Playing Defense on the Recruiting Trail

CHAPEL HILL, N.C. – Negative recruiting is one of the dirty little secrets that plagues the college football landscape. North Carolina has gotten an up close look at that questionable tactic this fall as certain opponents are using the NCAA investigation in an attempt to turn recruits away from Chapel Hill.

It was inevitable that negative recruiting would hit the North Carolina program this fall. The Tar Heels boasted the No. 8 recruiting class in the nation less than a month ago despite the ongoing NCAA investigation, and it was widely assumed that opponents would plant seeds of doubt into the minds of either committed recruits or prospects with UNC high on their list.

When head coach Butch Davis was first asked about negative recruiting in October, he refused to comment on the situation, saying, "I think that's something that is probably a topic I'd rather not get into."

But Davis finally broached the topic on the ACC teleconference on Nov. 17. The fourth-year UNC head coach admitted that some adversaries on the recruiting trail were spreading false information about the NCAA investigation and potential postseason bowl bans.

"The thing that a lot of our recruits are very frustrated with is the amount of misinformation, things that people are saying that have absolutely have zero credibility," Davis said.

On Friday, Davis admitted during UNC's bowl press conference that his staff has had to put out fires on the recruiting trail due to negative recruiting.

"I would say that probably 80 percent of the schools recruit extraordinarily ethically, that they recruit solely on, ‘This is our institution, this who we are, this is our coaching staff, this is what it's like if you become part of our program,'" Davis said. "And maybe that's an understatement, maybe it's more than 80 percent.

"But there always comes that point in time that once you become the have-not, that you find out an awful lot about the character and the integrity of the people that you're recruiting against. Then it becomes the ‘scorched earth' recruiting method where all they want to do is rip everybody else that's the competition. Most of the time, I'd say about 95 percent of the time, that backfires."

According to Inside Carolina recruiting analyst Don Callahan, recruiting heats up once the regular season ends as coaches are able to make in-home visits and find out who their main competition is for particular recruits. It's in those face-to-face meetings that negative recruiting tends to emerge.

"The usual pitches I've heard through the years are how an opposing school plans to recruit a prospect for one position, but then move them to another less desirable position once on campus," Callahan said. "This year, though, a lot of recruits have told me that outside coaching staffs have used the NCAA investigation against UNC – even going as far as predicting if and how UNC will be sanctioned."

The North Carolina coaching staff has been able to counter the negative publicity of the NCAA investigation thanks to long-standing relationships with most of their recruits – 14 of UNC's 18 commitments made their pledge before the season started. The Tar Heels have also utilized their 48-hour official visits to answer any questions that recruits and their families may have about the program moving forward.

Defensive tackle Quinton Coples has played in a role in UNC's various official visit weekends this fall, and the junior indicated on Friday that the best approach in addressing concerns is to be upfront about the situation.

"A lot of recruits come in with questions about NCAA violations, but we're honest with them and tell them what happened and what's going on and how that wouldn't affect them at all when they come here, if they come here," Coples said.

One negative recruiting tactic that UNC has encountered since 2007 is that Davis will not be in Chapel Hill by the time a recruit graduates. For the first three seasons, it was that Davis was going to take another job. This season that ploy has shifted to the news that Davis won't survive the NCAA investigation.

When asked if he was comfortable with his future at North Carolina on Friday, Davis responded, "Unless you know something I don't know."

"I think Chancellor [Holden] Thorp and [Dick] Baddour feel like the football program is headed in the right direction," Davis continued. "I think they trust, after all of the internal investigations and all of the things that went on, I think that they were very proud of the way that we educated the players prior to the start of the season, the way that we handled the team during the course of the season... I think that they're pleased."

Despite several defections from the current recruiting class, including the unexpected loss of quarterback Everett Golson to Notre Dame, North Carolina's class still stands 19th nationally and third in the ACC. The Tar Heels are currently engaged in an intense battle with Virginia Tech for committed quarterback Marquise Williams, and N.C. State is working desperately to get into the mix.

But the adversity on the recruiting class hasn't changed Davis's opinion about how his fourth full class at North Carolina will turn out.

"We think we're going to have an outstanding recruiting class," Davis said. "We're going to be able to add some kids to our program that we think are going to significantly make a difference as we move forward."

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