Hand – "We keep telling the recruits who are coming in that our goals here are not going to change. Our number one goal is to win the Big East Conference, and by doing that, compete for the national championship and eventually win the national championship. Those are our three main goals, and it can be done here. They've played for it (the national championship) twice, so they've shown that you can get there. Now it's just a matter of finishing the job, and that's the next step we have to make in our program. We've accomplished a lot in our three seasons here, but we still haven't finished it off right yet. We need to finish it off with a bowl win, and it sure would be nice if it could be a BCS bowl. We just have to keep striving and moving forward. "Those three goals haven't changed since the day we got here. Those were the goals that Coach Rodriguez had when he took over this program, and it's the same ones we still talk to the recruits about today. We've got everything in place here to do that, and what we don't have, we're getting. You can't promise when we'll reach all those goals, but we're going to keep driving for them. Hopefully next year we come out of the gates a little better, because we have the chance to be pretty good."
B&GN – On the field, this program has shown remarkable improvement since that first season (2001, when WVU was 3-8). Recruiting-wise it seems similar in that you all have improved your recruiting each and every year. Is that a fair statement?
Hand – "Yeah, I think so. The first class was a wash really, because we got such a late start. I got a call yesterday from the recruiting coordinator at Cincinnati, because that's a new staff, and they're trying to put together a class at the last minute. I told him that I had been there. That first year was tough, but even in that first year, this is a staff that has a real good idea of what we're looking for, we're all on the same page with it, and I think we do a real good job of evaluating players and targeting them. We do a good job of determining that – one, that is a player we need, and two, we can get them. If the answer to both of those is yes, we go after him. That's our simple plan of attack. It doesn't matter to us who else is recruiting him. If Ohio State, Penn State, Tennessee and Oklahoma are recruiting a kid, so what? We know we have a lot of work to do to beat those guys, but you can't back down from a challenge. The flip side is during our evaluations, we look at a player being recruiting by all those power schools, and we may not evaluate him the same way others do."
B&GN – You talk about recruiting against the top-level schools. Traditionally West Virginia hasn't won many of those battles. Not that you're all of the sudden winning every one of those recruiting fights, but it does seem that you're winning a few more of those than you were a couple years ago.
Hand – "Yeah, there's no question. That comes down to the relationship you build over time. When you first start evaluating a kid, he may be a sophomore. You may not be able to have contact with him, but you can let it be known that you're interested. And anyone in the country can call me, and you'd be amazed by the number of calls we get from underclassmen. That's all legal, and it helps you establish a relationship with a player. That's how you beat some of the big schools for a prospect. You usually don't win those battles when you get involved late in their senior year. You have to be in there for a long time, battling and fighting. And you have to be willing to see it through to the end. That's where we're at with our program right now. We feel that we've established ourselves in our recruiting areas, and we're not going to back away from anyone. You can't handcuff a kid and force him on a plane and make him come here, but we feel that we have a pretty good thing at West Virginia. What we have to do is do a good job of selling them to come visit. Once we get them on campus, we have a chance. Now we haven't won all those battles.
In the recruiting business, you're actually going to lose more than you win. But you don't have to win them all. I've said it before, but you only need one Major Harris to change things. You get one guy like that, you win one of those battles, and it can mean the difference in the direction of your program."
B&GN – Last fall when we talked, you admitted that you guys didn't handle all the grayshirts real well. You said you had wished you had been more open about the possibility with some of the players. Are you changing the way you explain that to prospects this year?
Hand – "We told all but two guys (of those who wound up as grayshirts) about the possibility, and we had to hit the other two with the idea late just because of the way things shook down at the end with players who had qualified. This year we've got some guys that we've discussed it with. We don't want to grayshirt five or six guys a year. That's not the purpose of grayshirting. The purpose of grayshirt is taking a guy who you feel is as good as anyone you can recruit the next year, but we don't have the numbers to fit him in at the moment. Grayshirting can be a good thing for everyone involved, but you do have to be careful in how you use it."
B&GN – With so much of this year's class finished, I know that usually at this point, three-quarters of your work is spent on juniors. Have you started your evaluation of underclassmen?
Hand – "Oh yeah, no question. That's the whole thing with developing that relationship we talked about. When you go into a school, and the football team is working out, or maybe the basketball team has a game, obviously you can't have any contact with the player, but you make sure that the (high school) coach knows you like that kid. That starts the relationship, and you try to get ahead of the game at this point so that in May (during the evaluation period when college coaches can go into high schools to start the recruiting process for rising seniors), you are head of the game. You know where you are going and who you need to see in May. We'll have our ‘Junior Day' in late February or early March. We had a good turn out for that last year. Then we try to get them to camp in the summer, and the process moves on from there."
B&GN – Since all the Big East/ACC battles last spring, I've gotten a lot of questions about how it will affect recruiting. You've now fought through the questions from recruits. How has that gone?
Hand – "The big thing with that is we're telling recruits what we know to be a fact. What we feel comfortable telling a kid is that we're going to keep our BCS bid until 2005, and after that, we're probably going to see a lot of changes. Every time you look at the paper or watch TV, it seems like someone is talking about possible changes with the BCS. Even Congress has said, ‘You all fix it, or we're going to fix it.' You're going to see a lot of changes in the BCS after the current contract is up in 2005. We tell recruits that until then, the Big East is locked into the BCS, and after that, no one knows what's going to happen, except there are probably going to be a lot of changes. The other thing I feel comfortable telling recruits is that if we go undefeated at West Virginia, we going to play for the national championship. Now if there are more than two undefeated teams, anyone can be on the outside looking, but if we go undefeated, playing the non-conference schedule that we play, we're going to be in the national championship hunt. That's all a kid wants to hear. We haven't lost our TV contract, so we're still going to be on TV. All that stuff is still there. The only thing different is that we're going to be the one with the targets on our chest as the returning Big East champions. That to me is exciting.
"What you have to do is deal with those questions with facts, just like you do any questions a recruit has. There are always going to negatives out there, and you have to be ready to defuse it. We have to tell them here is what is really going on and this is the real deal. It was just like a couple years ago, everyone was saying we were going to get fired after our first season and we had to take anger management classes and stuff like that. It was like we were getting taught by Jack Nicholson in that movie ("Anger Management"). Coach Rod has to defuse all the negative stereotypes about West Virginia all the time. It's like anything else, you use facts to defuse it. The kids will see through that.
"The bottom line is, in recruiting, is that your decision should be made on whether or not you feel comfortable where you're at, with the people. We have the third largest weightroom in the country right downstairs, but if every one of our players hated Mike Barwis (WVU's strength coach), they wouldn't want to go lift. Our difference is the people we've got. We've got a fairly good group of offensive linemen, but they're not the most talented in the world. But we've been one of the best rushing teams in the country the last couple of years because of what (offensive line coach) Rick Trickett does. I think Calvin Magee is one of the best running back coaches in the country. Jeff Casteel (the defensive coordinator), the guys love him; they go to war for him, for who he is, not what we do. It has to do with the people. What should matter to a recruit is do you feel comfortable with the people and can you have success there. All the other stuff is superficial. We have wonderful facilities here, but they do at a lot of other places, too. It doesn't matter what you have, but what you do with it and the people you have. That weightroom is the perfect example. They love Mike Barwis, even though they know he'll put his foot up their (butt). But they love him, even though he's tough. He's enthusiastic and energetic and loves doing his job. That's the type of thing we sell recruits on."