Army's Ellerson Talks Recruiting, Part I

In the last installment of's exclusive interview with head coach Rich Ellerson we discuss his recruiting philosophy. Ellerson completed his first full recruiting class in 2009. discussed with the coach his plans and the challenges of recruiting at a service academy. At Cal Poly you coached and recruited at an engineering school with high academic standards. You were limited in your recruiting area to mostly California due to scholarships and budget constraints. Despite this you had great success finding and developing talent. Ramses Barden was drafted by NY Giants. Chris Gocong and Ryan Shotwell both won the Buck Buchanan award for top defensive player in division 1-AA. Do you think you can eventually land and develop those types of playmakers at Army?
Rich Ellerson: We think we have. We're really excited about the class we recruited last year, beginning last May 2009 starting that recruiting cycle going through the fall. Between the guys we have here direct and the guys we have down at the prep school that was very encouraging. We can certainly improve on that and we will. There are some things about our messaging. There are some things about where we need to invest time geographically. We made some strong and firm choices coming out of the gate from a recruiting standpoint. Most of those have been validated and vindicated if you will. How we recruit, how we evaluate, some of that obviously comes with us from Cal Poly. We expanded that with a national mandate; we're not just in California. We're coast to coast but taking that template again and expanding on it and adjusting it.

From an evaluation standpoint because of the offense and defense we have to evaluate a little bit differently because the offense and defense is a little bit different. What we are looking for is a little bit different than what some of our contemporaries are looking for so we can't get caught up in who everyone thinks is a good player. The ideal we are looking for is someone different. As you say, we've had a track record of seeing a certain percentage of those individuals develop into something that is really extraordinary so we're encouraged that we're able to identify a group of those guys and we're able to present our institution and the destination that our institution provides, in other words, a young lieutenant. Beginning with the destination when you graduate and working backwards from there was an especially efficient way to recruit. It was modeled, what we're talking about, internally and it reflects the voice on our football team internally.

It also prepares guys for success. Your recruiting model is inexorably tied to your retention model. If you recruited guys with the right kinds of expectations they'll prosper. They'll find a team here that they were expecting, that they were looking forward to being a part of. They will come to an institution that has a mission. It is engaged in a mission that they bought into on the front end of the process. They become as expert as they can as a 17 or 18 year old young man. Certainly there is an awful lot of growth and a lot of surprises. Generally speaking that model paid off, I thought, really tremendously. We'll get better at it. It was obviously the first time around the block for us that had not been at West Point. It was a different emphasis for the guys that had been and they were really able to assist helping us mold that. In the past when service academy coaches have revived struggling programs there always seemed to be a weak link coaching at one of the other academies. Your facing Navy's Ken Niumatalolo, who had one of his best recruiting classes on paper this year, and Air Forces' Troy Calhoun who is a very aggressive recruiter and took at least one of your commits last year. Since their programs are more established what's your approach to counter them?
Rich Ellerson: We're not spending thirty seconds talking about the other service academies. We're talking about West Point. I made the statement when I got here that there will be a few degrees of separation between ourselves and the other service academies. There are huge difference between ourselves and our civilian contemporaries. There would be fewer degrees of separation between ourselves and the other service academies. I was wrong. This particular institution's mission, the business that the Army is in is so different than our sister academies. I think its apples and oranges. I think if we tell our story appropriately and correctly a guy knows right away. We did lose some guys; there were probably 15-20 that we were all interested in. Most of those guys went to Navy or Air Force but not all of them. I don't know if we got a third of them but we probably got twenty percent of them. If we're getting between twenty to thirty percent of that crowd that have those options on the table that's probably exactly the way it should be. This is a steeper path for the right guys for the right reasons. That's fine, there's nothing wrong with that, we don't want somebody here that doesn't belong that won't race the path. I think it's just fine. I'm not at all uncomfortable or concerned about the recruiting voice.

We have nothing but respect for those guys, obviously, on the field in term of the path they've chosen, who they are and what they've done on the football field. I don't see it as a tremendous challenge. I think, again, the challenge is to get our story told correctly. As opposed to someone else coming in and trying to tell them who Army is, what the Army is and what West Point is. We need to make sure we're getting the right information in young people's hands on the front end of the process before someone else gets in there. I'm not talking about other service academies. I talking about other entities, that think they understand, but grossly misrepresent who and what we are. That becomes a challenge if somebody has wrong message buzzing around in there head. Trying to get them to slow down and reeducate them. This path is unique enough that guys will go where they're supposed to go. If we get the message right, if we do a responsible job of educating these young men, they'll go where they're supposed to go. To that end, Army doesn't seem to have recruited Pennsylvania, New Jersey and New York and the Northeast overall as well as it probably can. Do you have any plans to eventually run an Army summer high school player camp and coaching clinic to increase your contacts?
Rich Ellerson: We've talked about that and I kind of put it on John Brock. I'm not sure to answer your question if we want to do more of those things. A lot of fans, me included, think if you get more players and high school coaches in the summer to West Point to see the facilities and learn about Army football that might help the recruiting buy in.
Rich Ellerson: Well it's that. I still think the facilities are spectacular. Army football history and legacy those to me, while integral to the mission, are still not why you come here. You don't come here because of the buildings. You come here because of the destination. These spectacular resources we have tell you a couple of things. It tells you how important and valued football is in particular and athletics are in general in terms of the overall mission of institution. That's an important message that needs to come through loud and clear. Make sure you're in for the destination then these other things make a lot of sense. In the absence of that, then you're setting someone up for failure. I think if you're coming because of the Forbes magazine article, if you're coming because of the buildings, those are great things but they should only resonant in the larger context. I know I'm just beating a dead horse here. When you recognize the mission, when you recognize what happens when you graduate as being a destination that you can get excited about. Then those things we just talked about the quality and respect the education garners, the quality of the facility, the history and traditions you suddenly become a part of all that just makes the choice compelling. In the absence of that interest and focus on the destination those things can set you up for failure. Top Stories