"We are very excited about this first recruiting class for the new staff at Mississippi State University. WE had some specific needs we wanted to address in this recruiting class. Linebacker was one position that we really wanted to upgrade and also in the secondary and we feel very good about what we were able to accomplish there. We feel like we got an outstanding young quarterback in Mike Henig from Jeff Davis in Montgomery. We got two very good prospects at the running back position, as well. Those were the positions that we really wanted to try and upgrade in this recruiting class.
"The most important thing for us in this recruiting class is we are trying to build a solid foundation as far as the kind of people that we want to build this program on in the future. We are very excited about the character of these people. We are very excited that they wanted to be at Mississippi State University. They have come from solid backgrounds as far as football goes. But, most importantly, they come from good families and they showed a great deal of character throughout our recruiting process. We are very proud of them and look forward to working with them in the future."
Questions and answers.
What do you look for other than the talent of the player when you recruit him?
"The first thing is we do a lot of background work through the high school coaches. They are invaluable in the recruiting process because they have been around these young men for years. We talked to their counselors and their teachers, their principals at their schools as far as what kind of work ethic they have, do they have problems getting along with other people, what kind of academic abilities do they have. Some young men may not be where we want them to be academically, but the big thing is do they genuinely want an education and are willing to work toward it with help from the academic structure that we have here at State."
Do you know how many of these signees will play next year?
"A great deal of that evaluation will be determined by a thorough evaluation of what we already have. That won't occur until after spring practice. Our coaching staff has a better understanding of where we are as far as the team is concerned than I do right now because, when I first got in, I hit the road recruiting immediately. But I asked them to do a detailed study of the players that we already had here. Based on their evaluations, the positions that I stated earlier were our specific and immediate needs. And that is the way we recruited. But we also were committed to signing the best athletes available regardless of position."
How much did not having a lot of time to recruit affect recruiting?
"You would much rather be recruiting the entire year, but anytime you have a staff change, that is not going to be the case. That is not a luxury you have anytime you change staffs. I think that Rockey Felker did an outstanding job as far as keeping things together until we could really get our feet on the ground and get things up and running.
"We were still, as a staff, going back and forth comparing guys all the way up until the end of last week just to make decisions on guys. Whereas, next year, we won't have to do that. We will know, going into the start of recruiting season, exactly who we want. And they will be ranked by position, we will have graded them and who we want and who we feel like is the best player for what we are doing offensively and defensively and kicking. We will know well before the recruiting season really gets intensified."
Did the last three years of finishing on the bottom of the SEC hurt your recruiting this year?
"We didn't dwell on finishes in the past. We've had a few bottom finishes the last couple of years, but it was only a few years ago that this school was in the SEC championship game. That wasn't that many years ago. There are some schools who have been highly ranked that haven't had that opportunity. There are other schools in this conference that finished better the last couple of years who can't say that they have ever been in an SEC championship game. That is one advantage that we do have. So, there is some tradition here of having a great deal of success and getting to where we want to go. Our goal is to get back there.
"The thing that I really try to do in our recruiting is once players came here and saw this university, the atmosphere here, the kind of staff we have, the success of our basketball team and the kind of people that are on campus, I think they really got a good understanding of what this university is all about. Even the players that went to other places - and we were down to the wire on several players - I don't think there was one guy who came in who went elsewhere, that had anything negative to say about their visits to this campus. We had several players from long distances where the distance became a factor."
Were you disappointed in not signing more Mississippi kids?
"Yes, we were a little disappointed in that. That is the reality of it. The big thing is getting the guys who want to come here. We had some people, right at the end, who decided to go elsewhere for various reasons. But, again, we were behind and started late on some guys. We will know all the details on each one of our prospects next year. We will have a better plan in place. And we will get an early start and get to know the high school coaches and all the players that we will recruit."
How much did you have to deal with the NCAA investigation?
"We had to deal with it 24 hours a day. But we knew we would have to deal with that. We talked about it with each and every prospect. The schools that we were recruiting against used it to their advantage this year. But that will change once we get the final word on what is going to occur. What happens is, no matter what the decision is, at least there will be a decision. That blank canvas out there allowed the opposition to create whatever picture they might want to create, that won't be the case anymore. Dealing with uncertainty did create an environment where several players had to deal with the fear of the unknown. I can understand that. Can you imagine how we, as adults, are fearful of the unknown. And for a 16 or 17 year old young man, when other coaches paint a picture of doom, despair and agony, that is difficult to deal with. And, contrary to popular opinion that has been spread by other institutions, we will still play football here and we will still have success here in the future."
Did the NCAA investigation affect players in-state more than players outside of the state?
