by Mark Viera, The Washington Post August 5, 2009
The man who says he has his finger "on the pulse of the recruiting world" works out of a brick building in a farming town of 15,000 near Bakersfield, Calif. He has never recruited a prep athlete, and his coaching experience is limited to ten years with a local high school football team. Some recruiting experts say they’ve never heard of him, and some question whether the services he provides — namely, teaching college coaches how to sell their schools to recruits — are truly necessary.
Nevertheless, Dan Tudor has found a successful, unique niche in a crowded recruiting world where coaches already have abundant information at their fingertips. Tudor’s company, Selling for Coaches, preaches a mantra of more salesmanship, less coachspeak to "everyone from BCS football coaching staffs to NAIA schools with six sports, and everything in between," he said.
Tudor did not divulge the names of high-profile college football or men’s basketball programs he has helped, citing the competitive nature of recruiting, but coaches and administrators interviewed for this article who have worked with him represented schools ranging from Division I to Division III and an array of sports. Many spoke on the condition of anonymity because they are still under contract with Tudor and did not want prospects and opponents to know they were receiving outside help in recruiting.
Those who have worked with Tudor praised him, saying they have attracted better athletes and that they are more comfortable in the recruiting process under his guidance.
"It’s made our coaches take a hard look at how they’re recruiting," a senior associate athletic director of a Mid-American Conference school said. "And to have that support for when someone is being recruited by the Big East and Big Ten, they know they have a secret weapon they can pull out of their back pocket" with Tudor’s techniques.
Some recruiting observers, however, are skeptical of the necessity of such assistance.
"I just can’t imagine needing to have someone do research for me on how to sell Tennessee or Pitt or Ohio State," Allen Wallace, the national football recruiting editor for Scout.com, said in a telephone interview. "If you’re a recruiter, you can come up with a spiel in 15 minutes that would give a recruit an idea of what makes this place really special. I think he advertises himself as a virtual behind-the-scenes recruiting coordinator. The bottom line is he’s nothing like a recruiting coordinator." But Jeremy Crabtree, a national football recruiting analyst for Rivals.com, said there are "quite a few schools that could use this service and find it helpful."
Before starting his company, Tudor ran a recruiting service for high school athletes, showing them how to attract the attention of college coaches. In the process, he discovered that some coaches were just as unfamiliar with how to sell themselves.
Selling for Coaches started modestly in 2005, with Tudor sending a free weekly newsletter with recruiting tips and strategies to about 600 athletic directors. Now, he said, more than 36,000 people in college sports receive the report.
Apart from the newsletter, Tudor holds seminars and visits campuses throughout the country. In a given year, Tudor said, he or one of his four employees hold two-day training sessions for about 70 teams or athletic departments. Those private visits cost about $2,000.
In his first day on campus, Tudor holds a closed-door meeting with athletes already on the team to discuss the good and bad of how they were recruited, what attracted them to the program and what could have been done differently. In his second day, Tudor reports to the coaches and administrators with the feedback from their athletes. Then he helps to recast the team’s recruiting strategy, rewording letters or e-mails sent to prospects and emphasizing the elements that attracted athletes to the program.
"There is a science to recruiting," Tudor said. "It can be predicted and measured in terms of how a kid ends up choosing a school, for what reasons. It’s not usually for the reasons the coaches are assuming. When they understand the differences, they understand how to recruit better."
The Penn State women’s basketball program was among the programs Tudor has helped. Kia Damon, an assistant coach, said Penn State invited Tudor to help focus the program’s recruiting message shortly after Coquese Washington took over as head coach in April 2007.
"I think his approach is to be out of the box with your recruiting," Damon said in a telephone interview, adding that Tudor encouraged being more "recruit-friendly" in interactions with prospects by "cutting out the fluff and getting to the heart of what you want from them."
A women’s basketball team from the Division III Ohio Athletic Conference landed four of its top eight targeted prospects for the coming season in part because Tudor instructed its coach to emphasize the school’s family atmosphere and its location in a suburb of a large city that offered students plentiful internship opportunities.
"We might hit on those points but we didn’t think they would be that big a deal," the women’s basketball coach said in a telephone interview. "Now he’s made them a bigger deal. Really, it’s about setting yourself apart. What makes you different?"
After consulting with Tudor, the coach of a Division I track and field program in the Southeast sends shorter letters and e-mail messages to recruits and asks more creative questions: If you could sit down and talk to someone, dead or alive, who would it be? What would you do if you’ve been given a certain amount of money?
"The results have improved," the track and field coach said in a telephone interview. "I really feel comfortable that we’re making contact and getting interest from higher-level kids."
Tudor has a limited athletic background. He was asked to walk on to the tennis team at Cal State-Bakersfield but declined, he said. Some coaches have dismissed his techniques, citing his lack of coaching experience.
"He hasn’t been in their shoes, therefore they are hesitant to hear what he’s got to say," the MAC associate athletic director said. "But again, that’s why we looked forward to bringing him on board with our staff, because he brings a fresh perspective. His approach is so different. It really doesn’t have anything to do with being a coach. It’s about being a salesperson."