It’s pretty safe to say that during the course of my life there have been very few times where I put myself in a situation not knowing what the rules of the game were, how score was being kept, or what the stakes were if I didn’t win. Certainly not when my career was involved.
Yet, I’ve seen time and time again individuals take on head coaching positions without having answers to those issues, particularly with regard to what the athletic director’s expectations were specific to recruiting. Over the span of 18 years as a college athletic director and more than a 100 interviews I could count on two hands the number of individuals who asked how they would be evaluated and what were my expectations for them during the interview process. Amid the stress of trying to win the job the candidates would take a pass on that one.
That said, recruitment has always been one of the “big three” topics candidates were quizzed on. The other two being academic support philosophy and character/ethical decision making. Even after I asked for a formal presentation about recruiting strategies, best practices, and examples of success stories in recruitment, rarely have I been asked “what are your expectations? What do I need to accomplish to be successful in the area of recruitment?”
When I have been asked my response has always been, “It’s pretty simple but simply does not equate to easy.” Recruiting is hard work. I compare it to going to the library to do the tedious digging for that research paper (yeah, it used to work that way before the internet – I’m that old!). Recruiting requires not only putting your program out there, even when you’re 1-17, but also putting yourself out there. I have had coaches who struggled stepping outside their reserved personality to engage parents and recruits. Those who were able to suspend their initial discomfort grew from those encounters and quickly gained comfort and control in those moments. If you find yourself struggling with that part of recruiting I can tell you it gets easier with each encounter. I would tell the young head coach that the recruit and their family are just as nervous – take control from the moment you meet everyone gets comfortable quickly.
If you notice the “big three” areas I mentioned above there’s no mention of wins and losses. My philosophy was always if you’re paying attention to all the ingredients of winning (retention, recruiting, citizenship, and your own professional development) you would be fine. In terms of recruiting, what that meant was taking advantage of the resources made available to you for recruiting success. At my institution we were fortunate to have institutional support for recruiting. It wasn’t always there. Rather, I promoted the fact that an investment in recruiting student athletes was a good one for the college in terms of retention, community service campus leadership, citizenship, and competitive success.
One resource was recruiting software. If you are not using recruiting software you are making life harder for yourself than it has to be as well as limiting your potential to have frequent, consistent, and effective communication with your recruits. When I saw a program struggling the FIRST thing I would do is go to their software account and look at the number of recruits in their database and the frequency of interaction. That alone usually told the story.
I also monitored use of the department credit card used by staff for on campus meals for recruits and families. Staff were required to sign those cards out and return receipts with names and dates. It was very easy to see who was bringing recruits to campus and who wasn’t. The last checkpoint was tracking use of campus vehicles for recruiting trips as well as mileage reimbursement requests. Each vehicle request required my signature so again, it was foolish for a coach to think I would not know if they were recruiting and where they were going to recruit (one coach had a habit of solely recruiting back in her home town on the college’s dime!).
Rare were circumstances that I felt the need to take this kind of deep dive. When it was necessary it was more for affirmation that things were off track.
While the athletic director has the responsibility to expect coaches to be engaged in the recruitment of student athletes I also contend that they need to be part of the recruitment team and assist in every way possible. I extended the offer to meet personally with any recruit and family when on campus. In addition, when the head coach felt it would help, I would call the parents of the recruit to affirm what made our institution different, why they should choose our school and our commitment to their son or daughter’s academic and athletic success. I also accepted the responsibility of advocating for resources and forging partnerships with other offices like admissions, academic offices, and financial aid (within the rules of course!)
Success as a coach at the collegiate level requires more than a love for the game. Recruiting is the foundation of any successful program. Coaches who go on to long, successful careers understand that. Before you accept that next position be certain you are comfortable with the administration’s expectations for recruitment and the tools to be successful are in place.
Greg Carroll is part of the Tudor Collegiate Strategies team that supports, trains and consults with coaches and athletic directors across the country. If you want to connect with Greg, email him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Are you interested in our team of experts to come alongside you and your department to help you recruit more effectively? Visit our Recruiting and Workshop pages at dantudor.com