Wednesday, December 4, 2002
Updated: January 6, 8:19 PM ET
Making a list and checking it (at least) twice
By Jim Donnan
Recruiting is the lifeblood of your program and the evaluation part of it is critical. Not only is it important to evaluate potential recruits, but you also have to access your own squad's strengths and weaknesses to find your needs for next year and the years to come.
A team has 85 scholarships and can only sign a maximum of 25 recruits per year. If you do a good job keeping your kids in school and don't have injuries, you usually have between 15-17 scholarships per year. That doesn't leave much margin for error. You have to do a good job evaluating high school talent.
The evaluation process starts with the assignment of specific areas to the coaches on your staff. Every coach on the staff has an in-state and out-of-state recruiting area called primary and secondary areas. Coaches will also mail information to recruits in the secondary areas to keep up with any "paper tigers" around the country. For example, a coach might have South Georgia and North Florida as his main area, but also recruit Los Angeles and Dallas as mailing areas. Recruiting services and the Internet have made this much easier.
After the February signing date, graduate assistants will already have many of the tapes in for next year. We would immediately start breaking down the tape by position and rate the players -- 1 for a player we would likely reject, 2 for a kid who might become a player, 3 for a scholarship player and 4 for a can't miss blue chip player.
After spring practices, the coaches head out for spring recruiting. You can't have any contact, besides one phone call, with a recruit, but you can go by the school, hopefully watch them practice and talk to the high school coaches. Another important task on these trips is a visit to the guidance counselor to check out a kid's grades and attitude.
After spring evaluation, the coaches get together and compare the recruits. The evaluation is much better after you've had a chance to see the kids in person. As a head coach or recruiting coordinator, you want to make sure you are not turning down a guy in one area that's better than a player one of your other coaches is recruiting. You have to establish a pecking order. The next step is to get them to camp where you can test them and see how they compete against other players.
Hitting the road
By the fall, you have a great idea about the prospects you want, but it's also when you can get out and watch some high school games. You schedule based on open dates and proximity to campus. Only seven of the ten coaches can be on the road at any one time.
On the week of a home game, a coach or graduate assistant sets up a Friday schedule so the coach can visit as many high schools as possible. The coach will usually head out on a Thursday night. Coaches will not only be watching the players they are recruiting, but they also look ahead and will go see a junior. Even though you can't say hello to a junior, the player will know you are there. Your attendance lets them know you are interested. It's important to be visible. A coach will try to visit five or six schools during the day and meet with the coaches. It's a public relations gesture as much as anything.
A coach will attend one or two high school games on Friday night. Sometimes the game will be in that coach's recruiting area, but other times it will be a crosscheck. Most of the time the crosscheck will be done by the position coach -- a running back coach would evaluate a running back. It's important to get a different set of eyes and opinion on the kid.
As a head coach, even though you want to be with your team, sometimes I'd go to a high school game in the area while the team watched a movie.
A lot of the out-of-state recruiting occurs when your team is on the road or has an open date. Assistant coaches will swarm the area before and after a road game -- sometimes staying over until Monday to get another day of evaluation. I always used the open date to personally go and see one of our top recruits.
With so many talented high school players across the nation, narrowing the field to the few players you can offer a scholarship to is difficult. It's important to get as thorough an evaluation as possible. Looking at film, visiting high schools, observing camps, attending games and making sure multiple coaches have seen a prospect are essential parts of the process. Having the head coach in attendance for some games doesn't hurt either.
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.