Recruiting in Football Part I: Principles, Geography, and the SEC


Recruiting is a great way to connect with future prospects. This is a process which allows the coaching staff an opportunity to share with student-athletes their philosophy, goals, educational program, and the student-athlete’s future athletically. Coaches get intimate time with the recruit’s family to discuss their goals and what they can do to achieve them. The student-athlete gets to make his decision with his immediate family around him. Families that would otherwise not be able to afford to send one of their own to a higher educational institution are presented with the opportunity to do so. Recruits get to visit campuses of schools who are interested in them and imagine what kind of life is ahead for them, regardless whether they want the “party” experience or the opportunity to make the most out of their blessings. It is a great process for all involved — when it is done right.

Both parties must first and foremost be honest communicators. They must state exactly what they are looking for and discuss them directly. There can’t be any underlying sentences, no assumptions. The conditions must be clear and concise. Any deception will ultimately result in the loss of trust of either the program or the player and sooner or later, one of them will leave if they feel slighted enough. Coaches who are recruiting the student-athlete have to be enthusiastic and full of energy. They must energize the people around them to be excited about their future together. Last but not least, the coach must be persuasive. He has to use his energy and acumen to educate the student-athlete about the benefits of attending the program and sell him on why coming to this program is better than going to any other programs around the country. What are your aspirations after college? Do you want playing time early in your career? What kind of environment do you see yourself living in? Do you want to be close to home? Do you care if you’re on the sidelines as long as the game is nationally televised? Do you want to come to a program that will invest time into you and help you become the best athlete you can possibly become so you can see if you have a shot to play on Sundays?

This is part of being a good coach, recruiter, and salesman, having the ability to interest prospective student-athletes to come to your program and communicating with them clearly about what you see in them and what opportunities lie ahead of them.

One of our coaches is an incredible recruiter. He is an energetic, enthusiastic, persuasive, and a charismatic personality. This coach can command a room of other coaches and get them enrapt in his stories of all the parties he went to as a player and what he did with this guy and this other guy. He talks people up, asks them questions about themselves, and shares his thoughts which are always seemingly interesting to listen to. He can be a bit dramatic at times, usually when he is in a high-tense and stressful situation. He is the guy everyone wants to be around at a party. On top of that, he is an individual who is giving when the situation calls for it. He helped me during a hard time in my GA life by giving some of his wife’s soup over to me from time to time when he didn’t need to. I wasn’t his friend or someone that he comes over and chats with. He was giving something to me when he could afford to give. Him and his wife are both fun-loving and good people, though I may be a little bit biased because their soup is so delicious.

It is mostly due to his personality and charisma that he has been able to secure high school football connections all over the country, especially in Texas (which is vitally important for reasons I will explain later), and college connections everywhere else. He takes time to write letters to other coaches and players, even during the season when he is busy upholding other tasks. He also understands the geography of the country and has a clear understanding of which recruits are willing to budge to our college, which ones will burn out, and where the talent is at. He is probably one step away from having a job in one of the prime-time SEC schools. Sadly, it is due to that last point where certain coaches who would have no interest in being friends with him otherwise are friends with him now.

Short Note About The Treatment of Others

If you are reading this, there is one thing that you should take away from what I have written:

Act in such a way that you treat humanity, whether in your own person or in the person of another, always at the same time as an end and never simply as a means. – Immanuel Kant

In other words, treat others good because you want to treat them well, not because you will receive something from them in return. It is a duty or a “categorical imperative” as my favorite philosopher, Immanuel Kant puts it. I bring this point up because it is something that gets lost in my line of business far too often. Certain people will treat GA’s like they aren’t worth a dime, but then treat the Kevin Sumlin’s and Nick Saban’s of the world with a different reverence. I am very thankful that none of these coaches are in my program. I have faith, reader, that you too are a good person at heart. I emphasize this to remind others, including myself, to continue to follow this imperative.

The Importance of Recruiting

“There’s people who refer to that coach in the building, ‘Oh… he’s the recruiter.’ One coach can’t just be the good recruiter. All of your coaches have to be good.” – David Shaw (HC), Stanford

There’s a saying in the coaching world that gets tossed around a lot: If you are good at recruiting players you will always find a job. After being around for a little while, I have come to agree with that sentiment.

