Recruiting Road Map

In this first installment of a three-part series, FSU's John Lilly talked recruiting with TheTerritory in this exclusive interview. In his fifth year as FSU's recruiting coordinator, Lilly must contend with a new staff at UF and the unprecedented success enjoyed by Larry Coker at UM. Also, concern remains about Bobby Bowden's age. "People are going to wonder how much longer is he going to coach. I think it's very easy because people have been recruiting on that for a long time," Lilly said.

Coach John Lilly's opening comments:

"It's two months till signing day, so I would say we are about where we always are in terms of the contact period started this week. You are allowed seven coaches out on the road, and we had seven out there. And we will have seven next week. When we start bowl practice (next Friday), obviously it affects a little bit your ability to get out on the road. But at the same time pretty much everybody is in the same boat on that, when they start practicing for the bowl games. We will get out a little bit then, but obviously not all day and all night. We will get out some nights within that period. The NCAA probably helps you out a little bit because if they didn't, you would be visiting homes on Christmas Day. You go through that period that really is a good three weeks long or so, where you can visit with anybody and they can't visit with you. It's one phone call per week - it calms the process down a little bit. And then it picks back up for three more weeks in January and then it's signing day. It goes by in a hurry."

How many states did you cover last week?

"It's going to be roughly the same because you are trying to see the same guys all the time. Probably eight or nine (states) both weeks. I have four (next week) - Texas, California, North Carolina and Florida. Other than two years ago, when it seemed like we had 20 (verbal commitments) at the bowl game - the year we signed 30 - and that wasn't an ordinary year because it was one of those years when we started getting commitments in the spring and then we just kept getting more and more. Then we got a few in the summer, a few in the fall and then we got a couple in December and before we knew it, we had about 20. We are not used to that. I don't know if that's necessarily the way to go. I was having a conversation with somebody (Thursday) that people talk about early commitments. From a peace of mind standpoint it probably helps you because you know that you are going to get X-amount of guys. You are not battling it out until the last day for basically your whole class. From the standpoint of getting the best players, sometimes you would rather not to do that. Not to say there's not some great players who commit early, because there are if they know where they want to go.

"One of the things to me that has contributed to the parity of college football is that, people take an early commitment who may not be as quite as good as somebody else they could have gotten, but they can get him right then. And you are still recruiting those other guys. Some of those other guys that actually if you waited longer and evaluated a little more and went through the process, they are actually a little better or have more potential, but they end up going somewhere else. I looked at, even some of the teams we've played or in conferences that maybe are not BCS conferences - the MAC and Conference USA and some of those you obviously have very good football teams and football players - a lot of those guys went there but they certainly weren't early commitments. They were at the end guy. Maybe they didn't get evaluated as thoroughly by the so-called top 1A programs as somebody else, so they end up there. But they certainly can play or start or whatever at a top 10 school. It doesn't bother us if we only have four or five or eight or whatever and other people may have 20 (verbal commitments). If they are not the 20 you really want to have, then it doesn't matter."

How many players are you looking to sign?

"Probably 25. I think we will be very close to that. You can say you are going to sign 25, and you may sign 23 because once you get up into those higher numbers sometimes it becomes harder to get those last couple because you may already have four or five at a position. And one of those last couple guys is at that same position and you won't get him. Sometimes things fall a little bit too good and you get 26."

Any lineup changes in terms of your coaches and their recruiting areas?

"At this time of year the way we do it, it doesn't matter as much who is where because everybody tag teams. And position coaches get even more involved. Of course, when you only have seven on the road at once, you have to cover for each other. For instance, my guys I've had to have other coaches - since I've been off the road this week - cover them because I wasn't able to be there. So, it' a lot more involvement by the whole staff. (Editor's Note) Here is FSU's state coverage areas:

John Lilly (Broward and Palm Beach), Jimmy Heggins (Dade County), Daryl Dickey (Tampa/St. Petersburg), Odell Haggins (Polk County to Naples), Billy Sexton (Orlando/Daytona), Joe Kines (Jacksonville), Jody Allen (I-75 west down to local), Jeff Bowden (Tallahassee), Mickey Andrews (Panhandle).

