Passion Play - Part One

In case you missed this, this is a MUST READ NOW! This article appeared in a recent edition of <B>FightinGators magazine</B>. If you love the Gators and recruiting, you will LOVE this article. If you are not signed up for FightinGators magazine, this is what you are missing. <P> <B>Betty Ling</B> has turned her love of the Gators into a career that has contributed to Florida's football success. <P> Part one of three

Betty Ling has never watched tape of high school football recruits. She has never gone to a high school football game to scout a top prospect. She has never made an in-home visit to a recruit and his family. Yet since 1979, every football player who has signed a scholarship offer to play at the University of Florida has formed a friendship with Betty Ling. No person has done more to promote the University of Florida to high school football coaches and players in the state of Florida, and around the country. "Recruiting to her is whatever time she wakes up until she goes to bed at night," said Jim Collins, who served as the recruiting coordinator for Steve Spurrier from 1994-2001. "She's been unbelievable. Nobody understands the amount of time she puts in. It is an absolute passion for her. She's a tremendous factor in the recruiting successes we had at Florida."

The job title has gone from recruiting secretary to administrative assistant to director of high school relations to on-campus recruiting coordinator to senior administrative assistant ("I guess that means I'm the oldest one here," Ling says). Whatever she's been called, to thousands of Gator football recruits, Betty Ling is the Queen of Florida recruiting. Dan Grossman, the father of Gator great Rex Grossman, will attest to Ling's influence.

"What a delightful person she is," Grossman said from his home in Bloomington, Ind., "Compared to our interactions with other people down there, she was the warmest and most helpful of all the people.

"Before we came down to Florida to visit I sent out recruiting tapes," Grossman explained. "It was after Rex's junior season and it was still early in the recruiting season, but some schools were pretty responsive. Florida was the most stubborn of all of them. FSU had welcomed us with open arms but (Jim) Collins was honest with us. He said Florida didn't recruit Indiana and we were a whole year in advance.

"It was a little rainy the day we visited and she went around and gathered up some umbrellas from the closets of the staff, it was a motley group of 'em, but she finally found some that worked. She took us on a whirlwind tour of the field and the campus. From that point forward we were friends. Wherever we'd run into each other we'd run up and hug. Betty has always been a friend and she always will be. There's no doubt she was a big reason we loved Florida."

"After we visited Florida we went up to Tallahassee to visit Florida State. Mark Richt (FSU's offensive coordinator at the time) showed us around but there was no comparison to Betty's tour. Betty's was a five-star tour compared to Richt's."

Betty remembers that first meeting with the Grossmans too. She seems to remember her visits with almost any recruit you can mention.

"His (Rex's) daddy just called and said 'my son's a quarterback in Indiana and we're coming to tour the three schools in Florida and we'd like to come by and can we do that. I said absolutely. I said if you let me know when you're coming I'll make sure I'm here. I told him I couldn't guarantee coaches would be here because it was right between (summer) camp and our coaches had some time off, but I would be glad to show him what we've got.'

"They were here three or four hours. I showed them the Office of Student Life and everything downstairs (in the stadium) and we were walking down the hall after coming downstairs and down the hall comes Coach (Spurrier). He had just gotten off the golf course. He had played golf that morning and had on his shorts, his visor, and he was just there in the hall.

" I said 'Coach Spurrier this is Rex Grossman from Indiana and his dad Dan.' He said 'how ya doing' and got to talking with them and asked them to come into his office. They talked awhile and then they came back out and looked at some tape. I gave him a questionnaire and said if you send this back to me I'll keep up with you. I told him anytime he wanted to come to a game just call me. I left him, hopefully, with a good taste in his mouth. Well he sent that questionnaire right back and I put him on the list so I recruited him. I got some tape from him and then one of our coaches went up there and saw him play.

"There wasn't any of the begging and pleading like we do for some people, but we did recruit him once I got back that questionnaire. He got mail from us every week. Coach and I laugh about it because he says he didn't recruit him. And he's right because he didn't do what he normally did for all the other quarterbacks. Hopefully, we did what we could to answer his questions the day he was here. We had one shot at him and it worked. But I recruited Rex hard.

"That's what I do with every visit. I make as much out of it as I can and if they don't come back, that's fine. Even if it's a kid that can't play that's okay too. I'm still going to show him what we've got and I'm going to sell the University of Florida. I don't care if he's 5-3. Then it's up to Coach to turn him down. My job is to sell and to keep the interest to where if that kid is what we want, I've done everything I can to have him ready to come to Florida."

For the past 24 years, Betty Ling has been working at her dream job. Not many people get that opportunity. Even more amazing is that Ling's job, the one she helped create and mold over two decades, didn't exist when she arrived in Gainesville with her husband Frank and their three sons in the summer of 1979.

Growing up in Tampa, Betty developed a passion for the Gators. She used to head over to Tampa Robinson to watch future Gators like George Dean, Larry Smith and Steve Ely play.

"I went to watch them because I knew they were going to be Gators. I've been a Florida fan all my life," Ling acknowledged. "There was no reason for me to like the Gators. No member of my family went to the University of Florida. Back then girls didn't like football. I was the weirdo. I could tell you every player's name. When I came here to work I knew who all the players were."

