Commentary

Relationships drive recruiting success

Updated: May 12, 2010, 10:14 AM ET
By Ian R. Rapoport | Special to ESPN.com

Like any successful coach, Raymond Woodie is armed with a slogan. This one puts a premium on the work he does before he even gets to work.

[+] EnlargeRaymond Woodie
WKU Athletic Media RelationsRaymond Woodie's connections at the high school level are paying off for Western Kentucky.

"If you don't prepare," said Woodie, the Western Kentucky defensive ends coach, "you prepare to fail."

That doesn't apply to just film study, in-game adjustments or handling player relationships. It sets Woodie's schedule, too.

A former beloved coach at Tampa, Fla.-area powerhouse Palmetto High through this past season, he's now tasked with juggling the professional and the personal. When he's canvassing one of his recruiting areas in Florida, he'll hit the schools with which he's not as familiar first. When a trip calls for him to open the Palmetto doors, that's last.

"They realize I'm here for business, and then pleasure is later," said Woodie, a 36-year-old who spent the past 13 years on the prep level. "But you have to be smart on how you recruit when you're going to spend more time at a certain place. In those schools [like Palmetto], I'm going to spend probably extra time just getting held up after I do my job by people I've been knowing all my life."

Woodie's scheduling dilemma is an interesting one. It's a welcome benefit.

In recruiting, every advantage is currency. Every rabbit you can pull out of a football helmet counts. If it lands one more blue-chip prospect than your rival, it can be the difference between the positive buzz and the nasty, depressing buzz.

It's one reason colleges accelerated a trend of hiring former high school coaches as position assistants to ensure recruiting networks are strong.

As WKU tries to shake off a 0-12 2009 record and morph from a successful Football Championship Subdivision team into a Football Bowl Subdivision member of the Sun Belt, recruiting well is paramount.

[+] EnlargeArt Briles
Brett Davis/US PresswireArt Briles began his coaching career at the prep level.

"We're going to go after the best one that's out there," first-year coach Willie Taggart said. "There's nothing in the rule book that says we can't. And we'll get 'em. We'll build relationships and do what we're capable of doing. But they got to have great character, too."

Hiring Woodie is one sign that improving relationships along the recruiting trail is a way to do it.

"Coach Woodie has established himself as a really good high school coach who has a lot of contacts around the state," said Taggart, a WKU graduate who arrived after three seasons as Stanford's running backs coach, tutoring Heisman Trophy runner-up Toby Gerhart. "He's been around a lot of kids, a lot of coaches, so it makes things easier. He doesn't have to build those relationships; he already has them."

And Woodie is already reaping the benefits of his background, as evidenced by 11 Floridians in the 20-person 2010 recruiting class, including receiver Donald Campbell from Palmetto.

"It helps a lot knowing some of those coaches personally," Woodie said, "and they know what you stand for."

WKU is not the first, nor will it be the last.

Auburn offensive coordinator Gus Malzahn famously broke into college football as Arkansas' offensive coordinator after a star-studded career as the high school coach at powerhouse Sprindale (Ark.) High, a gig that included tutoring stud quarterback recruit Mitch Mustain.

Baylor coach Art Briles began his college career as the Texas Tech running backs coach after arriving as a state-title-winning coach from Stephenville (Texas) High.

Cincinnati defensive backs coach Kerry Coombs led Colerain (Ohio) High to a 2004 state title before taking on his current post. Alabama coach Nick Saban employs a stable of former high school coaches in administrative positions.

When Indiana was searching for a new offensive line coach this offseason, Mo Moriarity's name came to light. It was a familiar one.

At Carmel High, Bloomington South and others, Moriarity earned a 241-56 record with three state titles. Now, he'll be mentoring IU players while dipping into his old database.

The response from his players was emblematic.

[+] EnlargeKerry Coombs
Rich Kane/Icon SMIKerry Coombs is one of many assistant coaches with high school coaching experience.

"You do get attached to kids, and there is disappointment [from the team]. It was hard for me," Moriarity said from the recruiting trail. "After you get over that, they were very supportive. They want to go on and play at the next level, so they understand. And there are some younger kids coming up in the program that have already contacted me and are interested in IU. They know now that somebody down there they have a connection with."

With 49 natives of Indiana on the IU roster, in-state ties keep the engine running. Fortunately, Moriarity knows most of the coaches.

A former president of the Indiana High School Coaches Association, the newly hired offensive line coach said that some of his best friends are high school coaches.

"When you've got a guy, you're going to call those guys you're loyal to," Moriarity said. "I want to make sure there's those guys out there going, 'Hey, you were one of us for a long time.' Maybe develop some loyalty where they'll feel like they want to send players to IU.'"

Of course, assistants are assistants, and they often don't create the splash that a head coach might.

Moriarity's Carmel Greyhounds lost to Warren Central in an epic double overtime Class 5A state title game in 2009. Offensive lineman Kiaro Holts, a 6-foot-5, 270-pounder who is on the ESPNU 150 Watch list for 2011, was in that game.

Yet the news of Moriarity's move wasn't on his radar yet.

"Oh, I heard something about that," said Holts, who has been offered by Indiana, Florida, Boston College and others. "But not too much."

And even when it does create some publicity, it might be short lived. Tom Luginbill, the national recruiting director for ESPNU Recruiting, is not convinced of the lasting edge.

"As far as helping recruiting, I think it can obviously give a program a boost especially in the short term if that coach is an established, successful, long-standing coach in the state where the college program resides," Luginbill said. "Established relationships between a high school coach on a college staff and existing high school coaches is always a positive. But maybe not a clincher for top kids."

Yet in a constant tug-of-war for any inch of advantage, this is one. If there is a choice about which assistant to alert about a top prospect, connections can win.

If a coach has a player, Moriarity said, "you're going to call the guy you know well."

Ian R. Rapoport also covers the New England Patriots for The Boston Herald. Read his blog or e-mail him at irapoport@bostonherald.com.

ALSO SEE