This week I'd like to begin addressing the process of recruiting. Everyone has heard all those stories that circulate throughout the year about how this school did this and that school did that. We've all heard about different superstars and what transpired in their recruitment. Some coaches — especially some head coaches — have wonderful reputations as "silver-tongued" salesmen. Most of the these takes probably aren't even half-truths.
In my opinion, there are two reasons certain coaches gain outstanding reputations as recruiters. One important reason is that they are recruiting for a school with a lot of recruiting advantages. Examples of advantages, are tradition, history of success, fine athletic facilities for football and playing in a strong league with a lot of national visibility. With all or most of these things going for you, you have a recruiting edge on many, many programs.
The other big reason for a reputation as a good recruiter is being willing to out-work most coaches. You have to be willing to go on the road a lot and work hard while you are out there. You have to spend as much time as the rules and your schedule will allow in visiting with a a prospect and his family in person and on the phone. This commitment isn't easy for a lot of guys — especially during football season.
Most people think the recruiting rules we have to live by are too restrictive and are pretty unfair. Some of these people are even college coaches who recruit. Granted, I think there are some rules that could be made better and we'll address that later on. But I've been around the recruiting process for a lot more years than most and I can assure you the rules are so much better now than they used to be.
Keep in mind that we've evolved to many rule changes to keep college programs from spending a fortune in their recruiting activities. That supposedly keeps the "haves" from spending to the point that they eliminate the "have-nots." The "haves" still are able to out-facility, etc. the others but are put on fairly even footing in the overall recruiting process.
The first good change (for the most part) I'll talk about was the reduction in the number of scholarship athletes we can have in a football program. We used to be able to sign 45 new players each year with no limit on the total number of scholarship athletes on the team. The obvious problem there, of course, was that, number one, it costs a fortune. Secondly, a healthy program could stockpile athletes just to prevent them from signing with another opponents program. Naturally, with that many on the team it was "sink or swim" for many squad members. Unless you were a first-teamer no one worried too much about whether you survived or not. There weren't many of the outstanding academic support and guidance set-ups that we see today.
We gravitated to a maximum of 30 new awards each year with a squad total of 105. I felt that those were pretty good numbers. The problem, though, was that it still sort of encouraged over looking squad attrition problems. We all know that 4x30 equals more than 105 — plus redshirting some athletes for a fifth year compounds that disparity even more. Fishermen throw a little one back as soon as they catch a bigger one. We cannot let that attitude define the way student-athletes are managed.
The current squad limit for football scholarships is a maximum of 25 new awards each year with a team total of no more than 85 scholarship players. This is why you hear so often of a program having only 13 or 15 scholarships to give out this recruiting season. I still think it encourages allowing attrition to occur a bit frequently and it really penalizes a program who has great retention of its athletes. In my opinion, we should all be encouraged to graduate everyone we sign by one: signing those who are capable of graduation and two: assisting our students in every best way possible. I would prefer a rule of 25 maximum new awards every year with no overall team limit. Lets reward those programs who have great retention rates.
Another great rule is taking the alumni totally out of the recruiting process. In the old days, an alumnus could all on, write, or telephone prospects as much as they wanted to. They could transport the prospect to a school's campus, to it's games and foot the travel expenses. That was a recipe for disaster and I'm sure gave credibility to a lot of the horror stories we used to hear about. Those included cars, inflated jobs, jobs for parents, and who knows what. I'm sure competition was fierce between old alums battling their hated rival schools' old alum down the street for 17-18 year-old student-athletes. Not a very pretty picture is it?
This is a start. I'll try next week to talk about some other very good regulations that have been implemented in fairly recent times.
Merv Johnson is currently the Director of Football Operations at Oklahoma and also serves as a color analyst on the Sooner Radio Network.
In his 19 years as an OU assistant coach, he helped the Sooners build a 150-67-5 record, win a national championship and five Big Eight Conference titles and post seven bowl game victories.
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