When you talk to Brandon Blaney, you might think you’re talking to KU head coach Mark Mangino because certain key words and phrases keep coming up.
Blaney talks about recruits with “character.” He discusses the search for “scholar-athletes” and tells you that recruiting, like all other aspects of building a college football program, “is a process” and “a team effort.” And much like his boss, he always has something positive to say.
Then again, that shouldn’t be surprising. Blaney and Mangino have followed very similar paths to Mt. Oread and Memorial Stadium.
Like Mangino, Blaney embarked on his college coaching career at Youngstown State (OH), where he was part of a staff that coached the 1999 NCAA Division II national championship team. He also worked as a student assistant alongside Mangino at Oklahoma, where the two helped the Sooners to a national championship.
Blaney isn’t a rookie to the recruiting coordinator position, though: last season he served as tight ends coach and assistant recruiting coordinator. He knows better than anyone that Doeren will be a tough act to follow.
“Anybody who is part of an organization – football or otherwise – wants to leave the organization in better shape than you found it, and Coach Doeren certainly did that,” Blaney said.
As recruiting coordinator, Blaney is responsible for the entire recruiting process, from managing an initial list of as many as 1,000 high school football players all the way down to the 20-25 young men Coach Mangino introduces on Signing Day. That’s no easy task.
“It’s not just me that recruits. All the coaches play an important role, just like on the field on Saturday,” he said.
“I’m responsible day-to-day for making sure our coaches have the right information in place to make good choices when it comes to identifying and evaluating talent,” Blaney explained. “It’s a highly administrative position with lots of paperwork. We have a whole staff of people with law degrees who help me make sure we’re in compliance with the NCAA and getting everything done throughout the recruiting process.”
That recruiting process is a lengthy one, too. Each coach on the Jayhawk staff has a geographic region for which he is responsible. Those coaches travel to those areas and maintain regular contact with coaches to identify the best players. But just as important is whether or not those players can represent the team and University as “scholar-athletes,” Blaney said.
“We’re always trying to evaluate talent, and it’s easy to see the obvious ones. Every now and then, you find some hidden gems. The question you have to ask is, can he play in the Big 12? But the next question you have to ask is, can he achieve acceptable grades in the classroom?” he explained.
Next, the coach determines if the player will be a good fit for not only the team but the overall program. If he is, Blaney said, the position coach okays the player for further recruitment. And, of course, head coach Mangino has a say, as well.
According to Blaney, what coaches look for varies greatly from position to position.
“We look for different things for different positions. We look for things you see on tape or at camp. An offensive lineman, for example, needs size and strength, obviously. A receiver needs speed and the ability to change direction and the ability to catch the ball.”
But on-field success isn’t always a simple matter of talent.
Blaney said, “Everyone we recruit has the potential. There are plenty of tangibles and intangibles that go into that. But the biggest thing you look for is whether guys have the mettle to make the commitment to live up to that potential. Character can be the difference between having potential and having success. And we look for guys with character.”
So despite the expectations that come with bringing in the players that will keep a vastly-improved Jayhawk football program moving forward, the Lamar, MO., native is philosophical.
“Recruiting is a process, just like building the team on the field,” Blaney said. “Anytime you want to build something that’s going to be successful over time, you have to develop a plan and be patient and stick to it. Just like everything else in our program, recruiting has gotten better each year. I hope to build on that.”
And like building success on the field, continuing to elevate KU’s talent level through recruiting will take a team effort. He said Doeren’s departure was a difficult loss, but he’s confident that the right pieces are in place to keep improving the product on the field.
“The biggest thing is whether an organization can keep on ticking when one person leaves,” Blaney observed, “but the bottom line is, it’s a team game. I’m not all by myself; it’s a collective effort. If our collective effort is a good one, we’ll continue to be successful.”