Vaughn, 31, is in his ninth year at Arkansas.
He has served both on the field and as a recruiting coordinator, and this year he wears both hats.
Vaughn began his coaching career as a graduate assistant under Houston Nutt in 1999, and it didn't take him long to make an impact. A players' coach, Vaughn quickly conveys to his charges that he cares about them not only as players but as human beings.
"The key is trust," Vaughn says. "I have to make that player know that nobody is going to treat him better as a person than I am."
That caring quality makes Vaughn a natural as a recruiting coordinator — an assignment he first undertook in 2003.
A former all-state linebacker at Tallahassee, Fla., whose boyhood dream had been to play for Florida State, Vaughn understands what today's players are thinking.
Vaughn was the first player Nutt visited as a new head coach at Murray State, and he ended up lettering four years at linebacker for Murray State.
He earned a bachelor's degree in advertising, so it was altogether fitting that Vaughn spoke to the Morning News advertising staff and others involved with our annual football section last week.
Vaughn had everyone in the room hanging on his every word during a 25-minute talk that included questions afterwards.
From former Arkansas recruiting coordinator Fitz Hill, Vaughn said he learned, "Perception is reality."
Perception is important enough to 17- and 18-year-old high school players that Vaughn and the UA coaches constantly look for any edge they can get. For example, after noticing that highly sought athletes sometimes end up with boxes of unopened mail from recruiters, Vaughn realized that some schools had success with sending out decorative envelopes — or blank envelopes addressed by hand.
"You've gotta be in the top three schools if you're going to get a kid," Vaughn said. "It used to be the top five, but recruiting has changed so much in the last 10 years. The personal touch is important. Commitments are coming earlier and earlier."
Already by Sunday, Arkansas had secured 16 verbal commitments for the 2008 recruiting class, even though national signing day is more than six months away.
"Selling your program to parents is so important, especially in Texas," Vaughn said.
Vaughn noted that David Lee, Arkansas' offensive coordinator who is back for his third stint at the school, has "hit the floor running" in recruiting.
Greg Childs, one of four Warren High athletes who have committed to Arkansas, credited Lee with getting him excited about the new offense that Lee will coordinate.
Vaughn believes in personally commending any UA assistant coach who helps land a recruit.
"Encouragement is so important," Vaughn said.
So is doing a thorough character check of each recruit, Vaughn said.
"I'll give you a great example," Vaughn said. "Malcolm Sheppard, our (sophomore) defensive end from Bainbridge, Ga., was a two-star recruit. His only Division I scholarship offers were from Central Florida, Southern Miss and Arkansas. No one else in the SEC besides Arkansas offered him, but he's going to be one of our best players on defense.
"All he's said since he's been here is, ‘Yes, sir,' ‘No, sir,' and ‘I sure appreciate it, coach.' It gives me goose bumps thinking about that. Michael comes from humble means, but he's been brought up the right way."
Reggie Herring, Arkansas' defensive coordinator, made similar comments about Sheppard toward the end of last season and during the spring.
For Vaughn and the UA staff, a find like Sheppard makes all their hard work worthwhile.
GRANT HALL IS A MORNING NEWS SPORTS WRITER. HIS COLUMN APPEARS EACH MONDAY AND THURSDAY. E-MAIL: GHALL@NWAONLINE.NET
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