Coaches don’t win games, players do. The team with the most talent often wins the games and makes consistent runs for championships. Especially at the collegiate level, where the spread for talent is so wide. Sure, coaches create the overall philosophy for the team to follow, prepare for game-day, set practice schedules, develop gameplans, make corrections, develop relationships with the players, and set the culture going forward. All of those listed are important. Ultimately, it’s up to the players to make plays and if you don’t have the players, you will not sniff a Natty anytime soon.

Organizations like Pete Carroll’s USC, adopted philosophies which instructed his coaches to recruit when they have down time. Ed Orgeron’s LSU Tigers war room during recruiting is fully operational for 72 straight hours before Signing Day. Many schools in the Power 5 conferences work from as early as six in the morning up until nine o’clock at night during the summer flying out to recruits homes, watching film, scheduling trips, and planning visits. Recruiting is an intense and arduous process, and they pay a lot of money to those who can do it well.

1 Texas A&M SEC John Chavis $1,558,000 $1,558,000 $180,000 $4,811,000
2 Clemson ACC Brent Venables $1,431,250 $1,431,250 $95,000 $5,390,417
3 Alabama SEC Lane Kiffin $1,400,000 $1,400,000 $306,000 $5,320,000
4 LSU SEC Dave Aranda $1,315,000 $1,315,000 $125,000 $5,781,500
5 Louisville ACC Todd Grantham $1,300,000 $2,000 $1,302,000 $108,333 $3,839,500
6 LSU SEC Cam Cameron $1,200,000 $11,000 $1,211,000 $125,000 $5,781,500
7 Baylor Big 12 Phil Bennett $1,199,848 $2,250 $1,202,098
8 Tennessee SEC Bob Shoop $1,155,000 $0 $1,155,000 $276,000 $4,545,700
9 Notre Dame Ind. Brian VanGorder $1,106,156 $0 $1,106,156
10 Auburn SEC Kevin Steele $1,100,000 $0 $1,100,000 $102,500 $4,456,250

In order to get players to come to your school you need good recruiters. And if you’re in one of the Power-5 conferences, you better believe that recruiting is going to become an all-time job for you. I can guarantee you that all of the names listed above are exceptional at it.

Championship teams always have great players on them. If your team is one of those teams that has a lot of holes in it, it will get exposed sooner rather than later leaving you with an unexpectedly short season. Only one team finishes the year happy. It’s not hard to guess which one it is.

Geography of Recruiting

(I could go a lot deeper into this topic if I really wanted to. However, I will brush upon the basics in this part and maybe go into more depth in the second part of this series.)  

Recruiting makes most of their money in places where the talent is. In this case, the talent lies in places where it is warm all year round, there is a high population per capita, sports are part of the culture, there are not many opportunities outside of sports, and/or all of the above. Note that 8 of the 15 teams come from the Sun Belt.

Top 200 Prospects Committed to College Within State by Year (2011-2015) 