On national level, some of its position or where you happen to be. The last few years, coach Sexton has had South Carolina. Jody, Odell, coach Kines all have a little bit of Georgia. Coach Heggins usually has Louisiana, but this year Jody is working in Louisiana a little bit. Right now I am the only one in Texas. It used to be coach Gladden and I would split Texas. I have California. That's one where you every easily can get help with guys going out there. Coach Andrews always has Alabama and Mississippi, that area. We've been in there (California) the last few years. That's the thing, every year we've gotten at least one and I think we are something five out of the eight or five out of seven we've gone on (players). If you have a high batting average there, you keep going back. You lose a lot of sleep because you can't make your phone calls until late and you are obviously traveling back and forth across the country."

Talk about the state presence of Florida under coach Ron Zook and Miami, especially its recent success?

"Recruiting is always going to be what have you done for me lately phenomena. So, Miami is going to be hot since they have won so many games in a row. And they won a national championship last year and there's a real good chance they are going to play for it again this year and could probably win it again this year. So, they are going to be hot. I think the key thing you always have to remember, no matter how many kids want to go somewhere, they still can't sign 25 max. So, if there's 500 kids who want to go there, whether it's Miami, Florida State or wherever, you still can't sign but 25. And somebody is going to sign the rest of them. I think that's one thing that's important. Obviously, they are always going to attract people. And when they are winning, they also have an atmosphere down there that a lot of teenagers are going to be drawn to. Florida, I think, with changing its staff, they are a little more solidified and everything. But again, they are a little bit in the same boat we are, they lost four football games. Guys have to look at that and make a decision.

"That's the thing I think that all recruits have got to look at - not so much where a program is but where it's going. I remember one of the national championship games that we were in a few years back and a young man was basically down to us and the school we were playing against. He made his decision based on who won that game. It wasn't us - we lost it. So he decided, 'Well, I am going to go to this school because I want to play for a championship.' Well, they haven't seen the national championship game again and we've been there like three more times. So, he had a better opportunity here. That was somebody who didn't look where it was going as much as what happened right now. What happens right now doesn't affect you as much as what's going to happen the next year, two years, three years, four years. So that's going to be very important. Obviously, I wouldn't be saying that if I didn't think that played out in our favor."

Any signs that coach Bowden is slowing down?

"No, I don't think so. He's as excited now as he has ever been. I think the other thing he enjoys this time of year and enjoys getting out and meeting people. I don't know if there's anywhere he has never been, so everywhere he's going he's probably been before. He has something to relate about his time there before and he remembers all of it. And I think he does a very good job when people ask ... people always wonder because people are going to recruit him on it. People are going to wonder how much longer is he going to coach? I think it's very easy because people have been recruiting on that for a long time. Steve Spurrier recruited on it. You know, 'Hey, you go down there and he (Bowden) is going to be gone. Come here.' Well, he's not there any more. Butch Davis recruited on it, and he's not there any more. You can go through the list. I am sure the head coaches at a lot of other schools recruited on that - 'Come here, because you know who the coach is going to be here. You go up there, he's going to leave.' Well, he's outlasted all of them. And probably there will be several more before he retires, there will be several more who will recruit off of that and be gone."

What's your greatest need?

"Whenever you are signing 25, you are trying to sign across the board. But obviously when you lose five senior offensive linemen, there's a tremendous need there. We are a little bit thin on the defensive front, particularly when you look inside - we have a couple of guys that have gotten hurt in Jeff Womble and Broderick Bunkley. And Tony Benford graduates, so there's a need there. I think in the defensive secondary, we only signed one there last year and that was Pat Watkins, who I think is going to be an outstanding player. Now next year you look at it, there's a bunch of seniors and juniors and not many younger guys. So, there's a tremendous need there for guys who can come in and be ready to play pretty quickly. I think at receiver, you kind of run into the same thing. You lose Talman, you lose Robert Morgan. And now you are starting to get a little top heavy there, with Anquan being a senior. You are going to try to sign across the board but if you had to zero in on things, and obviously my position at tight end, we really had two this year. And Matt Henshaw moved over there, and he's still learning the position. But Pat (Hughes) graduates, so you have Paul (Irons) and Matt and neither one of them came here to be a tight end so you are always looking there. There's a bunch of needs really even though we have some quality guys coming back."

Part II: Coach Lilly breaks down each segment of the team and discusses needs.


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