Is there an old adage, "great coaches can make players look good, but great players can make coaches look VERY good"? If there isn't, there should be as sometimes, that's the case. Not for Nebraska though as they have had a tradition of the former and not the latter, at least in the eyes of some of those would-be experts.
Nebraska has never been perceived as long on recruiting success, but when you have a class that was ranked around 16th or so coming out of high school, going 60-3 over their career, either great players are overrated or recruiting rankings are totally wrong. I would prefer to think that latter is the case or at the very least, was the case at one time.
Recruiting though has been a sore spot for NU in recent years. The lack of getting those solid classes from top to bottom, much of that is considered the reason for NU winning ways turned into winning woes.
Not filling needs at such and such position, one year after another, all that adds up to Nebraska's waning success.
Scott Downing is here to change that.
No, not by himself, but as the very first in-house recruiting coordinator, Downing is expected to right the recruiting ship capsized for a variety of reasons and with that responsibility, Downing's qualifications aren't unique, but certainly appropriate. "I started off as a college coach and I also worked in admissions." Downing stated. "You don't recruit top-flight students any different than you recruit top-flight athletes."
"I think that some of the experiences I've had and the opportunities made it something that he (Frank Solich) would consider about me. But, Frank wanted someone that would be accountable for recruiting."
Just by looking at the title, "recruiting coordinator", the assumption would be someone that takes the macro view to recruiting, while individual coaches take the micro aspect, them concentrating on regions, the coordinator concentrating on the country. Coach Downing literally is two coaches in one, one for tight ends, the other for the recruiting process in general. "All of our coaches have an area and they are keeping tabs on their area." Downing stated. "It's my job to make sure from their information they get from me and other information that we get here in the recruiting office that we disseminate to our other coaches that we are going to the right guys."
"The recruiting coordinator, while I am ultimately involved in the decisions in who we are going after along with the other coaches, I am the one that tries to keep the others on track."
Ultimately, every evaluation of each recruit comes down to one thing, film. Regardless of what someone tells a coach, no matter how gaudy the stats, before any decision can be made as to what a player can do for a team, that player has to be evaluated on film. With a possible 3,000 kids in the cross-hairs for NU this season, that's potentially a mountain of film. So much film that no one guy or even small group of guys can completely evaluate, but they try and as Nebraska's new recruiting "guru" or sorts, it falls on Downing to watch the most. "I'll watch more film than the other guys." Downing stated. "Because, I will watch the best guys from their areas along with the best guys from my area."
"Someone has to have an idea of who everyone has and that's my job. I have to have an idea who has who."
The aforementioned figure of 3,000 kids. That's not an exaggeration folks. Coach Downing referred to this number once as the potential for NU in regards to how many kids might be in the scope, however small as a possible contributor to NU's future success. How do you research, much less find 3,000 kids? You would be surprised at how easy it is, at least hearing about that many. From coaches, letters, referrals from previous contacts and the mail and e-mails Downing gets almost every single day about one player or another, 3,000 kids can add up pretty darn fast.
Sometimes though, as coach Downing states, with all the kids you are looking at, it sometimes those that you aren't looking at that end up making the biggest impression. "I think some of the best players that you can find are guys that you are watching a film, you are watching the team in white and the team in black has this kid, all of a sudden, you are saying ‘who is this guy'." Downing stated. "That's the way a certain percentage of your players are found and that's you watching somebody else."
Ok, that's great, but that's still a lot of kids. There has to be a way to narrow that even farther down before you take a serious look at what they can do and can offer to your team. "You are starting off with a lot of people." Downing stated. "You have to set certain parameters of performance, grades and intangibles that you go through and you cut it down to guys you want to recruit."
"To me, it's not about you going out to recruit everyone, but what we want at Nebraska."
And, what kind of kids are those? Well, this leads back to another old saying in regards to players NU recruits and that's "NU wants those that want to be at NU". With Nebraska's geographic location, it's reputation of being away from it all and it's rather sparse population base, it's not the limelight to some, but perfect for others. It's figuring out which players are which and that again, falls mostly on Downing to ascertain. "There's a lot of kids that turn places down just because it's not their type of town." Downing stated. "That's the kind of questions you ask them."
"Does he like the outdoors, is he ok with leaving home? We can get interest out of a lot of kids because it's Nebraska, but then you have to widdle it down, and figure out why he is interested in Nebraska."
Ok, so let's say that you know this kid is interested in NU. Now, you have to figure out just how interested you are in him. That goes back to the criteria Downing mentioned before, but it's also an evaluation of attitude. As most will readily admit, the Big XII isn't for players or coaches that aren't ready to compete or don't want to be THE best at what they do. In fact, as Scott Downing stated, if a player is actually looking beyond the college level, that can indicate something he thinks each has to have to make it, especially in this conference. "If a young man is hoping to be anywhere in the Big XII and he doesn't prepare to play football like he is preparing to play NFL football, he's going to be behind the guys he's playing with."
"Our football players should want to play at the next level. Now, we all know they can't all do that, but they ought to at least try, because if they don't, they are not doing what the next guy is."
As for closing the deal, that is "simply" the resolve each coach has to do what the "next coach" is doing and perhaps a little more. Nothing illegal mind you, but anything you can do that is allowed is absolutely what you must do with each and every prospect and as you might expect, "getting personal" is one of the best ways to get that "next guy" there is. "As many times (within the rules) that you have a chance of meeting the player and his parents face-to-face, the better there is a chance of you knowing them." Downing stated "And, them making a connection with you, if that's what you both want."
It's funny when you look at it, because regardless of all the extra coverage recruiting gets. Regardless of the internet and the affect it has had on recruiting in general, the basic principles of recruiting have always been and will always be the same and in the end, it comes down to that "connection".
How that connection is made has changed to a degree though, because of the ever-changing face of recruiting. Fundamentals of a sport like football may never change, like tackling, where to carry the ball and so on, but the system, the style, as times change or teams change around you, you learn, adapt and go on.
Recruiting mirrors that and recruiting coordinators like Downing are that adaptation to the ever-growing needs of Universities that pride themselves on staying ahead of the curve. Well, NU has long been considered behind the curve in regards to getting some of the top athletes in the country and that's where Scott Downing comes in.
Downing though isn't here to bring in the "stars" meaning those multiple-five-star studs that everyone seems to dream about from day to day. That's not what this is about, nor has it ever been, despite what everyone says. It's about bringing back NU's prior success and need I remind you, that never came from one class after another that was loaded with adjectives and accolades from a country in awe.
Solid kids, solid players and most importantly, a solid desire to be a Husker. That's always been the philosophy and coach Downing isn't expected to bring anything new, rather he is expected to bring something back. A tradition of getting the best players that fit NU the best.
Downing represents the embodiment of that goal and being a former "NU guy", that certainly would seem to come natural. But, again, it's not a new philosophy in how you recruit the individual, it's a new system in how you recruit them all.
When coaches look to duplicate success, sometimes they look at "the way" it was done before. As Downing is the first of his kind at NU, "his way" will be "the way" from which we will judge this venture into the unknown.
At Nebraska, fans fear the unknown as it's not been kind, at least this last year and as much as you might hear about the desire for change, Husker fans still shudder when someone talks about changing "the way" things are done.
When it comes to sports and how much it changes each year and especially in recruiting, I think what coach Downing brings should only serve NU's future success.
After all, I wouldn't worry about it when they say they are going to change "the way" they do things. Start worrying when someone starts changing "why".
Steve Ryan can be reached at email@example.com or 402-730-5619