When you think of top recruiters at the major college level over the past decade, names like Nick Saban, Urban Meyer, Frank Wilson, Ed Orgeron, Tim Brewster, Dabo Swinney, Tee Martin, Brent Venables, Tosh Lupoi and Kerry Coombs come to mind.
If you’re a college coach, or a high school coach with dreams of coaching at the college level, one way to make sure you always have a job at the college level is to mold yourself into an elite recruiter. Those guys that I just rattled off have done just that with their body of work on the recruiting trail, coupled with the value they bring on the field.
Whether you’re at the Division III level pulling in 30 kids a year, a Division I guy locking up four and five-star guys year after year, or a guy that consistently finds diamonds in the rough that turn into ballers on game day, your value on a staff has a direct correlation to the type of talent that you’re bringing in to your program. Regardless of how good of a coach you are on the field, if you’re an elite recruiter, there will always be a place for you on a staff somewhere.
With that in mind, here are 12 important traits of the nation’s elite recruiters.
1) They’re very organized and efficient with their time – The travel schedule for a college coach doesn’t leave a whole lot of wiggle room when your hitting schools back-to-back-to-back many times over on consecutive days. So if you get stuck in traffic for 17 hours like Tom Herman a few years ago, you’ve got to be able to think on your feet. This is especially true for the small college guys who call 50-100 potential recruits a night a few times a week because finding an efficient way to do that is key, which brings me to this clip that those small college guys can relate to, and learn from.
2) They’re intrinsically driven – This trait separates the real recruiters from the pretenders. Being on the road for weeks on end means you don’t have eyes on you all the time, which means you have be intrinsically driven to roll out of bed at 5 AM and get to school before the doors open to see a kid, or to take a chance and hit one more school to see a guy if you find yourself with a little bit of extra time. The head coach isn’t going to follow you home to make sure you make your recruiting calls either.
3) They’re flexible – Being flexible is one of the most underrated traits of a great recruiter. Think about how often rule changes happen when it comes to recruiting regulations. Just last week the NCAA passed a rule deregulating texting communications for football coaches and recruits. The best coaches are able to adapt to rule changes like that at the drop of a hat, while guys who have yet to set up a Twitter account to communicate with today’s student athletes get left in the dust.
4) They understand what they’re selling better than anyone else – As is the case with anything, to maximize the pitch of what you’re selling, you have to understand the product better than anyone else. Know the ins and outs of the courses that your school offers, how long it would take someone to graduate in that area of study, who the best teachers are, the girl-to-guy ratio on campus, the graduation rate, etc. All these things are part of building a rapport and relationship with a kid and their family and will go a long way in impressing them.
5) They understand their competition just as well as they know their own school – Going beyond just what you know about your program, knowing everything you can about the schools you’re regularly competing against goes a long way as well. Maybe the head coach at a school up the road has contemplated retirement the past few seasons, or maybe they don’t offer the major that a kid is interested in. These are all things that you should know so you can, in turn, sell your program to the max.
6) They’re relentlessly creative – This one can go a number of ways. The nation’s top recruiters are creative in connecting with recruits (sending them 100 letters in a day), they think outside of the box in catching a recruit’s attention (like putting their face on a video game or magazine cover), and they also have to get creative sometimes when they’re on the road and encounter unforeseen obstacles. The coaches who thrive in recruiting are relentlessly creative in finding solutions to these types of problems.
7) They understand relationships – Elite recruiters truly understand that relationships are the heart and soul of recruiting and are able to connect with the inner city five-star from Compton just as well as the dominant small high school player from Arkansas. They find common ground that they share with the kid. They also understand what players want, what they’re looking for in a college and a football program, and what their goals and aspirations are, asking about their girlfriend and how long they’ve been dating…and the only way you find all that kind of stuff out, is developing a relationship with them over time.
8) They utilize social media to its full capabilities – In order to really connect with kids, and understand them, you have to connect with them on their terms, and that means fully utilizing social media. This also gives serious recruiters valuable insight into who the kid is, what his character make up is, what he values, and pretty much everything in between.
9) They identify the decision maker of the family – This was the first lesson I was told as a young college coach almost a decade ago – Each recruit has a person or two close to them whose words and opinions carry significantly more weight than anyone else in their circle. Oftentimes it’s the kid’s mom and/or dad, but it can also be his uncle, his head coach, or even a close family friend. Elite recruiters identify who has the ear of the kid they’re recruiting and they develop a relationship with them as well, realizing that the opinion of that person carries a significant amount of weight when it comes to making the final decision.
10) They do their homework – Even if you do the first nine things to a T, none of it matters if you don’t do your homework and find out if the kid is a fit with your team from a personality and character standpoint. You have to know how the kid is as a student, as an athlete, and as a person because if you get him on campus and find out he can’t deal with being yelled at, and his position coach and the head coach are yellers, you’ve got a problem.
11) They know when to swallow their pride – In today’s day and age of camera phones and social media, if you’re in a recruit’s living room and he pulls out his phone and wants to film you do the whip and nae-nae, or wobble, but you’re not a dancer, and didn’t even dance at your own wedding. Here, you’ve got a few options: 1) You can swallow your pride and dance like no one is watching and watch Twitter/Instagram/Snapchat blow up with the video like Nick Saban did earlier this year, or 2) you can respectfully decline and take a chance that some other coach comes into the same living room tomorrow, nails it, and becomes a viral sensation while leaving a lasting impression on that recruit and his family.
Number 11 also goes for the times when a recruit decides that another program is the best fit for him. A lot of guys will continue their relationship with the kid (within NCAA rules) while others will completely cut the cord and let the kid go. Both can require equal amounts of swallowing of the pride.
Long story short, in both cases, you have to know when to swallow your pride and either buck up, or move on.
12) They fully understand NCAA rules – Having a full understanding of the rules, and an open dialogue with your compliance department, not only ensures you stay on the right side of the line, but it also makes sure that you’re aware of the loopholes that those rules open themselves up to. (See Jim Harbaugh).