"Without question. Here in-state, they were bombarded incessantly. It's in the media everyday. And, of course, we have two institutions in the state that we recruit against and it repeatedly came up. Of course, that was definitely a factor. But we knew coming in that was the way it was going to be. I don't want anybody to think that we are using that as an excuse. We aren't using it as an excuse. The young men we recruited wanted to be here and we are very happy to have them."
Did you plan on signing 25 players?
"We were hoping to sign as many good football players as we possibly could. If we could find 25 good ones, then we would go all the way to 25. I think there is a possibility, before the day is out, there will be a couple of more in."
When did you find out that Gabriel O'Neal and Anthony Strauder had switched over to Mississippi State?
"We were in deep conversation with both of those young men throughout the recruiting process and we just continued to recruit them. We felt like there was a great opportunity here for both of them. They, and their families, agreed with us."
Have you learned some things from this recruiting season?
"I've learned a great number of strategies in the last few weeks. Our coaches are a lot more experienced with the recent recruiting tactics than I am due to me coming from the NFL. But, I learned some things. I am able to adjust in the middle of any process. Once we realized what was going on, we did make some adjustments."
Were you shocked with the things you saw in recruiting?
"Not necessarily shocked but more surprised at how it has changed since I last recruited. But, believe me, I am a guick study."
What were the things that were different in recruiting from the time you recruited?
"You have the difference in contact periods, which I think is a plus for everybody concerned. The recruiting is a lot more aggressive now, a lot more aggressive. The techniques are different."
What were some things that were enjoyable about recruiting?
"I really enjoyed been in the homes and getting to talk and know the players better. The one thing that was really excited for me that is different than pro football, I think I know these 19 (later 21) young men better than I knew any 19 players that I coached in the National Football League in the last 17 years. I know their parents, I know their little sisters and brothers, I know a lot more about their hopes and their dreams. I have a special bond with a lot of them already. I think that bond will continue to grow as we go through the next four to five years while they are here. Even with the players that have decided to go elsewhere, you wouldn't believe the number of calls that I had from their parents who called to let us know we did a great job. Obviously, I said, I didn't do good enough to get you to come. That has already become special with me. I like people and I like dealing with people on a day to day basis. I like that connection with people that you don't sometime get in pro football."
Did Green Bay's playoff run hurt you with recruiting?
"I don't think it did for me personally because of the two-week dead period in there. If that two-week dead period had not been in there, I would have tried to make some serious adjustments. Two things that dead period did; it allowed me to get our staff together quicker than I normally would have been able to and it also gave me a chance to continue doing the work at Green Bay while still being able to call prospects. It sort of evened the playing field for me."
What if Green Bay had made it to the Super Bowl. What would you have done on the official visit weekends?
"I would have made the official visits. Mike Sherman and I had already talked about that. I would have probably looked at the (Green Bay) game tapes on Monday morning, given my recommendations and showed up for the game on Sunday."
What did you think about your coaching staff the past few weeks?
"I was very proud of our coaching staff during this period. We have a very good coaching staff. They are a mixture of young men and experienced men who work extremely well together. It was pointed out to me from several of the families that came in, they thought this staff had been together for years As I stood back and watched different coaches while I was traveling with them for two or three days at a time, I got to know them better and I think they got to know me better. I got to learn some things from them and I think they learned a few things from me. But the things I saw were guys who were committed to this university, committed to the young men we have here and the young men that we recruited and did things in a very class way. Most importantly, I saw how each one of them handled crisis situations as far as recruiting goes and how they handled the ups and downs of recruiting. And none of them lost their poise. I was impressed with that. That encouraged me for the football season because it was a difficult time, a stressful time. Most of us haven't seen our families in a month."
Talk a little about signee Corey Spells.
"He is a fine representative of the other young men in this group. He is one of the most mentally tough people that I have been around in my life. Here is a young man who has probably faced more adversity in his short life than any of us, who are much older, ever have or will have. Yet, he has still come through it with a great attitude, a great smile, a great zest for life and we are extremely happy to have him be a part of this program. He is a fine person, a fine individual and a great talent."
Did you plan on signing so many out of state players, especially from Alabama?
"It wasn't planned that way. A lot of us had a lot of connections over there. We used some contacts that Coach McCorvey, Freddie Kitchens, Ellis (Johnson) had to our advantage. Mike Henig, the quarterback that we signed from over there, we felt like we were very fortunate to sign this young man."
Gene Swindoll is the owner of Gene's Page, the unofficial source for Mississippi State sports on the internet. The URL for Gene's Page is http://mississippistate.theinsiders.com. You can contact him by emailing email@example.com.