(#) = # of 5-Star Prospects

Courtesy of Braden Gall, Athlon Sports

Rk State 2011 2012 2013 2014 2015 Total
1. Florida 36 (10) 32 (5) 28 (7) 30 (5) 27 (9) 153 (36)
2. Texas 27 (4) 27 (5) 28 (5) 22 (5) 28 (5) 132 (24)
3. California 21 (2) 23 (4) 23 (3) 23 (3) 27 (6) 117 (18)
4. Georgia 13 (2) 15 (2) 17 (4) 15 (2) 20 (4) 80 (14)
5. Ohio 10 (2) 12 (1) 10 7 7 (1) 46 (4)
6. Louisiana 10 (3) 3 (1) 7 12 (5) 9 (1) 41 (10)
7. Alabama 6 10 (3) 8 (2) 7 (4) 8 (1) 39 (10)
8. Virginia 6 (1) 6 9 (3) 7 (3) 9 (1) 37 (8)
9. N. Carolina 6 8 (3) 6 9 6 35 (4)
10. New Jersey 8 (1) 4 (1) 7 5 (1) 4 (1) 28 (4)
11. Pennsylvania 5 7 (2) 8 (1) 3 4 27 (4)
12. Illinois 5 3 7 (1) 7 (1) 2 (1) 24 (3)
13t. Michigan 5 5 5 4 (1) 3 22 (1)
13t. Maryland 6 (1) 7 (2) 5 (2) 2 (1) 2 22 (6)
15t. Mississippi 6 4 (1) 4 (2) 3 4 21 (3)
15t. Arizona 5 (1) 4 (1) 3 7 (1) 2 (1) 21 (4)
17. Tennessee 2 2 4 (1) 4 8 20 (1)
18. S. Carolina 5 (1) 2 3 5 2 17 (1)
19. Oklahoma 1 3 2 4 4 14 (0)
20. Indiana 2 3 (1) 3 (1) 2 3 13 (2)
21. Missouri 0 5 (1) 1 3 3 12 (1)
22. Arkansas 3 0 2 2 2 9 (0)
23. Kentucky 2 0 3 2 1 8 (0)
24t. Washington 2 3 1 (1) 1 0 7 (1)
24t. Colorado 1 2 1 2 1 7 (0)
26. Utah 0 1 1 2 2 (1) 6 (1)
27t. New York 1 (1) 2 0 2 0 5 (1)
27t. D.C. 0 1 (1) 1 1 (1) 2 5 (2)
29t. Oregon 2 1 (1) 1 (1) 0 0 4 (2)
29t. Hawaii 0 0 1 0 3 (1) 4 (1)
31t. Kansas 2 0 0 1 0 3 (0)
31t. Minnesota 0 0 0 2 1 3 (0)
31t. Nevada 1 1 0 0 1 3 (0)
31t. Mass. 0 2 1 0 0 3 (0)
35t. Connecticut 0 0 0 0 2 (1) 2 (1)
35t. Iowa 0 0 0 2 0 2 (0)
35t. Wisconsin 0 1 0 1 0 2 (0)
35t. Idaho 0 1 0 0 1 2 (0)
35t. New Mexico 1 0 0 0 1 2 (0)
40t. Delaware 0 0 0 1 0 1 (0)
40t. Canada 0 0 0 0 1 1 (0)

For the more visual guys, here is a map where Blue-Chippers committed to in 2016.

Programs that have good reach are Michigan (who benefitted from having a lot of money and running camps across borders before the NCAA and Nick Saban intervened), Stanford (who has a great recruiting staff), and Alabama (who everyone wants to play for to get a shot at the next level).

Most of the talent is concentrated in the Sun Belt and in parts of California. The Sun Belt is incredibly competitive because players are more apt to stay close to home to be close to their family and all the talent is down there. This means coaches will find ways to work around rules and occasionally pay players to get ahead of their competition. This is ingrained into their culture.

Case #1: SEC and Ole Miss

The Ole Miss’ women’s basketball program was responsible for recruiting violations within their program back in October 2012. Once the NCAA finds one athletic program “guilty” of alleged violations, they launch into an investigation of the program to investigate exactly what happened and why it happened. The NCAA sends a Notice Of Allegations NOA to the Athletic Director and Compliance Office. They will have 90 days to respond, 120 for rare exceptions, back to the NCAA. Think of this as a formal statement on where they stand. Ole Miss admitted wrongdoing did happen within the program. A hearing took place shortly thereafter where they interviewed the coaches and players involved. The ones that lied got penalized and the ones that came clean got to keep their status in the NCAA for the foreseeable future. Their head coach, Adrian Wiggins, was not one of those guys and he was fired from the program immediately. The NCAA kept an eye on the Ole Miss Athletic Department for the time being. 

Not more than six months later the Ole Miss football program landed three five-star prospects Laquon Treadwell, Robert Nkemdiche, and Laremy Tunsil in the same recruiting class. It was the highest-ranked recruiting class that Ole Miss ever had. Unusual to say the least. However, neither Robert Nkemdiche nor Laremy Tunsil had interest in Ole Miss until the week before signing day and then somehow, committed gave their commitment to Ole Miss. Which by the way, is located in a hotbed of racism, where it is very common for people to still be attached to the old south and coaches I have talked to think twice about recruiting in certain neighborhoods because they don’t know how people of certain descent will respond to a white recruiter coming into their house. It wasn’t like Tunsil and Nkemdiche were staying close to home either, both of their colleges which they de-committed from were one state away from their home (Florida and Georgia, two nationally ranked NCAA football programs). Both were leaving safe environments close to their families to go to a program where they were the complete opposite. What in the world caused them to make such a polar opposite decision in such a short time?

