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December 26, 2012

Recruiting often first in staff building

MORE: Coaching changes: What's the impact?

Dallas Jackson is the National Columnist for Rivals.com. Email him your comments or story ideas to DallasJ@Yahoo-Inc.com and follow him on Twitter.

It is the caveat that goes with every new coaching hire: What does the rest of the staff look like?

Of the 25 head coaching hires made this offseason -- only the Florida International job remains vacant -- 11 have been filled by first-time college football head coaches; eight have been coaches moving into their first BCS automatic qualifying conference jobs.

Building a staff for the first time -- or for a new level of competition -- comes with challenges that go beyond the X's and O's. It starts with recruiting the Jimmys and Joes.

Garrick McGee took over at UAB during last season's coaching carousel. It was his first head coaching position after nearly a decade as an assistant.

He said the ability for an assistant to recruit is a major consideration -- and he often gives it more weight than coaching acumen.

"The first thing to think about is where the job is located and what type of coaches actually fit into that part of the country," he said. "You need guys who can relate to the high school coaches because that is where you are going to start building your foundation.

"Once you get the understanding of the area in place, you can start matching philosophy. I want guys who are going to force ongoing development in the program and coaches who are in this business to develop young people. I do not want coaches who think the glory is in being the next Nick Saban but men who want to make better men, and that is done every day of the week, not just on Saturday."

In McGee's first year as the coach the Blazers went just 3-9, but the move toward his vision for the program was evident.

McGee said his first step on the long road was rebuilding relationships within the state by going on a 30-day and 30-night tour to meet with coaches.

The trip paid immediate dividends with his first signing class in 2012 and appears to have continued with those committed in the class of 2013.

"I had to sell everyone on the direction I wanted to take UAB," he said. "Even after 20 years this was still a program that hadn't had a solid foundation laid, and I did not want to present a quick fix. I told all of those coaches -- and I firmly believe -- that I can build a Conference USA champion with just kids from Alabama."

McGee signed 17 players from Alabama in a class of 26 for 2012. There are 17 from the state in the 21-man class for 2013.

By comparison, the cumulative number of in-state signees at UAB in the classes of 2007 through 2011 was just 38 of 137.

THE RIGHT MOVES
Butch Jones left Cincinnati for Tennessee this offseason, and while both are in BCS conferences there is little doubt that going from the Big East to the SEC brings a different level of recruiting.

Brent Hubbs covers Tennessee for VolQuest.com. He said the hiring of Jones was not met with universal approval.

"I don't think this is the exciting hire people wanted; it will be a wait-and-see from most Vol fans, and that is not Butch Jones' fault," Hubbs said. "For him to be successful early, he will need to hit the ground running full speed. His name is not going to draw immediate reaction from recruits, and I don't think many are going to be saying they want to go to UT just to play for Butch Jones."

In his two weeks on the job, Jones has filled his staff. While most of his offensive staff came with him from Cincinnati, the defensive side is a collection of quality assistants who figure to solidify recruiting for the program.

John Jancek came with Jones from Cincinnati to be the defensive coordinator. Prior to joining the Bearcats, Jancek spent five years at Georgia.

Jones also added Willie Martinez the safeties for Tennessee. Martinez has 10 years of SEC coaching experience and helped accumulate 90 wins during his tenure at Georgia.

Tommy Thigpen is also going to Tennessee as the cornerbacks coach. Thigpen was one of the best recruiters on the Auburn staff and was named a Rivals.com Top 25 recruiter twice -- in 2006 and 2009.

The three have hit the recruiting trail hard as Martinez helped flip former Auburn three-star defensive back commit Lemond Johnson.

The staff has centered attention on another former Auburn commitment -- four-star linebacker Trey Johnson, whom Thipgen had a relationship with while with the Tigers.

Johnson's high school coach, Todd Wofford, said the new Vols staff was a major part of the decision to discuss Tennessee.

"I think just having Thigpen there helps Tennessee," Wofford told VolQuest.com. "That's the guy (Johnson has) known for three years now, and so that's just a familiarity he already has right there.

"He was his lead recruiter after (Ted) Roof left, so they've been pretty close for the whole time. They talk all the time, and whenever he would go over there for visits, that's who he was always with and hanging out with, so they're pretty close."

