FootballScoop is proud to announce that Lee Wilbanks (Indiana) is the 2020 FootballScoop Player Personnel Director of the Year presented by AstroTurf as selected by prior winners.
The man behind the curtain of the biggest turnaround effort in the Power 5 may just be college football's is the ultimate rags-to-riches story, because in Wilbanks's case it isn't a metaphor.
A 2004 Ole Miss graduate, Wilbanks entered college football immediately upon graduation but did not earn his first paid position until 2007. He was a volunteer graduate assistant at Murray State from 2004 to '06, then "landed" a volunteer position at Ole Miss, where his duties included working in the afternoons and evenings for no pay after pulling a 3 a.m. to 11:30 shift as a janitor.
"This dude would sit in there after his night shift and cut up tape on his own," Hugh Freeze, the Rebels' receivers coach at that time, told FootballScoop. "I'm there watching tape with him late at night and I find out his story, how he wants to be a college coach. He was at Murray State, his dad died and he had to come back and help his mom with the family farm. They sold the farm and that's when he came to Ole Miss."
“My wife should have done a test to make sure she wasn’t crazy,” Wilbanks told the Indianapolis Star last year. “I have a college degree, I’m cleaning bathrooms and working as a volunteer the other half of the day. You have to love me to do something like that.”
From there, Wilbanks secured a staffed position at North Carolina A&T in 2007, then arrived at Lambuth University in 2008, where he worked as the secondary coach and recruiting coordinator under head coach Freeze and defensive coordinator Tom Allen.
"I told him, when I get my first college job I am hiring you. When I got the Lambuth job he was my first call and he was there the next day," Freeze said. "A tireless grinder with an eye for talent.
"At that level, you're finding guys from all circumstances. I've never met anybody that was as involved with, recruiting and evaluating so many kids. He just has so many guys that he always stayed in touch with. It's work ethic," Allen told FootballScoop. "He was a tireless worker back then and that's never changed. I have to shoo him out of the office -- 'Go home and be with your wife and kids.' I also love the fact that he follows the rules. He doesn't cut any corners, which is a critical thing in recruiting with all the variables involved. He's been that way since when I first met him."
When the staff broke up after the 2009 campaign, Wilbanks worked at the junior college level for two seasons before returning to his alma mater for a second time. When Freeze got the Ole Miss head job, he hired Wilbanks as his coordinator of recruiting development. He rose from there to the assistant AD of player development, when in 2018 Allen hired him as Indiana's senior director of recruiting.
"At a place like Indiana you have to do a tremendous job combing the country to find great fits and he's a tenacious bulldog in that endeavor. Tireless worker, watches hours and hours and hours of film, knows everybody that's out there. He does a tremendous job finding guys out there that can help us."
Wilbanks is at Allen's side for each of the hundreds of recruiting tapes the head coach evaluates, and Wilbanks has already evaluated each of those players before Allen sees his first clip.
"He and I watch them all together," Allen said. "Every single player that gets to me, which is hundreds of guys, he's already watched them all and he's already written them up. Once I get my assessment I want to know what his is because I value what he thinks."
IU's 2019 class, Wilbanks's first in Bloomington, was the highest-rated in Hoosiers history with a program-record five 4-star prospects. IU secured five of Indiana's top 11 recruits in 2020, up from an average of two in the years prior. Indiana signed just 14 players in 2021 but, led by top-50 national recruit Dasan McCullough (the son of IU assistant head coach Deland McCullough), Allen believes the 2022 class has a chance to be the best in school history.
"We don't have to out-recruit people, we have to out-evaluate people, and once you get them you have to out-develop them," said Allen. "That's how you win at Indiana. It's finding those guys that fit our system and fit our culture."
On that front, Indiana is 14-7 over the past two seasons, including an 11-5 mark in Big Ten play. Even accounting for last season's pandemic-shortened schedule, the 11 conference wins in two seasons tie a program record, dating back to when IU first joined the Western Conference in 1900. The Hoosiers' 2020 season saw them go 6-2 (6-1 Big Ten, losing only to national runner-up Ohio State by seven points at the Horseshoe) and finish No. 12 in the AP poll, the program's highest ranking since 1967. IU also set a program record with 16 All-Big Ten selections.
As always, FootballScoop Coach of the Year award winners are chosen by prior winners.
Previous winners of the Player Personnel Director of the Year award are Tyler Siskey (Alabama, 2013), Mark Pantoni (Ohio State, 2014), Austin Thomas (LSU, 2015), Jody Wright (Alabama, 2016), Marshall Malchow (Georgia, 2017), Matt Lindsey (South Carolina, 2018), and Annie Hanson and Drew Hill (Oklahoma, 2019).
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