When LSU lost running backs coach Larry Porter and tight ends coach Don Yanowsky to jobs on the Memphis staff, the program’s best recruiter and recruiting coordinator, respectively, were gone as well.
Head coach Les Miles acted quickly, replacing Porter with Frank Wilson, a 36-year old native of New Orleans who was then serving both as Tennessee’s assistant coach and wide receivers coach.
Having spent his entire coaching career in the states of Louisiana and Mississippi, Wilson’s first year in Tennessee proved to be his only one. Just 11 months after signing on with Lane Kiffin in Knoxville, the former O.P. Walker headman was back on the sidelines in the Bayou State for the first time since 2003.
“When [Porter left] I didn’t put much thought into it, because I wasn’t seeking to leave,” Wilson said. “My desire and interest was there [in Tennessee]. It was a little tough for me. You want to be loyal in that sense.
“But at the end of the day, my loyalty was with my family.”
One glance at Wilson’s background gives good insight into why the move was made.
A product of St. Augustine High School in New Orleans, Wilson moved on to a three-year stint at Nicholls State after spending his freshman season in 1992 as a running back at Geneva (Pa.) University.
After he earned his Bachelor degree in general education in 1997, Wilson began his ascent. Within a decade, the 24-year old would become one of the quickest rising coaches that his home state had ever seen.
His first stops were in the Big Easy coaching at Karr High and O.P. Walker High, schools not far from the same neighborhoods that molded Wilson.
On the field, he led O.P. Walker to the state title game in 2002. In that season and the year prior, Wilson helped the Chargers capture District 10-4A Championships. In the classroom, he graduated 22 players that received college scholarships. His mark of 11 in 2002 ranked as the nation’s largest class of Division I signees by any one school.
The drive and connection that Wilson showed his student athletes in New Orleans still shines today through players like Anthony “Freak” Johnson, one of the nation’s most touted prospects for 2011.
Wilson, who after serving one year as Director of Athletics for the New Orleans Public School System moved onto a five-year college stint that included stops at Ole Miss, Southern Miss and Tennessee, has been in contact with the O.P. Walker standout defensive lineman for as long as Johnson can remember.
“Coach Frank has just become that father figure to me, and it isn’t even about the recruitment process,” Johnson said. “He relates to most kids, especially the New Orleans-type, because he has seen the same struggle that we experience now. That is very comforting with kids our age; when you know someone understands everything about you.”
A testament to Wilson’s impact on Johnson, the 6-foot-2, 296-pound defensive tackle, one of the most pro-Louisiana prospects in the current class, was committed to Tennessee for the stretch that Wilson was in Knoxville.
“I was going to go there really just because I knew coach Frank was going to be up there,” Johnson said. “I remember a long time ago when he looked me in the eyes and let me know he would always take care of me, and I wanted to be around a person like that in college.
“He is one of the realest men I have ever met, and his young age has nothing to do with it. He could be 70 [years old] and still relate in the same way he does.”
The feelings Johnson held for Wilson evidently ran across the board. On the same day that the defensive lineman switched his pledge from Tennessee to LSU, four-star running back Kenny Hilliard and three-star offensive guard Corey White also committed to the Tigers.
Within the month, Wilson had set up an exclusive junior day, which eventually helped land commitments from running back Terrance Magee and wide receiver Jarvis Landry.
By the start of the evaluation period, Wilson and the LSU staff have landed commitments from 10 prospects, nine of which are from within the state.
Consider this a foreshadowing of the future with Wilson in charge. While the 2011 class might be unusually loaded with Louisiana talent, the plan moving forward is to stay home first.
“Louisiana is a coveted, fertile ground for recruits,” Wilson said. “The irony is that I have been at other universities and have tried to get players to leave the state, and it was a daunting task.”
And for a product of the state who has seen Louisianans like Ed Reed head to Miami and Warrick Dunn to Florida State, Wilson’s extra push lies in writing a history of LSU that is built on homegrown talent.
“It is personal,” Wilson said. “For years – in the 80s and 90s – people went elsewhere. Things have changed in the last 10 years, and I want to keep it that way.”
Outside of talent born on the bayou, Wilson’s plan is to keep LSU strong in the surrounding states, making certain talents like Pompano Beach, Fla. native Patrick Peterson and Houston, Texas standout Russell Shepard continue signing with the program each February.
“We look at history and it has shown that we have had our success in Louisiana and on the I-10 corridor,” Wilson said. “We will be in Houston, south Mississippi and then the Panhandle. That is our greatest emphasis.”
Though you could forgive a staff that has added six new coaches in the past year and a half for being a bit unorganized in the recruiting war room, Wilson found that he wasn’t tasked with much organizing upon taking over the recruiting duties for the program last December.
“It was led by coach Miles, and he had the idea of what he wanted,” Wilson said. “The greatest sell point is that with our program, Miles runs it in a family oriented manner. We don’t recruit just the kid. We recruit his mom, dad, uncle and so on. We capture their family.
“There are different ways of recruiting, and other places might just recruit the kid.”
The upcoming evaluation period, one of the busiest times for a college recruiting coordinator, will see Wilson and the staff hit the ground running bright and early on Thursday morning.
With new faces offering strong ties to familiar places, Wilson is excited about what his team of recruiters brings to the road.
“Billy [Gonzales] will be in Florida, Joe Rob [Robinson] will be in Alexandria and east Texas, [Steve] Ensminger will have northwest Louisiana and [Ron] Cooper and I will be in New Orleans,” he said. “Ron will be on the Northshore and I will be in the Metroplex.
“I am super excited about it. It is a great staff of guys with tons of energy and knowledge.”
For Wilson, now with his third SEC program, there is no substitute for the hard work that is about to be laid down over the next month.
“I go all four weeks,” said Wilson of the stretch that assistant coaches are allowed on the road. “I don’t come off at all. My first school visit usually happens at 7 [a.m.] and concludes at 6 [p.m.] with a football, baseball or track practice. When I get back to the hotel I get on my emails. I send thank you letters to the head coach, the principal and the counselors for allowing me into their school.
“It is who I am, what I do. The guy I work with will be on the winning side at the end of the day.”