Fast forward to the draft. All three players get selected in the first round of the draft of no surprise to anyone. Tunsil is taken first followed by Treadwell and then Nkemdiche. Tunsil was projected to be the third-overall pick until a video of him smoking a bong was leaked onto his Twitter account. More importantly, some screenshots of his text messages to the Ole Miss Director of Football Operations (DFO) appear and they imply that Tunsil asked the Ole Miss program for money to help his mom pay for utilities. He dropped ten spots to Miami who later picked him up at #13.

When asked about whether he received money from Ole Miss he answered bluntly, “I made a mistake. That happened.”

Keep in mind, this wasn’t the first time Tunsil had received impermissible benefits from the coaching staff. During Tunsil’s junior year, it was discovered that he received three loaner vehicles, a $3,000 down payment on a rental car, and two nights of lodging at a coach’s home. He was suspended for seven games following the findings. His teammate, Robert Nkemdiche, reportedly received a total of $250,000 while being recruited and while he was playing football.

The NCAA, already investigating other Ole Miss programs for violations and infractions, now had many more reasons to investigate the Ole Miss football program. Hugh Freeze, the head coach of Ole Miss, declared that the allegations were unsound and he shouldn’t be responsible for something he didn’t know was happening to his program. The NCAA replied aptly to him that he was responsible for his program even though he did not commit any recruiting violations himself. They found that Ole Miss was irresponsible with extra benefits in general. Ole Miss, fearing more severe ramifications, sacrificed 11 scholarships and imposed a one-year bowl ban on itself.

The SEC and the schools that are in it believe they must show “love” to student-athletes if they are going to secure their talents for the forseeable future. The truth is clear, the players are the main drive for how successful a program is. The more talented your team is, the more wins you get in return. Which for coaches and administrators, means everything. In an organization that is about winning and losing, you cannot lose. For it could affect the livelihood of you and your family severely. Do not lose, find the players that will win for you. Even when a program gets its pants pulled down, the stakes may be too high to stop. Even if you must pay them to come to your school or in the case of Colorado State, hold them to mandatory workouts during the summer.

Case #2: Colorado State and SEC Influences (Bending the Rules on the Small Things)

For those of you who live in Colorado, you may remember Jim McElwain. He is currently the head coach at Florida (SEC). He was offered the job after pulling a great program together at Colorado State (MWC) who hired him away after being the OC at Alabama (SEC). The current head coach there is Mike Bobo who was a former OC for Georgia (SEC).

For those of you who don’t know, the summer (out-of-season) has different rules than in-season. Student-athletes can only be involved in football for eight “countable” hours per week for eight weeks per year. In addition, every one of these activities have to be designated as voluntary and not mandatory. If a player decides not to show up, there can be no ramification or consequence enacted by the coaching staff. The only activities that are considered countable are conditioning, weight training, and film review. No countable coach can be involved in the skill instruction or film review during the offseason. If a player comes up to you and asks a question about what he is seeing on film, it is okay for the coach to answer the question but, he cannot direct the film instruction in any way. Players have to practice on their own and do their strength and conditioning with the Strength and Conditioning Coach only. Here are the main parts of the rules below taken by the NCAA Division I Manual if you wanted more clarification: Football. [FBS/FCS] In football, a student-athlete who is enrolled in summer school may engage in required weight-training, conditioning and review of practice and game film for up to eight weeks (not required to be consecutive weeks). A student-athlete who is enrolled in at least three degree-applicable (pursuant to Bylaw credit hours in one summer term that is fewer than eight weeks in duration may engage in required weight-training, conditioning 2016-17 Division I – August 17PLAYING SEASONS 220 and review of practice and game film for up to eight weeks (not required to be consecutive). Participation in such activities shall be limited to a maximum of eight hours per week with not more than two hours per week spent on film review. (Adopted: 10/30/13, Revised: 4/28/16)

Bowl Subdivision Football. [FBS] Activities between the institution’s last contest and January 1 are limited to required weight training, conditioning and the review of game film. A student-athlete’s participation in such activities shall be limited to a maximum of eight hours per week, of which not more than two hours per week may be spent on the viewing of film. All activities beginning January 1 and outside the playing season shall be conducted pursuant to Bylaw 17.10.6. (Revised: 12/15/06)