Her love of the Gators is so strong that her eldest son Steve, born in 1962, was named after a high school phenom from the state of Tennessee who signed with Florida that year--- Steven Orr Spurrier.

"We didn't like Orr so we gave him Earl for a middle name," Betty explained.

In April 1979, while Betty's husband Frank was finishing work on his master's degree at Georgia Tech in Atlanta, new head coach Charley Pell and some of his staff were in town for a Gator Club meeting.

"We met Joe Kines (an assistant coach) and I asked him if he ever needed any help," Betty said. " I was just kidding with him but he said they always need some help. He said if you ever want to come and work for the Gators come and see us, but we were just kidding around. Well Frank graduated, and I was born and raised in Florida, and I wanted to come back home so we came down here. I applied for five jobs (in town) and I got offered four of them. The one I didn't get was here (in the UF ticket office).

So that July, Ling took a job working for the president of Sun Bank . In August she saw a small ad in the paper that said "Assistant needed. Call Sonny McGraw." As a passionate Gator fan, she recognized McGraw as one of Pell's assistant coaches. After answering the ad, she got called in for an interview. When Pell interviewed her, he put her on the spot immediately. He wanted to know how she would describe football recruiting--- which she admittedly knew nothing about--- in one word.

"The only thing I could think of was the word unique. I said we need to be different. I was the dumb one in the group when we tried to come up with ideas but when I was working at Sears I was sales promotion manager and so my opinion was that we had to sell the Gators."

The following Monday she was working at a job with no clear job description and no job title.

"That's what coach Pell talked to me about. He told me it was a new job. Back then the UAA (University Athletic Association) was under the state. You had levels that you worked at and positions were set up by the state. There was no position in their curriculum for me. The state didn't know how to classify it because they didn't know what I was going to be doing. So I worked in an unclassified position for about five years."

When Ling started working with McGraw there was nothing more than a typed list of players who were being recruited.

"We didn't have questionnaires for recruits," Ling noted. "We didn't have anything to go by and back then there was the early (SEC) signing date in December so we had a lot to do to get ready. We started building a letter-writing campaign."

Selling the Gator football program to big-time recruits wasn't very easy in 1979. Ling remembered having to go into a room with visiting recruits during halftime of what turned out to be a 40-0 loss to Bear Bryant and an Alabama national championship team.

"Every game was a loss, but our Gator Room was still full," Ling said. "We had Wayne (Peace) and Wilber (Marshall) and all these other people and we're losing bad so what do I tell them at halftime? I said 'Do you see why we need you?' That's all I could say. And we got some of them."

Marshall, who was recruited as a tight end but turned out to be arguably the greatest defensive player in UF football history, almost didn't become a Gator.

"Wilber wasn't the size we wanted for a tight end," Ling explained. "We had Mike Mularkey and Chris Faulkner was here and they were measuring Wilber to Faulkner and saying this kid can't be a tight end. But (assistant coach) Charlie Lyle said we've got to have him because he's a player. He was a Parade All-America tight end but he may have been the shortest tight end we ever signed. He was just barely six feet tall. Basically they signed him because he was a Parade All-America and he was an athlete. But if you had talked to Wilber Marshall when you were recruiting him and said 'Do you think you can play defensive end?' you would have never signed him at Florida. He wanted to play offense. He didn't want to play defense."

Marshall was part of a long list of talented athletes who signed with Pell's program in the early 1980s. As it turned out, Pell and his staff broke a bunch of rules on their way to bringing those athletes to Gainesville. Despite being in the midst of the recruiting process, Ling insists she was never aware of the illegal activities taking place out on the recruiting trail and behind closed doors.

"It was tough. It started in 1982 and then it went through the '83 season," Ling said of the NCAA investigation. "My biggest problem was when I did my writing I didn't know who they (recruits) were supposed to hear from. I didn't want a parent getting a letter from a coach who was being mentioned (in the newspaper reports) so a lot of the stuff just came from the Gators because we didn't know who was going to be here.

"I knew the charges that they said I was involved with. I had the paperwork to clear them and I did clear them. I didn't know what was going on. They didn't tell me when they were doing something, and that's fine, I don't have a problem with that. But everything I did I had papers to document it and I knew the charges that were in there about my area were not true and we ended up getting all those dropped.

"But it was rough because we were all involved and I was written up in the newspapers. My kids were asking, 'Mom are you going to jail?' It was very difficult. All I had to hang on to was that I knew I hadn't done anything wrong.

"I was having to do it all around here and that's kinda ruined me because I got in the habit of doing it all and having to take over because of having so many new (recruiting) coordinators and coaches coming in. I tried to keep it going so we never missed a beat." Ling's answer to the critics and opposing programs that were badmouthing Florida was to increase the amount of correspondence with recruits.

"I doubled our mailouts. I doubled everything we were doing. I created a bunch of problems for myself now, because I've had to keep it going. I started writing postcards and they were going to everybody. I didn't even know if some of them were (top) players because I figured we had to have it ready for the new coaches when they came in here.

"Every time you have a change it forces you to take a step back and then you have to go forward. It doesn't matter even if the new guy is a great, great coach."

Part two coming on Tuesday.

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