The first thing to remember is that if you went deep 'inside' ten different schools you would find ten different recipes for success. However certain fundamentals are pretty standard. Going across many different message boards we often see the same types of questions and some of the same 'misconceptions', we want to first analyze this situation from the schools perspective.
For the purposes of this article, we will make three assumptions: a brand new staff is hired at a BCS university, there are no commits at the present time, and the time period is the day after the previous signing day. After the new head coach has assembled his staff, one of the first orders of business will be making the recruiting territories for the coaches.
There is only so much ground or area that a coach can recruit, so it is important that they are really able to make a mark in that area, they can't be spread out too thin. Existing relationships are an important part of the recruiting process. Coaches will often be given an area in which they have recruited in the past. Even 'national' programs are going to recruit locally first, then branch out from there. In the case of a school like FSU, obviously the state of Florida is prime recruiting ground, surrounding states like Georgia, Alabama, Louisiana, and Mississippi will also be areas that we can draw from. Texas is close enough and we traditionally have done well enough to warrant spending some time in that state as well.
As you can see this is quite a lot of ground to cover, but what about players from other parts of the country? Do we just not pay any attention to them? A player from say "Kansas" will most likely have to let FSU know about them, whether that is an unofficial visit(which shows real interest), his Head Coach sending film to the recruiting department, or perhaps that player is evaluated from a recruiting service that the school subscribes to. Should things take off, the university will get into the local high school at some point. Taking that unofficial visit(which can pretty much be done anytime on your own dollar) is clearly the best way, it allows the school to have a chance to get to know you in person and you can be sure to get some face time.
Now we have the coaches going out and hitting their areas, this brings up it's own challenges. For instance, Coach Trickett is the OL coach, but he will be looking at players at all positions, he may like what he sees, but that is just a first step. The prospects position coach will look at film of the prospect and either will like what he sees(good pile) or won't (bad pile). In a perfect world, Coach Trickett finds a TE he likes and Coach Coley watches film and also likes what he sees. In this case, things will move on a fast track in terms of how to handle the recruitment of said player.
Unfortunately, it still is not as easy as that. There are a myriad of factors that have to be considered as the school moves forward. Might this prospect commit on the spot if offered? Is he at the top of the board? Do we want him to commit? How many prospects are we taking at that position? Will he be solid if he commits? Is he a prospect that we want to see at a summer camp up close? These questions along with many more need to considered and the situation is very, very fluid.
It is a fine line that must be walked particularly in today's recruiting world of "early offers". We think that almost every school would agree that they want the process to slow down, unfortunately, today's generation of young athletes don't like to wait! So if a school is not offering or showing interest, they are often times falling behind the proverbial eight ball. It is a delicate balance because the last thing that a program wants to do is burn bridges.
University camps are an important part of the process, some would be surprised to know that it is often times less about the talent and more about how the player interacts with the position coach. That position coach wants to know that he can coach the young man, that he will respond to his way of coaching, that they see eye to eye. Things such as effort, hustle, and the ability to pick up new things will also be noted.
Depending on the school, a board will eventually be built with an appropriate number of prospects on it given the needs of the university. Here we diverge into a wide range of recruiting philosophies. Some schools will offer five players for one spot and 'take' the first one who is ready to commit. Others will focus on their top one, two, or three at that position and not move on until they feel they are on the outside looking in with said prospect. Ohio State is a good example of school that does not "throw out a bunch of offers". Rival Michigan does things differently, they are more aggressive with the offers. Both strategies work.
The official visit is extremely important for prospects who are undecided. It is certainly true that many prospects are 'enjoying a nice weekend', but even in that scenario a school has a legit chance to change their mind. They are on campus, they did take the time to visit.
Finally we get to the 'closer', other wise known as the Head Coach. It is his final say that determines who is 'in' and who is 'out'. His in-home visit is an opportunity to meet one on one with a prospect and their family and to address all issues that are out there. Some coaches are better in this arena than others and experience certainly can help. It should be noted that with more and more early commitments, this might be a little less important than in years past. Often times a commit(and their family) will have spent considerable time at the university. For the undecided, it remains a very key component.
We hope this helps explain some of the difficulties that college coaches face out there. These guys work hard, they put a lot of miles on the odometer, they are constantly on the phone. They do this because it IS simply that important.