Not every assistant coach makes a good recruiting coordinator. Illinois has seen a variety of styles and personality types over the years. Some have had more success than others. At times, an assistant with little interest in going on the road was named coordinator. He would stay at home while the other assistants did the heavy lifting.
Others have been good recruiters themselves and used the position to guarantee personal success. If the staff needed to choose between two prospects, the recruiting coordinator had the power to ensure his own guy got the scholarship. It helped his resume by being declared a top recruiter, but it didn't always help the team.
Ideally, a recruiting coordinator should care more about the team than himself. He should be a good recruiter so his word will carry credibility with the staff. And he should be organized to guarantee no stone is left unturned in finding and signing the best recruiting classes.
New recruiting coordinator Greg Nord appears an ideal choice for the job. First of all, he has had personal success in recruiting and will continue to recruit while coordinating the staff.
"As far as recruiting, I've been successful as a recruiter," Nord explains. "During my stay at Louisville, I recruited 23 guys that either were all-conference or went and played in the NFL. That's a decent amount of guys."
He also has plenty of experience as a coordinator upon which to draw and embraces the role.
"I did it for three years (at Louisville), and some time back I did it for five years for John L. Smith when he was there. I think it's something that needs to be done."
Nord applys a team concept to recruiting.
"My biggest asset I think is trying to get everybody working together and understand this is a team effort. When you do that, everyone gets focused in on signing THE best players for the program as opposed to how many of my guys do I get on signing date.
"I've been in those situations, and sometimes people get an agenda. We're all competitive, we're all selfish, we all want certain things. But one of the things Coach Zook mentioned to me when we first started talking, we're interested in getting the best players to come play for Illinois regardless of who recruits them.
"We all need to work our tails off. But your best player in your area might be better than the one in my area. So we take the guy in your area, and I need to help you get that guy. We all need to come together as position coaches and help the guys in other areas recruit that guy.
"Offensive guys need to help a defensive coach recruit an offensive player and vice versa. We've all got to pull together and realize if we all do that and all work together and none of us worries about getting the credit for the success, we all do win."
Nord believes he can use his organizational skills to help the entire staff in recruiting.
"What I think I do is make sure everybody is organized, and I'm smart enough to realize that everybody works a different way. It can't just be my way, it can't just be your way. It's got to be our way.
"There is no exact science to recruiting. It's hard. As long as you're working your tail off and doing it every day, then you're gonna be successful. Especially as good as Coach Zook is."
The Illini are, for the first time in Zook's tenure, asking each assistant to contact and try to recruit the top dozen or so players nationally at the positions they recruit. They may whiff on most of those, but it requires each assistant to work towards recruiting the best possible players for his position(s).
Each assistant will continue to have a set of territories within which to recruit. These will include both in-state and out-of-state areas. But Nord makes it clear the top priority is the state of Illinois.
"The number one thing we're gonna do is to get the best players in the state of Illinois. It's important that everyone of our coaches have a piece or part of that. That way, we're all aware of the best players. We all know that if we can get those guys to stay home and fill our needs in other areas, we can do good things here."
It is often easier to keep good players at home than to travel long distances for prospects. So the areas in close proximity to campus will get heavy emphasis.
"We're gonna try to stay strong as we can close to home. We're gonna throw a circle four hours around Champaign and go attack. Try to get those guys to stay at home. The one thing you can't change, is indisputable, is geography.
"If a guy is looking to stay close to home, a guy in Indianapolis is gonna be more prone to come to Illinois than a guy in California. But if that is not a factor to a guy, then certainly we will go wherever we need to go to take a great player."
Illini coaches are experienced and have developed good relationships all over the country. Some of the newest staff members are especially strong in the South. They will continue to work those areas looking for top prospects.
"We also know that recruiting is a lot of times relationships and knowledge of an area. A lot of us have been in different areas, areas that are very heavy with football talent. So we decided not to cut off those ties, to use them to our advantage and touch some of those areas where we do have good ties."
Illini staffers are now required to share the recruitment of players in their areas with those athletes' future position coaches from the beginning of their recruitment. There are multiple benefits to this approach, including team building among the staff.
"Sure it does," Nord agrees. "If one of the things we're selling is that everyone is part of the family, they need to meet the family. A guy is gonna spend as much time with his position coach over the next four or five years as anybody in his life, to be honest about it. It would not make sense to us to not have that person involved with him to be part of our program.
"One of the things you find out a lot of times, as you get everybody involved, then everybody starts learning what that position coach is looking for to make his position successful. What I think we may need at linebacker, for instance, may not be exactly what they want at linebacker.
"So it's important to get position coaches the players they need to be successful there. Then we've all got to be able to learn from each other what we're looking for in terms of positions."
A unified coaching staff working together for a common cause has the best chance for success. And that includes recruiting. Nord is working to make that happen.