Before I moved into college athletic administration I spent 12 years as a high school coach and athletic director so I saw hundreds of college coaches make their way to my office to meet the recruit that was going to change their program!
My high school, Cazenovia Central in Central New York, was a short distance from Syracuse University so we would periodically have coaches from SU drop in to see a recruit. One of my favorite coaches was George DeLeone, one of head coach Paul Pasqualoni’s assistants in the football program there through the 80’s and 90’s. George went on to coach in the NFL for several years before returning to the college ranks. Now in his 49th year of coaching, he is the senior offensive consultant at Baylor University.
George and my head varsity coach developed terrific rapport over the years. Both were compulsive about studying every nuance of the game. George would call my coach out of the blue and say “Tom, let’s break down film. Bring some of your stuff, grab a couple sandwiches and come over to my office!” And he did that same thing with high school coaches all over the area.
The list of things that have made George legendary among football coaches is long and varied. A ridiculous work ethic, an unapologetically honest personality, and a real sense for the kind of players he wanted to coach and who would prosper at Syracuse were among them. When George was recruiting a prospect, he’d stop in the office and wait until the student was heading into gym class. Yeah, he wanted to see the young man in gym class and how he treated the teacher, his classmates, did they participate meaningfully. After gym, he and my coach would have lunch in the cafeteria and he’d watch how the recruit conducted himself in the cafeteria, around his friends..
Why would he rather see the athlete there than on the practice field? Because he understood that you can see that stuff on game film and you can easily find out their 40-yard time, their bench press numbers, and their vertical jump. It’s much harder to find out who the recruit is as a person.
During a recent conversation with a friend who is a DI athletic director we were talking about recruiting and he said that he has asked his coaching staff to go “old school” (aka, the DeLeone Way). Over the past couple years some of his coaches had gotten a little lax about checking their recruits’ character and who they were as people in addition to their athletic skills. The experience had undercut some of the otherwise great experiences they were having as a department.
There’s no shortcut to good recruiting. Like so many things in life, it takes peeling away the layers of the onion until you arrive at that place where you have a clear answer to the question “Do I want this athlete in my locker room?” That is a question that you MUST address because as most of us know by experience the consequences of not having an answer to that question can be catastrophic. And as experience serves me on this, if there are red flags with the athlete they often have their roots in the support system that surrounds that athlete – an overly aggressive AAU or Club coach or the helicopter parent.
So how do you sort all this out? Well, you can do what Coach DeLeone did and see how your recruits behave in gym class or the cafeteria! But there are other options as well.
- When I was considering candidates for head coaching positions, depending on the circumstance, I sometimes called officials I knew to see what their experiences with that coach were like. I knew what was important to me in terms of conduct and how that coach responds to officials is a good indicator (I often got VERY different answers to the question about “what is your sideline behavior like” when I asked the candidate and then an official!) Using that approach I have had coaching staff recruiting an athlete from one school ask an opposing coach from another school about the athlete they’re considering. You’ll get a very honest answer because they have no skin in the game.
- Another good source of information can be the school guidance office. Has the student been attentive to all those things high school seniors are expected to submit (references, essays, etc.). What kinds of courses have they selected? Did they opt out of calculus and physics their senior year so they can lay up with a less challenging schedule or did they continue to challenge themself? What have their teachers said about their effort?
- If they play a sport beyond the one you are recruiting them for, what does THAT coach have to say about the athlete? Even though it may not be their primary sport do they bring the same commitment or are they dismissive of that coach’s expectations and needs?
- Are they involved in other school activities? If they’re a class office what does their class advisor have to say about their commitment, their leadership? Do they set a good example? Are they involved or are they just “dressing up their resume?”
- Obviously, their social media thumbprint can be telling. I don’t think there is a coach out there who’s not checking this now but I had to mention it.
- When you’re at a game how does the athlete react to their parents? If they are not respectful to their parents are they going to do so to you? Their teammates? Their instructors? The staff at the dining hall?
- Along the same line, how are the parents behaving? Are they supportive of the high school or club coach? Are they berating the officials, being disruptive in the stands? Are they going to represent your program well on your campus or when you go on the road to another school? At one point I had to send a letter to opposing AD’s to let them know that we had banned one parent from attending any events on our campus because they were so disruptive. Their son was an amazing tailback! But the parents were a train wreck and ultimately the young man transferred after his frosh year. We all lost…
With all the attention given to technology (access to video, in the moment stats, rankings and ratings) and the amount of information coming to you from all directions about the athletic ability of a prospect you also need to do a deep dive into who they are as well and who they will bringing with them should they become part of your program family.
Greg Carroll is a former college athletic director who now advises college coaches and athletic directors around the country on how to develop more consistent, effective recruiting strategies. To contact Greg, email him at firstname.lastname@example.org. And, to discover how Tudor Collegiate Strategies partners with program and coaches around the country to help them revise and improve their recruiting plans, click here.