A Conversation with Ron Lynn: Part III

So last and not least, here is the third and final part of a three-part interview "Emeritus" recently conducted with Stanford Assistant Head Coach & Defensive Co-Coordinator Ron Lynn. Coach Lynn discusses recruiting challenges and opportunities at Stanford, the fun of coaching against former colleagues, and his high expectations for the future of the Cardinal football program.

The following is the third and final part of a three-part conversation, conducted at the Arrillaga Family Sports Center on Thursday, June 19, 2008. "Emeritus" sat down with the most recent addition to the Stanford Football coaching staff, Defensive Co-Coordinator Ron Lynn. We pick up where we had left off with Coach Lynn stating that one of the most pressing needs for this Stanford team is simply to have more bodies, simply more numbers of quality players:

TB: Isn't that an ongoing Stanford dilemma, that we end up being able to recruit so many fewer kids, not just from an eligible pool standpoint, but just based on numbers resulting from the lack of attrition - guys stay and if they get hurt, flunk out or just don't work out, what do we do, as opposed to other schools that regularly sign 33 prospects a year?

RL: That is a Stanford dilemma, but at the same time, I don't think it's really that different than the challenge at any other place. You always want more and better back-ups, always want more and more competition at each position. I think there are positions on our team where we do have great competition.

TB: But you can't bring in a slew of JC transfers to fill your holes...

RL: Right, so we need more players, however we can get 'em.

TB:  Now that you are here, has it been difficult to change allegiances? You are a professional coach, is it relatively easy to buy into a new program? Will it be hard now to go up against the Bears or against other Pac-10 teams? 

RL: No, it's kind of fun! Part of the reason that I came back. There are a lot of guys in the Pac-10 now who have come back from the NFL. I worked with Pete (Carroll) in New England so that was fun. And his son is coaching there [at USC] and I have known him since he was a little guy - and [USC's] Pat Ruehl was a guy that way back when I was coaching at Cal was coaching at Washington State. Some of the guys I worked with at the Niners are now on the Washington offensive staff. The guy that just came back to be their defensive coordinator [Ed Donatell] is a guy I have known since he was a kid. There are a lot of those kinds of connections. It is a great conference.

TB: But as part of the coaching fraternity, you don't harbor the same animosity toward your opponents that the fans sometimes do...

RL: True, but you always want to beat your friends more than you want to beat someone you don't know. That's why this is such a good league! I think it is a way underrated league - I mean, everyone talks about the SEC, it's a "phenom league" and all that, but this is a pretty damn special league too! There are a lot of guys that are really good coaches, but there are a lot of tremendously skilled athletes. But there's nobody problem-free in this conference. Arizona - they've got some negatives in how they can recruit. Arizona State, they have some things about how they can recruit and the perceptions that are out there about Arizona State...and SC, sure, they have some gigantic pluses, but the stacking up of kids sometimes works against them. Everybody has got some things they have to fight through. I would rather fight through what we fight through because it is a legitimate academic deal. It is what a college football program ought to be! 

TB: Is that what you meant when you talked earlier about your willingness to come to Stanford at this point in your career?

RL: Yeah! One of the things that got me out of college football was the recruiting stuff. It was just getting ridiculous and now it is even more so. But you know here at Stanford, you know "Here's the line, guys." 

TB: Given that comfort level, does that mean Ron Lynn is still coaching here in three years? (Trying to see if Coach will bite on my mischievous invitation to refer to himself in the third person - to no avail!  Ha!)

RL: I hope so, I hope I am still standing. Yeah, I am hopeful. 

TB: As long as you are happy and feeling like you are contributing, you could see yourself being here for a while?

RL: Oh yeah! This place is awesome. We're going to win some games.

TB: So, as far as this coming season, as far as a number of games, you would be disappointed if we didn't win at least...?

RL: If we didn't win the games that we should win. And nobody knows which ones those should be. And I am saying that as we get into the season and we have a good plan and we go and we don't play the way we were capable of playing, then if we don't win that game, I'll be disappointed. Now, there will be other games when we go in there and play as well as we can play and maybe get beat. There is not a lot of disappointment in that. If we can fulfill our expectations, great. 

TB: If we play Ohio State and  Florida three times each, we probably aren't going to win more than half?.

RL: Yeah, I would like to win four. Four of those six! 

TB: Final thoughts, Coach: You just came out of the ever-evolving, expanding world of college sports recruiting information and the dramatic impact of the internet - and we are of course are ourselves a web--based publication. What is your take on the changes that are occurring during the digital age - as far as the amount of information getting out there on prospective student-athletes. Is it bothersome? Does it have merits?

RL: I think it puts a lot more pressure on young kids that aren't ready to handle it. It was one thing for "Billy Smith" [a generic reference - please don't rush to check the database, folks!] to be playing at a small high school in Redding or Chico and the word kind of spreads that you have to go and see this kid play and once the season is over, everyone would run in to see the kid. Now, "Billy Smith" is an eight-year-old who hit a grand slam in the Little League playoffs  in Chico and there is something on it, something written about it. So I think they lose a little bit of their naivety. I talked to a youngster the other day who said "I want to make a decision by the time the summer is over."

TB: And what high school class was he?

RL: He's a FRESHMAN! [Shaking his head] I mean, where does it come from? I can't even believe that we are having to do what everyone has to do to keep up. 