(c) Championship Subdivision Football. [FCS] Activities between the institution’s last contest and the start of summer conditioning are limited to required weight training, conditioning and the review of game film. A student-athlete’s participation in such activities shall be limited to a maximum of eight hours per week, of which not more than two hours per week may be spent on the viewing of film. All activities beginning with the start of summer conditioning and outside the playing season shall be conducted pursuant to Bylaws and (Revised: 12/15/06) Conditioning Activities. Conditioning drills per Bylaw that may simulate game activities are permissible, provided no offensive or defensive alignments are set up and no equipment related to the sport is used. In ice hockey, a student-athlete may be involved in on-ice conditioning activities and use protective equipment (e.g., pads, helmets, sticks), provided no puck, projectile or other similar object is used. In swimming and diving, a student-athlete may be involved in in-pool conditioning activities and swim-specific equipment (e.g., starting blocks, kickboards, pull buoys) may be used. (Revised: 4/28/05 effective 8/1/05, 10/29/15)

17.02.18 Voluntary Athletically Related Activities. In order for any athletically related activity to be considered “voluntary,” all of the following conditions must be met: (Adopted: 4/18/01, Revised: 4/29/04 effective 8/1/04) (a) The student-athlete must not be required to report back to a coach or other athletics department staff member (e.g., strength coach, trainer, manager) any information related to the activity. In addition, no athletics department staff member who observes the activity (e.g., trainer, manager) may report back to the student athlete’s coach any information related to the activity; (b) The activity must be initiated and requested solely by the student-athlete. Neither the institution nor any athletics department staff member may require the student-athlete to participate in the activity at any time. However, it is permissible for an athletics department staff member to provide information to student-athletes related to available opportunities for participating in voluntary activities (e.g., times when the strength and conditioning coach will be on duty in the weight room or on the track). In addition, for students who have initiated a request to engage in voluntary activities, the institution or an athletics department staff member may assign specific times for student-athletes to use institutional facilities for such purposes and inform the student-athletes of the time in advance; (c) The student-athlete’s attendance and participation in the activity (or lack thereof) may not be recorded for the purposes of reporting such information to coaching staff members or other student-athletes; and (d) The student-athlete may not be subjected to penalty if he or she elects not to participate in the activity. In addition, neither the institution nor any athletics department staff member may provide recognition or incentives (e.g., awards) to a student-athlete based on his or her attendance or performance in the activity. [Note: Coaching staff members may be present during permissible skill-related instruction pursuant to Bylaws and]

Some of our coaches knew some of their staff that worked there and we were trying to find ways to utilize our summer time more efficiently. Our OC called one of the coaches over at CSU and asked how they organized players during the summer. The coach replied that he and his guys set up coach-led position group meetings weekly. Sounds pretty good from our end if we can get that done at our program. He instructs his players to come to these film meetings during the summer. Our OC asked if this was against NCAA rules, the coach replied that this was not.

We talked about it with our Director of Compliance and he told us that it was a straight disregard for NCAA rules. They are instructing their players to report at a time when the activity is supposed to be voluntary. No go, he tells us. “Is it okay to do so at the Division I level?” we ask.

The gist of his phrasing was the same as his first, “No.”

Some football programs don’t believe the NCAA investigative staff is detailed enough to pick up on some little, minor bending of the rules. They’re so big, how can they possibly pick up on something so little? The truth of the matter is that they won’t be able to pick up on everything like a mom won’t be able to catch their son doing the wrong thing all the time. But, if they smell a little blood in the water, they attack like the sharks that they are.


Stay tuned for Part II where I will cover the current Jim Harbaugh era at Michigan followed by the events that took place at Texas Southern.

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I am a former film coordinator for a FCS school. Currently serving in the Navy. I was glad to be around the game of football and had the chance to learn from a lot of great people. I wouldn't be where I am without the gracious support of my family, coaches, assistants, players, and friends. I also greatly appreciate you guys who take the time to read my stuff and show genuine appreciation. It means a ton! You guys are awesome! Twitter Handle: @FBDubs