"We could not just circle a three-hour radius and say, 'We're going to recruit within this area' because the academic standards are too high," Clawson said recently. "Really, my last three jobs – Villanova, Fordham and Richmond – we've done national recruiting. We've had players from California, Florida. We really had to cast a wide net in order to find guys academically who were qualified."
Obviously, recruiting to a big-time program such as Tennessee is a lot different than recruiting to a Div. 1-AA school such as Richmond. Clawson believes the key on the recruiting trail is emphasizing the positive ... whatever that might be.
"Every place there's a different sell, different advantages," he said, adding that he and the other Richmond coaches "played to our strength – that we were a small, private school with a national academic reputation.
"The negative was, there might be a guy down the road that you couldn't get in school that you knew you were going to have to play against. The positive was, you could go 3,000 miles away and maybe get a player that otherwise you couldn't get."
Signing an overrated prospect is damaging when a coach has 85 scholarships to give. Signing a bust at Richmond is downright devastating. That made prospect evaluation of overwhelming importance to Clawson.
"Two reasons," he said. "No. 1, we only had 63 scholarships, so there was very little margin for error. No. 2, people like Richmond so much that the bad players didn't leave. If you recruited a guy that was a mess, you were looking at that mess every day for four years."
Many UT fans are wringing their hands in despair because several of the Vols' SEC rivals appear to be having better recruiting years. From all appearances, Clawson couldn't care less who Florida, Georgia, LSU and Alabama are signing.
"At Richmond, we were very caught up in not worrying about who other people were getting," he said, "but making sure we got guys that fit the school and that we liked."
Because the battle for premium prospects is a dog-eat-dog affair in the SEC, Clawson faces a bit of a challenge recruiting to Tennessee. Thus, the fact he faced a challenge recruiting to Richmond should serve him well.
"It was hard finding the right players because of how high the academic standards are," Clawson said, "but once we identified guys we could get in school, it was a great sell."