Coach's Corner: Final Two Weeks Are The Worst

Former Ohio State recruiting coordinator Bill Conley discusses the excruciating pressure on football coaches as the final days tick down to national signing day. Plus, Conley also shares his thoughts on OSU's resounding win over Notre Dame in the Fiesta Bowl.

As the last couple of weeks of recruiting wind down, coaches go through days, hours, and minutes of severe anxiety. The only surprises they want are good ones. Unfortunately, much of the time the news in the late stages of recruiting often point toward the negative.

I've been asked many times, "How could you stand all the travel, all the phone calls, and all the hassles associated with recruiting?"

My typical answer was that I completely enjoyed traveling, meeting people, being in schools and homes, talking to potential Buckeyes and selling the university. But then I would conclude by saying, "I loved the whole recruiting process, except the last two weeks!" The last two weeks are really complete hell for the college recruiter.

First of all, you worry about keeping the commitments you already have received from the recruits. At a place like Ohio State, you rarely lose an in-state recruit late in the process. Out of state players are much less of a guarantee. You are on "pins and needles" till you receive the fax on signing day, no matter how confident you feel about and athlete.

Added to this anxiety is the ever increasing tendency for the athlete to wait until signing day to decide. This can result in five schools sitting on the edge of their seats waiting to see which is picked and which four are left out in the cold. To say the least, colleges detest this type of "showboating" by the athlete.

Another reason coaches feel stressed the last few weeks of recruiting is the unfortunate fact some schools will break or extremely stretch the rules to try and land the prospect. When you know you are recruiting against a known "cheater," you mentally prepare yourself for the worst, just in case the worst happens – he goes to one of those schools. And if some of his former teammates have gone to those schools, your chances are slim at best.

The "numbers game" also brings anxiety to the coaching staff the last few weeks of recruiting. There is a certain target number you want to hit. The ideal number is that which gives you a full 85 scholarship players, counting new signees. The problem is that exact number is rarely achieved. If you don't reach your full quota for that recruiting class (a maximum of 25 in a particular year), you feel like you didn't recruit enough players when the entire process began. You may alleviate this problem of not "filling up" by taking less talented players or players you have already dropped off earlier in the year. In other words, you decide to accept quantity over quality – not a good thing.

On the other hand, if you receive more commitments then you have to offer, you may have to drop a kid late in the process – a public relations nightmare. Don't expect that high school coach to be very hospitable the next time he has a player you want.

There isn't enough valium or tranquilizers around to help a college football coach deal with the stress the last few weeks of recruiting. The only guarantee he has is "there are no guarantees."

Reflections on the Fiesta

The score of the 2006 Fiesta Bowl doesn't reflect the domination by the Ohio State Buckeyes over the Fighting Irish of Notre Dame. The 76,000 plus fans at Sun Devil Stadium realized (maybe even more than the T.V. audience) the 34-20 Ohio State victory could have easily been as least 50 for the scarlet and gray. There were four factors that I believe best describe why the Buckeyes proved superior to the Fighting Irish that day.

* Speed -- This was probably the most apparent factor to the spectator and football analyst alike. There was no comparison in terms of speed. This was first recognized when Ted Ginn Jr. beat the Notre Dame secondary so bad on his 56-yard pass reception in the first quarter, he had time to do a Mexican hat dance while waiting for the Troy Smith aerial to land in his arms.

Two 60-yard plus runs and passes of 56 and 85 yards are proof that superior speed results in big plays. If it wasn't for the play of Notre Dame safety Tom Zbikowski, only the Notre Dame leprechaun could have had a chance to stop Ginn, Holmes, Pittman and crew as they second geared it through the "in slow motion" Irish defense.

* Superior Buckeye Defense Front -- Notre Dame quarterback Brady Quinn hadn't experienced a pass rush like he saw Jan. 2 all season long. The quickness and athleticism of the Buckeye defensive front so dominated the Irish offensive line that the three step drop became the safest call to help Brady avoid dismemberment as the game progressed.

The Jim Heacock-coached front seven tallied five sacks and eight tackles-for-loss in stymieing the supposedly potent Irish offense. Even though the Quinn passing display was respectable, the Notre Dame rushing attack was practically nonexistent after the first series, averaging only 2.2 yards per carry, and 62 yards net.

* Coaching -- Even through Charlie Weis probably won't admit it, the Buckeye coaches outcoached he and the Notre Dame staff. The experience of being in postseason collegiate bowl games proved a plus for Jim Tressel and staff.

It is true that Charlie Weis has done much to bring back the pride to the Notre Dame program. But the college game is different than the pro game. One thing for sure, when Charlie went for it on fourth-and-2 on the Ohio State 6-yard line, it wasn't the smart thing to do when the score was tied 7-7. Not only did the sack of Quinn turn the ball over to the Buckeyes, it nullified the Ohio State turnover in the red zone. The Buckeyes would drive the ball 86 yards in six plays to take a 14-7 lead.

At various bowl activities and media events, it was hard to determine whether Coach Weis is extremely confident or extremely arrogant. One thing for sure, Charlie believes in Charlie. Maybe he learned some lessons in the 2006 Fiesta Bowl, but I'm not sure he'd admit it if he did.

* Troy Smith -- OSU quarterback Troy Smith not only outperformed his counterpart from Notre Dame, he put himself into next season's Heisman race. His 342 passing yards and 66 rushing yards was not only a great individual performance, it was the largest part of the team's 617 total yards.

Even though Troy has the tendency to get sloppy with the ball, he and Vince Young did more to jump start their teams' offenses in the 2005 season than any other college quarterbacks. The improvement in Troy's decision making and field presence makes him the number one all-around quarterback threat in the nation going into next season.

As you look at the play by play of the Fiesta Bowl, its remarkable how many times Troy Smith converted on third down. Either with a key pass or big run, Troy was the difference. If he continues to work, to learn and to lead, Troy Smith may go down as one of the Buckeyes all-time greats. I wouldn't bet against him.

The superior speed of the Buckeyes, the great play of the defensive front, the bowl experience of the coaching staff and the outstanding play of quarterback Troy Smith all were major reasons for the dominant Ohio State victory.

One thing for sure, Phoenix and the Buckeyes are a good match. Even though it will be tough to make the BCS next season due to losing so many defensive starters, don't count the Buckeyes out. They're getting used to substituting cactus for evergreens during the holiday season.

Bill Conley will conduct a Chat for subscribers Monday at 1 p.m.

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