Q&A: Patrick Suddes on ASU recruiting

Arizona State Assistant Athletics Director for Recruiting Patrick Suddes spoke with us recently about the evolving challenges and strategies of recruiting in an ever-evolving landscape as it relates to technology and social media.

SunDevilSource: I remember watching the ESPN show on (Las Vegas Bishop Gorman 2015 wide receiver) Cordell Broadus and he was sorting through a bunch of mail on his bed and something about the ASU one stood out in terms of how it was different than others. How significant is this new evolution of creative artistry and other visual elements in the recruiting process now and how has that accelerated with the rapid increase of social media.

Patrick Suddes: "I think you're seeing it a lot in college football, that now you'll see a football graphic designer and that type of stuff. There's really a couple different methods to it. The first reasoning for the paper (sent to recruits) is not necessarily them opening it up and having some substance to it. We have different things we send out. Some are drawings, some are hand-written notes from coaches, some are actual pieces we want them to look at. But if we really want them to look at it we're going to send it to them through social media or email so they get it right away. Now we do (mail it), so they can have it in that format. The main thing we want them to do is every day when they open up that mailbox, see a pitchfork. I think some of the feedback you're getting is, 'I get mail from them every day.' We want to be on their mind every day...But everything we send them on twitter we also send them in the mail."

SunDevilSource: How much is involved in that from a staffing an execution standpoint? It seems like a lot and the resource demand are really ramping up.

Suddes: "You have to have a full squad. All these personalized mail outs and all that, it takes forever, especially a school that is recruiting nationwide like us. It's a process. You see it every day and the schools that are really doing it well, obviously they've got a full time creative media department, and we're going to get to that point and we've gotten a lot more help and people involved and all that stuff and everyone has been receptive to that stuff. But that's where it's going, the videos on a weekly or monthly basis. You can't do individually tailored videos (for recruits) but ones that show your program, for fans and recruits. We're headed that direction and definitely with the new facility and everything we'll have more capability with office space and all that."

SunDevilSource: Is it mostly about the consistency of it and then just how you differentiate, and what's your strategic approach or program vision for all of this?

Suddes: "No doubt and a lot of it is -- I see fans critiquing some of the stuff -- just kids seeing their face on something with an ASU jersey or something like that. They're not as particular. Obviously you want the best artistry possible but if it takes a week to do something there's [a diminishing practicality]. You want to get it out there. We are about being rapid. But the video side is the most important to me (from a growth potential standpoint) because you're trying to attract a kid to either come to your campus (unofficially or to camp) or someone who can't get to your school because he's too far away, to want to come for an official visit because he's seen the video; seen the campus life, see the program on a day to day basis, seen the locker room, seen the teaching. We're coming out with this piece that is perception versus reality. What is the perception of Arizona State? A party school, not as much care on grades. When in reality, of all the places I've been this is the most focused on academics I've ever been around, the most competitive environment for academics I've ever been around. Just because we're a big school and we're inclusive like Dr. (Michael) Crow's message, doesn't mean we don't have people with extremely high GPAs, extremely intelligent kids. We are not comparing guys to Pat Tillman, but he's the standard. Academically, on the field, off the field. GPA is extremely important. Coach (Todd) Graham, before he watches any film, 'what's the GPA?' Now we will take some guys with lower GPAs but maybe they haven't had the structure and obviously this structure. But what a lot of kids say when they meet Todd Graham is how honest he is, that he's a straight shooter, that they didn't expect all this (attention to detail and well-roundedness). The goal is to get them on campus and with social media these days it's a vital part in selling your program so you can do that."

SunDevilSource: Statistics are very important and I've noticed your infographics which clearly show national rankings and awards and things of that nature. How effective has that been for you guys in recruiting and getting a message to kids that resonates?

Suddes: "Numbers don't lie. That's what we try to sell. There's a lot of feedback for that. Quarterbacks are big on that, looking at the system and if they are a good fit for the system. What we try to sell here is, no matter what position you are, you need to look at the system as well. If you're a 3-technique tackle, there's no better system in America than right here. We had a back-to-back Pac-12 Player of the Year (Will Sutton) at a 3-technique, that's unheard of. If you have a guy that is maybe a safety, maybe a linebacker, we have a position that is perfect for you, the Spur position. It's a system deal. Even at wide receiver and running back. If you're a running back that wants to get the ball running and passing, a lot of teams say they do it but it's usually check downs. We have plays designed for running backs to catch the ball in the slot. We have D.J. Foster, look at what he did...NFL teams like it because not only does it show diversity of skill set and how it fits their scheme but guys aren't as physically broken down or have as much wear and tear on their bodies already from just running it 30 times up the middle."

