In-person contacts still valuable tool

February 15, 2009

Danny P Smith -

 

STARKVILLE -- Technology is a wonderful thing. 

 

Except when something such as text messaging is available, but not allowed by the NCAA as a recruiting tool for college football coaches trying to reach prospects. 

 

Although there are other kinds of technology available to help coaches establish communication and relationships with recruits, such as e-mail, there''s nothing like those in-person contacts. 

 

However, it does hurt the process when one of the helpful technological aids is taken away. Coaches must learn to put limited in-person visits to use in a short amount of time to find out all he needs about a recruits'' character. 

 

"We used to (text message), but that''s illegal now," Mississippi State football coach Dan Mullen said. "We use e-mail and (recruits) call us. 

 

"When they eliminated text messaging, it made it even harder to contact recruits, which makes it harder to evaluate character. (The NCAA) wanted to do that. I don''t know why, but they try to take the head coach out of the character evaluations." 

 

Coaches value the times they are able to visit recruits in person, but even some of those are limited. 

 

Mullen said head coaches and assistant coaches can only attend one high school game each in the fall. 

 

Rockey Felker, who coached the Bulldogs from 1986-90 and is now the director of player personnel and high school relations, said the number of games a head coach can attend has changed in the past 20 years. 

 

"I know back in the 80s you could see a young man play 13 Friday nights, so I had a pretty good idea of what he could do and couldn''t do," Felker said. "It''s different now, and you don''t get to know the players quite as much as you used to. 

 

"The rules we have in place are good. During the season, you need to be focusing on your own team and not traveling all over the country. It does make it difficult to get the proper evaluation." 

 

Prospects can take one official visit and the head coach is allowed one off-campus contact in December and January. An official visit is one where everything is paid for by the school for the 48-hour period the recruit is on campus. 

 

Mullen says there are two evaluations in the spring with one being athletic and the other academic. 

 

Even though getting to know a recruit personally is important to Mullen, he wants to know how other people feel about the player who will spend up to four years in his program. Conversations with high school coaches and counselors are essential. 

 

"The number one (contact to make) is with the high school coach," Mullen said. "That''s a great background check." 

 

Once a potential recruit has been indentified, the next step is watching film. 

 

"You like to watch a highlight video quick to get your attention, then you like to go back and watch three or four game videos to make sure that what you are seeing on 10 plays, you are going to see for four quarters," Mullen said. "That will start very early in their career. We''ll start watching them and evaluating them from their sophomore and junior year. We see  how they are as a player." 

 

After the film study, Mullen said it is important to evaluate a recruit''s academic performance to make sure he can be a student-athlete that fits in. 

 

If a prospect makes it through the film and academic evaluation, Mullen likes to get them into a summer camp to get a closer look at their ability. 

 

Mullen considers this a valuable part of the process. 

 

"That''s important because they are there and you get to watch them in person as the head coach," Mullen said. "When we''re not allowed to go out in the spring and evaluate anymore, that''s my opportunity to watch them live. 

 

"From there, it''s building a relationship with the player and their family to make sure they are a good fit for your school." 

 

Once Mullen decides to pursue a recruit, he and his staff present the school to the player and his family. 

 

Mullen said he mainly tries to get that point across by word of mouth, but he uses highlight videos and power-point presentations. 

 

"We mainly just talk, but they are going to see all kinds of different things throughout the whole process," Mullen said. 

 

Since Mullen did not have a great deal of time after he was hired in December to replace Sylvester Croom, he covered as much ground as he could in an effort to assemble his first class and moved on to the next one. 

 

"You have (to be up front immediately) if you have a short amount of time," Mullen said. "You try to cram it all in as fast as you can. We are recruiting juniors right now and that relationship should be over a year to two-year process that you are building before signing day. They know you and those relationships are key, not just with the player, but their families have to feel very comfortable with you." 

 

Mullen and his assistant coaches believe they have a lot to sell at Mississippi State. 

 

From Davis Wade Stadium at Scott Field to the Holliman Athletic Center, the Templeton Athletic Academic Center, the Palmeiro Center, and the Turman Fieldhouse, the coaches know they don''t have to say much when they bring prospects onto campus for their visits. 

 

"You have a lot of great things," Torbush said. "You''ve got a campus that is absolutely gorgeous and sells itself. You have outstanding athletic facilities. 

 

"The athletics sell itself and the social environment is outstanding, so it''s really a neat place. It''s truly a college atmosphere." 

 

Although much different than when he took his recruiting visit 40 years ago, Felker said the surroundings were why he chose to become a Bulldog. He was the quarterback at MSU from 1972-74. 

 

Felker felt at home with the Bulldogs and says that has not change. 

 

"The university is a big selling point," Felker said. "There has been a change in coaches, but a lot of these young men chose to come to Mississippi State because they felt comfortable on this campus and with the student body. They felt at home when they were visiting the school."