part of the "new breed" of college head coaches who treat recruiting with the same importance -- if not more -- that they do practice and film sessions. They're the guys who are text-messaging and calling recruits during their every spare moment. And they're the guys who forge such a close bond with a kid -- or at least create that perception -- that he's describing the coach as a "father figure" before he ever plays a down for him.
"We're seeing that the personality of the head coach matters more than ever before," said Rivals.com recruiting analyst Mike Farrell. "Urban Meyer, Pete Carroll, Mack Brown, Les Miles -- these are 'players' coaches'. You're talking about head coaches who are more involved in the process than ever before."
"You've got to wonder whether [legendary USC coach] John McKay -- who ruled his team with an iron fist and did not enjoy a particularly good relationship with his players, most of whom barely knew him -- would even be successful today," said SuperPrep publisher Allen Wallace. "Nowadays, the kids are much more demanding. They're demanding that programs give them proper attention and treat them correctly and make the experience fun."
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