TB: Obviously we can't unilaterally disarm and stay competitive. Would it be better to not be able to contact these kids until they are done with their sophomore year or whatever? There has to be a limit at some point or you will see more things like USC Basketball signing an eighth-grader!

RL: I know exactly what you're saying! I am still young enough that my kids are just finishing the high school process. They were both athletes and they were both at some level of local acclaim. Not great-great. They weren't ever going to be Division I guys, maybe not even Division II, but they could have gone on and played. And I know how worldly they are. What I mean is that having had certain experiences, growing up in San Diego and having lived in Cincinnati and D.C. and Boston. With a variety of experiences, they have a lot of non-football options. They wanted to be secret service guys at one time. Some of the opportunities that they've had are a lot greater than those many of other kids have had and yet the scrutiny under which the kids now perform - some of it brought on themselves - is too much. When kids start posting their 12 LOIs on the net or "Here's my kick-off return from last night" - when you get it Saturday morning. It is certainly different than it has ever been. It puts the onus on them now. With all the acclaim comes additional responsibility and the increased pressure of expectations. And then that kid doesn't get a Division I scholarship and now he's a failure at 18? 

TB: That's the impact on the kids. The popularity of the internet has brought the fans closer in as well. I don't know if it always a more sophisticate understanding of what is going on with a program, but it has certainly opened up an opportunity for fans to be more involved and far better informed and that is always difficult to balance. You want the fan support, but you have a coaching job to do and you want to preserve some of that "family" integrity. How do you balance that desire to keep things within the family with an understanding that the fans are so critically important to the program.

RL: Well, fans are part of the family, I think. They have to be. You can't exclude them and then say, "C'mon in, we need your money!" I just hope that the fans understand that half the stuff they read about these kids is wrong. And some of these people that are representing the four stars or the five stars don't know why they are or why they aren't. Someone told them that this has got to be a four-star guy, or they attend a camp and see a guy's numbers. It is no different than the NFL combines. Now everyone watches the combines on TV. Wow, that guy ran fast, he must be this... Why didn't we take him?  BECAUSE HE CAN'T PLAY FOOTBALL! Or this guy gains 3,000 yards a year for three years and he plays in a "tennis shoe league", in a league where no one can tackle him!

TB: With the explosion of internet coverage and the ready availability of game film, we have a rapidly increasing pool of prospective student-athletes we can look at, how can you really conduct a quality evaluation of these kids, given obvious limitations of time and resources and in many cases the reduced likelihood of success?  

RL: The advantage here at Stanford is that the resources are actually pretty good. Because of restrictions, certainly in the recruiting area, we need as large a pool as we can get. 

TB: But you can't possibly see all of those guys in person - you try to get them in here to look them over in person...there is increasing pressure to offer these kids early based solely upon grades and film...

RL: The guys that have the academic background - I don't know that there are that many that we haven't seen, that we need to see. There are a whole bunch of those guys that are in the upper echelon, top-10 guys at their position in the country that we're in on!

TB: And that is certainly a dramatic change from three or four years ago...

RL: Yes, probably. I don't know that for a fact. I think we are aware of the reachable guys and they are aware of us. We can at least generate some interest because we are who we are. I think we have an institution that is second to none, and I  mean that. But I'm preaching to the choir, right? There is no place where you can get this quality of an education and contend for a BCS championship. There is nowhere in the country like this. I don't care if you are talking about Georgia Tech, North Carolina, Virginia, you can talk about BC, Notre Dame. I've drunk the Kool-Aid. This is the place. Now, do we have the same "heritage" that some of those places might have, like Notre Dame? We don't have the same number of national championships. Notre Dame is a great place in and of itself.  

TB: But they don't have this! [pointing out to the sprawling Stanford campus and the gorgeous weather]

RL: No, I am not arguing with that. I am just saying that there are a lot of factors. A Catholic kid grows up in the Midwest and he is a 4.0 and he has been fed Notre Dame from day one, he's gone through "Our Lady of the Whomever" grade school and middle school and high school...and that's where they go.

TB: That doesn't mean we can afford not to recruit them...

RL: No, not at all. I am just sayin' that in certain cases, due to the way some kids are conditioned growing up, our success rate will vary. We can get the kid to come out here and go "Wow" and turn his head. You never know...

TB: A Notre Dame may not have an available third scholie at weakside linebacker in a given year....

RL: Exactly. And clearly, we aren't going to get all of those top-level kids just because of we are who we are.  The kids that have grown up in Ohio, the Ohio State draw. I mean, I grew up in Ohio and was an Ohio State fan until I left Ohio. I am still an Ohio State fan. [Hmmm...Did Coach Harbaugh actually realize that before hiring this man?] The kids in the Southeast conference, it is hard to get 'em out of there. The kids in the Big 12, it is hard to get 'em out of there. Can we do it? Absolutely. Are we on the right track? Yes. What we need to do now, to make the next step, is to win some football games. We need to win some games so guys can say "I can go there and play in a New Year's Day or later bowl game and have a chance to win a conference championship." 

TB: So we produce a couple of eight- and nine-win seasons, go to some bowl games, maybe win one or two of them and recruiting will take care of itself?  

RL: Well, we would always have challenges, but at least you would have something to point to concretely and say "There!" And it can't be just every four years, we go 8-4. We need to get a couple of 10-2s, 11-1s, kind of stacked up. To where they're going, "It's the ultimate!" That's part of the reason I am here. I think we can do that.

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