SunDevilSource: This year you guys held a lot of scholarships late, had a lot of January visits, how challenging is the decision making behind that, like how many kids you'll wait for as opposed to taking others earlier in the process, determining which high profile guys you have a really good shot at and how to put everything together so you have the best class you can sign?

Suddes: "People talk about Plan A versus Plan B but there's no Plan A or Plan B, really. There's 'The Plan.' This is what we're about and this is how we're going to do it. If you look at the NFL Draft, they go months and months with, 'here's who we want, here's how the board sets.' Here's what our needs are, here's what we want to do. Here's the priority, but if things shake out we know what we're going to do. So this year we knew if we didn't get the guys wanted, we were going to save a couple spots for transfers, guys that pop up and that was really key for us capping off this class. That was big for us. If we didn't do that and really had a Plan B, we're going to take these guys no matter what even though they weren't exactly what we were looking for, we wouldn't have had room for that flexibility (to add Devin Lucien as a post-graduate transfer or others). With the way the transfer rules work or kids qualifying late or coming available in other ways, I think it's good to have room to maneuver that. For us obviously we hit a home run with that this year, being able to have that flexibility. It's not numbers for the sake of numbers, the flexibility allowed us to get guys who can come in and play right away, like Tim White, Devin Lucien, instead of taking a kid in high school we weren't as fired up about just because we needed numbers."

SunDevilSource: Fans obviously don't get a sense of this until kids are in your program but in talking to all your signees through the recruiting process, I think this might be as impressed as I've ever been from a character standpoint or at least how the recruits talk and engage, int he 15 or so years I've been doing this. How important is that and what all goes into it?

Suddes: "We obviously do character research with everybody around the kid, talking to the kid and the coaching staff, counselors, things like that. But the best evaluation, and this is why what coach Graham has built here is so special is the players police themselves and understand the players that will fit into this culture and the ones that don't. So they were the biggest ones for us when a kid comes on an official visit. And it's [not necessarily] something big, not saying it's a guy who is on drugs or something like that. It's just a sense of being around kids because kids are going to be different around their peers than authority figures. It's just, this maybe isn't going to be a kid who is good for the brotherhood. Every single one of these guys that we signed, were all vetted by our players and those are the guys who really deserve the credit for getting this class, along with the coaching staff and coach Graham, because they put in the time on official visits and through the process figuring out which guys fit in well with the culture and which don't."

SunDevilSource: Given the success you've had here as a program the last couple years and with your facilities project now under construction, how has that helped your capability from a talent acquisition standpoint?

Suddes: "The perception was you have to go to the SEC to get noticed and all that. You look at the draft this year, the Pac-12 had more guys drafted in the first four rounds. I've worked in the NFL. Those guys are going to get the best guys that fit what they want to do. Do they get a lot of SEC guys? Yeah, because Florida and Georgia are right there and they produce a lot of players, top-3 states in the draft. But I think everyone is noticing the Pac-12 more. You have seen with the culture established here now and back-to-back 10-win seasons, the new gear, the Adidas deal, our new facility is going to start coming online and we can sell that to these kids effectively now. So there are a lot of things that are falling into place for us to be a top tier program. But the biggest thing again is the players and when coach Graham gets recruits in his office, it's not just a sales job. If you want to see if it lines up, just ask the players and look at the results. Their message is the same as coach Graham's and that's probably the biggest selling point here."

SunDevilSource: You've had a different approach to official visits than previous staffs at ASU, with more December and January visits. What's the strategy of that?

Suddes: "Coach Graham's philosophy, and I think it's right on, is not being big on in-season visits because recruits get less time with the coaching staff because they're preparing for games and all that, less time with players because they're preparing and spending the night before the game in a hotel. Is it good to see a game environment? Yes. But for that it's for a really far away kid that is a national profile guy and we don't have other options or if it's a mid-year guy and you want to bring him in in the fall. But those December and January visits are big for us because as I said our players are are best selling point and recruits get to spend more time with them and all our coaches and I think that's big for us and then it's also a great time of year in Arizona and later in the recruiting cycle. I just think you can't get all of that when they come during the season for an official visit. We'll still do a lot and have a lot for the USC game because kids like the high profile games and maybe won't be able to come on their own. But for the full experience, I don't think you get that as much when you come for a game, you get the game experience."

SunDevilSource: Circling back to the graphic artistry and video production stuff, are you confident about how that's trending and what will be in store for the future at ASU?

Suddes: "I think we'll be top of the line. I think you have a lot of resources and a president who is always thinking about of the box and want to do what's newer and better with technology. You have an AD who is all about what is best for this program and all of athletics so he's a guy that really presses the envelop for stuff and then you have a head coach who is about as out of the box as you can get. So I think those three guys, the figureheads of this institution, will drive us to a place that we've never been before here. We'll be top of the line in facilities and top of the line in that creative media department."


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