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Thursday, September 26, 2002
Updated: September 30, 9:07 PM ET
Phone calls: A long-distance relationship

By Jim Donnan
ESPN.com

No long-distance relationship is easy, even between people who have known each other many years. So, imagine how hard it is to maintain a relationship -- a good portion of which takes place on the phone -- in which one party is trying to convince the other, a 17- or 18-year-old, to spend the next four years as a part of his team. Oh yeah, the 17- or 18-year-old recruit is also being courted by dozens of other schools.

Telephone calls are an integral and sometimes difficult part of the recruiting process -- for both the team and player. As difficult as it is, you can get a real feel about somebody's attitude about your school over the phone. The phone calls are all about establishing and/or maintaining a relationship while following NCAA rules.

Something to talk about

As a coach, knowing what to talk about with recruits and becoming comfortable with the process is an acquired skill that has to be developed. It can be awkward at first, but after time it becomes more natural. Your competitors are doing it too and you've got to be able to separate the meat and potatoes.

Recruiters have to understand that a high school player has often already spoken to two or three guys that night. At that point, anything you say is probably going in one ear and out the other.

A lot of players now tell you a certain time to call. That's good because they get so many calls. What is difficult for everybody to understand is when you add all the recruiting services, local newspapers, radio and TV people that are calling these kids on top of the college coaches, it takes an enormous amount of time from their studying and the actual recruiting process. Everybody wants to know the inside skinny, often to the detriment of the student.

You try to work something out with the recruit so that he knows you're not trying to bug him, but you don't want to lose out because you weren't persistent. It's a fine line there.

I never thought you had to call a guy just to keep up with the Joneses. I just thought it was important to act like your call was the only one he was getting.

We have contact

A program can first telephone a recruit once during the month of May in his junior year. This call will break the ice and let you talk about your program. We used to identify and call the players we would most likely offer a scholarship.

It's always better if a recruit has been to your camp or a game. If the first time you've ever spoken to a kid is during your first call, the conversation is even more important.

It's important to make the process as convenient as possible, and modern technology certainly has helped. All of our coaches had two-way calling at their house or on their cell phone. That way if I called or they called the recruit, they would always, particularly on the first call, call me that way we would both make contact.

The NCAA allows coaches to accept collect calls from recruits beginning on July 1 after completion of a recruit's junior year. Recruits or their parents can telephone a coach as often as they wish. Programs set up 1-800 numbers to make it easy for recruits to reach them.

We had 1-800 number in our office and every coach had a 1-800 number that the recruits could call any time and as many times as they wanted. We always encouraged that -- particularly if a question came up or something came up in negative recruiting. We always tried to recruit positively, but if someone has said something about a coach or our program, we want to squelch it as soon as possible by having the guy call us.

You also want to find out how to get in touch with a guy other than his home phone -- most guys have a cell phone now. If you can get the girlfriend's number, you know you have a pretty good shot at the kid.

Logging in

You keep good telephone logs about who you called. It's important to double check and make sure you don't make any calls not permitted by the NCAA. The recruiting coordinator will check the telephone bills against the logs to make sure everything's OK.

The logs help with future calls too. Not only do you record the time and recruit, but you also record the topics of the conversation. Each coach has a personnel sheet, which includes information from the questionnaire sheet a recruit sent in, important data, high school coach, family background and all those things. Those were updated weekly as far as what a player did in previous games. You don't want to be asking a guy how he did. You have to be up to date -- you know the other schools are doing that too.

Weekly ritual

Starting on September 1, schools can call each recruit once a week. Wednesday night was always our big night of phone calls. After practice, our coaches would get in their offices and call the prospects -- particularly the scholarship guys. We would generally be working several phones at once to make sure that one phone call counts. Our graduate assistants were stationed out in the hall and would get position coaches and me to talk to a recruit on the one allowed call. It was personalized, but you want to build up the relationship with the area coach, position coach and head coach.

Certain weeks only one person would talk to the recruit. But early on, particularly if we didn't know the guy that well, a couple of coaches would talk to him. A guy that you've been recruiting for a year and a half or so you wouldn't spread it out as much.

One exception to the one call a week rule is when a player is making an official visit to your program during a week when one phone call is allowed. In this case, you can talk to him as many times as you want. Say a player is coming in for a November game, that allows you to make sure he has transportation and get everything organized. It's a good rule.

Good and bad news

You always knew you were in good shape when a kid you were recruiting called up another kid you were recruiting and got him on a three-way call with one of your coaches because that guy told you how much he liked Oklahoma or Georgia or whatever school you're with.

You always dread the phone call when the guy calls to say he's going someplace else. I always told our coaches you have to kill them with kindness. After all that time if you're not able to sell them on it, then you don't need to try to talk them out of it.

Phone call basics

1. Programs may call once during the month of May of your junior year in high school.
2. You may not call again until September 1 of the player's senior year.
3. From September 1 - November 30, a program may telephone a recruit once a week.
4. A school's coach can telephone you as often as they wish during a contact period. (Contact period runs from Dec. 1, 2002 - Feb. 1, 2003, but there are six exception periods during this time when calls can't be made or are limited.)
5. Programs can call a recruit as often as they wish during the period 48 hours before and 48 hours after 7 a.m. on the initial signing date for the National Letter of Intent.
6. Recruits or their parents may call a coach at his own expense as often as they care to.
7. Coaches may accept collect calls from recruits and may use a toll-free (1-800) number to receive telephone calls from recruits on or after July 1 after completion of a recruit's junior year.

ESPN.com college football analyst Jim Donnan, the former head coach at Marshall and Georgia, will be taking part in chats and making observations on Saturdays as part of College GameDay Online.