While the class has not been completed and only Lemond Johnson has committed to the new group, the pieces are in place to start getting the fans to commit to the Jones hiring.
Kevin Wilson took over at Indiana two seasons ago after spending more than a quarter century as an assistant -- winning the Broyles Award as the nation's top assistant coach in 2008.

Wilson has gone 5-19 in two seasons at Indiana, improving from 1-11 in his first season to 4-8 in 2012.

He said recruiting is the bedrock of all programs, but balance is the key in building a staff.

"You have to get the players. That is the bottom line," he said. "But you need a passion for recruiting and a passion for coaching.

"I think any head coach has to be careful in dealing with guys who sell themselves as a great recruiter but an average coach or a great coach but not that interested in recruiting. I bet that if you put a list together of the best coaches in the country, most all of them are very good in both areas."

McGee added that those who get labeled as one or the other often limit their own growth potential and stunt the program.

"You never really want a guy who has a reputation as a 'great recruiter' or a 'great game manager' or a 'great with handling the locker room,' " McGee said. "To be successful, a coach needs to be good at all of those things. If you go and get the best recruiters that can't coach and can't put together a staff of good coaches, you will see it on the field because you will have a lot of talent that can't execute."

Using Wilson's philosophy, recruiting for the Hoosiers has improved dramatically during his time on campus. The program had previously signed one four-star player since Rivals.com began tracking recruiting classes in 2002, but this season there are four IU commits rated as four-star prospects.

Three of the four are from the state of Indiana, following a belief that Wilson has made clear to his staff.

"Philosophically, a state school should recruit its backyard hard," Wilson said. "That is where we intend to start."

If Indianapolis (Ind.) Ben Davis cornerback Antonio Allen, Indianapolis (Ind.) Pike defensive end David Kenney, and Indianapolis (Ind.) North Central defensive tackle Darius Latham stay committed and sign with the program, it will be the largest coup for the Hoosiers within a state that often sees its best players go to Notre Dame, Ohio State or around the country.

Coaches who made moves during this offseason have reiterated that the knowledge of local recruiting is of prime importance as they head into new areas of the country themselves.

Sonny Dykes left Louisiana Tech after three seasons for his first major-conference job at California.

Dykes had coached against his new school as an assistant at Arizona but never recruited the area. Hiring coaches who had ties to the Northern California area was paramount.

His first major move was to bring in Andy Buh as defensive coordinator.

Buh was the linebackers coach at Wisconsin under Bret Bielema, but before that he had spent time at Nevada, Stanford, Fresno State and California.

His longevity in the profession and ties to the area scored major points for Dykes.

"The experience and knowledge he will bring to Cal football on the defensive side of the ball will have a tremendous impact on our program," Dykes said when introducing Buh. "He also has significant experience recruiting in the state of California and will bolster our recruiting efforts in our own backyard."

Of the 18 high school players committed to California this season, six are from Northern California.

Dykes was not alone in his need to hire assistants with ties to a region he was unfamiliar with as a head coach. When Tommy Tuberville left Texas Tech for Cincinnati, it marked the first time in a 30-plus-year coaching career that he would be recruiting north of Arkansas.

His first hire was longtime friend Eddie Gran to be offensive coordinator. Gran spent two seasons at Cincinnati before going to Ole Miss and Auburn with Tuberville.

Tuberville was quick to point out those ties in his introduction of Gran.

"We have a lot of history together and have won a lot of football games at Auburn and Mississippi," he said. "(Gran) has proven himself to be a great coach and outstanding recruiter. He knows this area well from his previous coaching stop here, so it was a natural fit."

The fit in recruiting is as important as the fit in confined spaces.

Positive relationships within the dynamic of a staff can improve recruiting, and according to McGee, a bad apple can spoil the bushel.

"There is a lot of time being spent in meeting rooms and on road trips together, and if there isn't trust and chemistry within the group of coaches then that will leak into everything that happens," he said. "It will affect the kids already in the program and their performance on the field, and it will certainly be noticeable in recruiting because you need to have belief in what you are selling to kids.

"I have an offensive philosophy that we are going to run no matter the staff, and that is the same on defense. I need an organized, intense, fast-paced coach that I trust and one that has a personality that doesn't go against the grain with the rest of the staff."

McGee said he wants coaches with independent thoughts and not just followers, but the key to a staff is to make sure everyone is on the same page from recruiting on up.

"I am looking for solutions, not problems, and I am looking for someone who is proactive," he said. "Whether it is on the field or on the road, we all need to be working toward the same goals."



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