The way Mack Brown sees it, every time Urban Meyer opens his mouth in public, the Ohio State coach is casting recruiting bait for the Buckeyes.
Brown should know, having gained status as one of the nation’s top recruiters while coaching at Texas.
“Even when a coach is coming off the field at halftime and stops to answer questions, he’s really talking to recruits, not the reporter,” said Brown, who is retired from coaching and doing commentary for ESPN.
Meyer has the highest winning percentage (.851) among active college-football coaches with at least 10 years' experience, not because of his spread offense but because he knows how to spread the gospel of recruiting: Consistently landing a top-five class is the best way to land among the four playoff teams.
Recruiting is the lifeblood of college football. Twelve of the past 15 FBS national champions averaged a top-10 recruiting class in the four years leading up to the title — which explains why everything from Meyer’s news conferences to Real Life Wednesdays to the Friday Night Lights skills camp connects to wooing prospects.
Few coaches did it better than Brown, who outlined what goes into becoming a top-notch recruiter.
Foundation: “No. 1, you have to have a product, a great university and good place for kids to enjoy. The cool place to be. If you don’t have a product — a lot of history and tradition — then you have to be a great evaluator of talent and take transfers.”
Friendship: “I asked Bo Schembechler how he knew which kids to take, and he said, ‘Take the ones you like personally, because they’re going to like you, and when you get down to a fourth-quarter game, only the kid who likes you will fight for you.’ That’s life, right? Don’t hire or marry someone you don’t like.”
Competition: “I used to look at who else the kid was considering. If it was Texas and four schools not strong in academics, I figured we wouldn’t get him. Or three schools out of state, and mom and dad are looking for him to stay home. You listen to every little thing parents say. If mom says, ‘It’s too far from home,’ then he’s not coming.”
Know when to quit: “The worst thing that can happen is to finish second on, say, five top recruits, because then you’ve lost five others you were late on. Know when to get out. Know when to fold ’em.”
Cut to the chase: “Assistant coaches don’t want to ask the hard questions because they’ve recruited the kid for three years. That’s why the head coach has to come in and say, ‘OK, where do we stand?’”
Speak no evil: “Every word matters, which is why press conferences are so tough, because you’re speaking to every recruit, mom and dad, preacher and player on your team. Every girlfriend, every legal counsel and the regents. When people say coaches use coachspeak, absolutely we do. You have to figure how to semi-answer to fit all the diverse views of all the people. With all the websites now, you say anything about the starting tight end, and parents of the other tight ends and recruits text you with, ‘What’s that all about?’”
Sight, smell, sound: “We wanted recruits to see themselves coming back, so we encouraged them to take pictures in (Texas) jerseys. We made sure every place smelled nice. Mom and sisters don’t want to walk into a dressing room that smells awful. You want them saying, ‘This is neat and nice where other places have been musty and dirty.’ As for sound, we had the fight song playing throughout the building. In the elevator going up. And a different one coming down.”
Small things are big: “We always went out to meet every family at their car. And you need to know everyone’s name. If five come on a visit, then you memorize five names. It’s better if you don’t need name tags.”
Summary: “Recruiting is a very complicated thing and the most important thing. Find what kids want, including the NFL, and be that program for them.”
Not just Friday under the lights, but every day of the year.