“The No. 1 thing you have to be able to do as a recruiter is you have to be able to evaluate talent,” said LSU wide receivers coach D.J. McCarthy. “It’s not what the recruiting services say. They’re great resources, but it’s our job as a coach to evaluate that talent based on what we need here at LSU.”
Fans may get caught up in the number of stars that a prospect has been awarded or where he ranks at his position compared to others from around the country. However, coaches aren’t nearly as captivated by the stars as they are with their own evaluations.
Assistant coaches put in countless hours throughout the year and while their actual season may come to an end in December or January, the recruiting process never shuts down.
From August until the bowl game is wrapped up, it’s common for the LSU staff to go seven days a week and put in 120 hours or more. When the season wraps up, the hours don’t end there as the coaches are on the road making in-home visits, hosting official visits and spending many late nights on the phone. The seven-day workweeks continue and the hours continue to average triple digits without much time to spend with their loved ones.
While August signifies the start of a new year for the LSU football team, the recruiting cycle is never ending with no start or end date in sight.
If one was looking for a starting point, though, they could turn to where it all begins – the evaluation process.
One of the most critical components to the evaluation process is getting a highlight tape to a coach, and the sooner the better. Due to the many tasks that college coaches have on their plate along with time constraints with practice schedule and game preparations, a coach will often get a highlight tape and then go from there.
“If it’s a receiver then I need the highlight tape first to look at and get it going,” McCarthy said. “If I see this guy is good enough then I want to look at game tape to see how he is when he’s not getting the ball or what he’s doing on a run block. When I see what he can and can’t do then I ask myself if I think the kid can be coached to do what he needs to do.”
Prior to arriving at LSU in the spring of 2007, McCarthy spent four years coaching receivers at Nevada from 2000 to 2003. In 2004, he moved on to Central Florida for two years and then spent a year coaching the receivers at UCLA.
He has that West Coast label after spending so much time on that side of the country which includes the three years McCarthy played receiver for the Washington Huskies.
McCarthy said he has learned a lot along the way during his career as a collegiate coach and player which have helped him immensely in judging talent. He also spent three years working with Al Davis and the Oakland Raiders in the National Football League as a defensive assistant and player developer where he picked up some good pointers that has aided him in evaluating players regardless of the level they play at.
“What Al used to say is we have all of these Hall of Fame guys so who does he remind you of,” explained McCarthy. “If he’s a wide receiver, which receiver does he remind you of. Is he a Tim Brown type or a James Jett type? That’s how I kind of break it down when I look at guys compared to who we have now here at LSU.
“The other thing I try to find out is what can the kid do? Once I figure that out then I say the kid can do this, but what do we need to coach him to do? If he can’t do something can we coach him to do that?”
Finding out if a kid is coachable often starts by talking to his coaches and others who are in contact with him. Perhaps the best way to tell, though, is by getting the player to a summer camp and working with him one-on-one.
“I think camps are the No. 1 tool next to watching tape,” McCarthy said. “What better opportunity can you get than to work with a kid to see his attitude and see how he learns? You see what his attitude is like and see how quick he picks things up and uses it. You see if he is a prima donna type and see how he responds to you as a coach.”
Working with wide receivers at camp gives McCarthy a first-hand account of what a kid can and cannot do, but as a college assistant on the recruiting trail he must have a keen eye for talent at other positions as well.
The chain of command for recruiting begins with the area recruiter and then it goes to the position coach. After that, the offensive or defensive coordinator takes a look at the prospect and then if everyone agrees that the prospect is someone that meets LSU’s criteria it goes to the headman himself, Les Miles.
Since coaches must be able to evaluate other positions that they may not specialize in they must know what each position coach is looking for in a particular player.
“We try to evaluate what coaches are looking for,” McCarthy said. “If it’s a running back then I ask Larry (Porter) what he’s looking for and what are the qualities that he likes. When I see those in a player then I can let him take a look. I may see some stuff that I like but I’m not the one making the final decision.”
Just like recruiting is an inexact science and there are players that end up being better than a recruiting service predicted, coaches will sometimes stray away from those ideal measurements or traits because there are always exceptions to the rule.
“Now, if there is an outstanding guy that may not have those qualities that he is looking for but he’s a great player then I’ll say you need to check this guy out,” said McCarthy. “He may not be as big as they’re looking for or he’s not this, but I’ll pass him on anyway and let them make the call.”
The cohesion that a staff must have if it is going to be successful on the field is just as important when the coaches are out on the trail and in the meeting rooms breaking down film.
“I think it’s important that everyone is on the same page so when you get your top five or top ten list of position guys you know who to go after,” said McCarthy. “I may fall in love with a kid that is a tight end and I’m out there busting my butt recruiting him, but he’s sixth or seventh on the position coach’s list. If he’s sixth or seventh on the position coach’s list and we have a great chance to get the top two guys then I may be wasting my time. So, we all have to be on the same page so we work effectively.”
Working effectively is the key in any profession where one must depend on his co-workers and it stands true in this profession as well.
After finishing No. 3 in the country in Scout.com’s recruiting rankings, one could conclude that this staff worked effectively for the 2009 class.
LSU fans may still be looking at 2009, but McCarthy and the other assistants are focused on the future.
“We’re working on 2010 now,” he said. “We’ve been working on that for a while now.”
With no beginning or ending to the recruiting process, “a while now” is about as accurate of a date as anyone could expect.