Honesty Is Ohio State's Recruiting Policy

In recruiting gifted athletes who have grown up being told how great they are, the Ohio State coaching staff has tried a different tactic – blunt honesty – to win over recruits.

In a profession of people looking for the tiniest advantages that will set them apart from competitors, the Ohio State coaches have found one in a seemingly unlikely place.

Fawning is the official language of high-stakes recruiting, but the Buckeyes – led by wide receivers coach and recruiting coordinator Zach Smith – have turned that practice on its head. For the five-stars looking for praise after a practice or a game, it almost certainly won’t be coming from the one in an Ohio State polo.

“To tell a recruit that you didn’t play very well in a game, probably no one else in the country says that to them,” Smith said. “But the kid at the end of the day, he goes home and he says, ‘That guy’s going to make me better and he’s real.’ These other guys say, ‘You’re the best, you’re the best’ – they’re full of you know what.”

That practice helped Smith land players like four-star wide receiver Johnnie Dixon and four-star defensive end Jalyn Holmes in the class of 2014, and he was named Scout.com’s Big Ten Recruiter of the Year for his efforts.

“I don’t know how anybody else does it, but I’ve said from the time I was playing high school football all the way through college that in recruiting I used to think it was joke how people tried to recruit,” Smith said. “It was like salesmen going after each other. Like, do you know kids? They don’t want that, so just be real with them. That’s been my style, if you want to call it that.”

Smith said his favorite tactic is to tell players not to listen to him at all when it comes to selling the non-football aspects of the school. Instead, he encourages them to research Ohio State’s academics and APR themselves, confident that the message will reverberate if the players arrive at the conclusion independently.

In addition to being used by Smith, the honesty policy is favored by most of the Ohio State staff. Senior linebacker Camren Williams said Luke Fickell’s bluntness is part of what sold him on Ohio State.

“He was the most honest, real, no-BS kind of guy,” Williams said. “That’s what really set him apart. Obviously he had his track record with guys like James Laurinaitis and A.J. Hawk and Coach Schlegel and everybody, but it was his mentality. He wasn’t trying to sell anything. He was just being honest and real and if you want to do this then you do it.”

Both Holmes and Dixon said it was refreshing to hear a college coach tell them they needed to get better instead of praising them indiscriminately, which is probably for the best – the end of your recruitment doesn’t mean the end of Smith’s approach.

“He’ll still do that now,” said Holmes. “If I make a bad play, he’s one of the first ones to tell me – and he’s on offense. Coach Smith is brutally honest, man. That’s something you need in recruiting, though. That’s what I liked about him. He was brutally honest. He didn’t sugarcoat, he just told me how it was.”

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