Ron West did his homework before agreeing to move from Tulsa to Illinois. He was attracted to head coach Ron Zook and a chance to renew a working relationship with new Defensive Coordinator Vic Koenning. But he discovered much more that appealed to him, both as a place to work and live but a school that can attract top recruits.
"I had done a little research on the University of Illinois," West admits. "One thing I was more impressed with than anything was the history and tradition of the program. I've never had an opportunity to coach a program that had won five national championships and 15 conference championships. This is a very prestigious type university.
"And then the next thing I liked, I looked at the academic structure of the university. Highly motivated in research, highly motivated in academics. Top 10. I've never been anywhere you had a top academic program and a good football program. Kids today are looking for that. That doesn't hurt you in recruiting at all.
"I was impressed with Illinois' commitment to the facilities. When I looked at all that, they have spent a lot of money on facilities and done it right. They committed to the program. It's obvious that things are gonna be okay. Those are the things that really weighed heavily."
Ease of living was also an important benefit for West and his wife.
"Champaign is a college town. I've been used to a college town atmosphere and then drive 30-45 minutes to get to work. I was used to that at Clemson. Coach Zook lives only 5-6 minutes from here, and that was what I was looking for. It's a college town, but it's a bigger town and there's a lot to do here. Those were all the things I was looking for."
With a background in several southern and southwestern states, West has many recruiting connections.
"I played basketball in Georgia, and my family has lived in Georgia for over 20 years. So I will continue to recruit Georgia. I'll recruit South Carolina, Louisiana, and Texas. And then I'll recruit Mississippi. I think I'll work a little out West like New Mexico, but just spotted on certain kids. Every coach on staff will have an Illinois area."
West recruits central and west central Illinois. While studying his area, he discovered Canton tackle Hunter Wells and obtained a commitment from him. West cannot comment on specific recruits, but it is obvious he knows how to evaluate talent and respond quickly to sell Illinois. Wells comes from a struggling smaller school, but quality is quality wherever you happen to find it.
West is a dedicated recruiter who is excited with the Illini's commitment to recruiting.
"We're gonna have four guys working Georgia. Coach (Greg) Nord will have an area there, Vic Koenning will have an area there. He's basically got the same area he had when he was at Clemson and Troy. I have the area I had at Clemson all those years. And Coach (Dan) Disch is gonna have the southern area near Jacksonville.
"That's a great commitment. In my years at Clemson, we only had four guys in Georgia. I respect that. I know what Coach is trying to do. There's so many athletes there, he told me he felt we could go in there and do something.
"We can get kids out of South Carolina, we can get them out of Georgia and Texas. We've got kids taking unofficial visits from South Carolina next month. I'll have kids from Texas here. We've all got kids coming from Tennessee. We're gonna have kids from Florida coming."
Illini fans, skeptical after a frustrating 3-9 season, may question West's sanity. But he says there are many selling points at Illinois to attract top-level athletes.
"There's too many things going right here. When you tell a kid we're two years removed from the Rose Bowl, and when you talk about academics with parents. I'm the father of a kid that played college football. Academics sells.
"Young people today are really looking at the whole package. If you're gonna go recruiting beyond the lines and spend a lot of money, you can create more numbers on your board. And the next thing is your facilities which are top of the line. Plus the Big 10 Network. That makes you very attractive."
West continues his recruiting pitch with all the Bowl possibilities.
"When you talk about academics, the Big 10 Network, the facilities, the tradition, and then when you talk about the other thing that really attracts kids is the bowl lineup. The BCS has taken two teams from the Big 10 four years in a row. The third place team could land in the Capitol One, the fourth place team could land in the Outback.
"The fifth place team could wind up in the doggone Gator. The Gator bowl doesn't even belong in the ACC anymore. You don't think we can't attack that? Where's the ACC going now?
"The 6th place team is going to the Champs Bowl. That's if the first two teams wind up in the BCS. The point is, we have a pretty good bowl package. So it's gonna attract kids. That's one reason to attack the ACC areas in recruiting."
West provides insights into why distant locales are popular among young athletes and how Illinois can profit from that reality.
"Players today are going farther from home. What's happened is college football is a year-round deal now. It's not like what it was 20 years ago when kids could slip out and go home all the time. Academics has gotten too demanding, and the football. And the world's different.
"We've got direct flights from Atlanta right into Champaign and right into Bloomington. And we can get them pretty reasonable. You've got direct flights into Bloomington. You've got direct flights from Dallas to here. So that's pretty good. That gives you a pretty good recruiting base and helps you recruit."