Ross Els Q&A Part 2: The Art of Recruiting
Randy York’s N-Sider
Sometimes, one N-Sider is not enough, especially when the subject is Nebraska football recruiting, so please consider this the 10 Question & Answer Sequel to this week's interview with Ross Els, who's putting the finishing touches on his first year as the Huskers’ recruiting coordinator.
Q: You’re a linebacker coach and special team coordinator. Recruiting coordinator is the third part of your resume. How hard is it to recruit to a place like Nebraska?
A: It’s not as hard of work as you would think because we have such great recruiters on our staff. These guys know that recruiting is all about desire and effort and wanting to keep in contact and wanting to get on the road over and over and over again, so they can get a kid’s commitment. There are college football coaches who don’t do that at all, and it hurts you. Fortunately, we don’t have any coaches here that don’t want to do what it takes.
Q: Are you saying recruiting's hard but coordinating recruiting isn't?
A: I’m just saying my job isn’t all that hard. I just have to know how to count to seven because we can’t have any more coaches than that on the road at the same time. I also have to be able to count to six to make sure we don’t see the same prospect more than six times. In all honesty, the recruiting coordinator stuff here is pretty simple, really. You just have to make sure you get everybody covered because each coach has his plan on how he wants to attack his area and how he wants to attack his position. We don’t always do this together. We have to decide who goes to see each prospect and who calls him on the phone. Once that’s decided, I just put it down on paper.
Q: What’s the biggest given about recruiting and the most important lesson?
A: The biggest given is recruiting really is an inexact science. The most important lesson is the better relationship that you establish and the earlier that you establish it, the more trust there is between the recruit and the staff recruiting him. We feel real good where we are this year. We just have to finish.
Q: Bo Pelini hand-picked this staff. What’s the recruiting camaraderie quotient?
A: Until two years ago, I had not been in a program like this, but this is by far the best staff of wanting to get kids. This whole staff is really into it. They all say: “Let me go! Let me go do this! I want to do this and help out. There’s not one ‘I have to go here or I have to go there’ comment. They all want to go. Our collective mindset is incredibly proactive. It’s all business, and it starts at the top. We have to get the head coach out because that’s the guy who’s going to make every decision. We have to get him with the parents because he does a tremendous job. I mean, he’s a parent himself and he treats our players just like he treats his own kids. That is all parents really want to hear, especially when they know that Bo really means it. The staff feels the same way. You won’t hear anyone on our staff say: ‘That’s my guy.’ This is such an unselfish staff. We all help each other. The coordinators have made sure that their side of the ball is covered, and we all work together. I know how much I enjoy the recruiting process and this time in my coaching life. I enjoy being the coordinator, and I admit how fun it is to be in the know.
Q: Push us ahead to the post-signing day banquets for key donors. What will they think when they see the highlights from this class?
A: I think the biggest thing they’ll notice is our balance because we’ve really had to attack almost every position. They’re going to see like maybe four offensive linemen and three wide receivers and four defensive backs. When they see the variety we’ve put together, they’re going to see that we kind of have all our bases covered. Next year might be different. I think we’ll lose six scholarship offensive linemen. Next year you might see a lot of guys in a three-point stance. Of course, since we’re all over the country with this class, I think people like to see and hear about what kind of people these kids are, and I think our coaches are going to enjoy talking about the kind of character we recruited.
Q: When does recruiting get a little dicey and how do you solve issues?
A: It just depends on the time of year. If you’re into this period where it’s the contact period, and you’re going out to see recruits, it comes down to who should see Bo first. We set his schedule and as a staff we determine where we send him. Then we take our list of remaining players and say, ‘Okay, who do you want to see go visit that particular prospect?’ This time of year, we do a lot more positional recruiting than we do area recruiting. It’s getting more like the defensive line coach goes to see the D-linemen and the running backs coach goes to see the running backs.
Q: Speaking of running backs, with Abdulla, Heard and Cross all coming back, how do you position yourself to recruit two of the nation’s best backs. What does that say about this year’s class?
A: First it would say something about Ron Brown and how he’s able to attract good people and good players because everyone is a great kid, a really great kid. But it also shows that people trust what we’re doing offensively. It’s working. We led the Big Ten in offense this past season, and our recruiting reflects the confidence recruits have in what we’ve done. Kids want to go where they’re able to carry the ball and get yards, and we’re able to do that. The future looks pretty good.
Q: If you don’t mind, start from the West Coast and describe the sweep your recruiting coaches are running across the country.
A: We mostly recruit by position, but in terms of coverage, we started 2013 recruiting with Rich Fisher in California and Ron Brown in California and Arizona. Barney Cotton has the Nebraska area and the Great Plains states. John Garrison is in Illinois, Indiana and Missouri. Tim Beck and Rick Kaczinski both concentrate on Texas. John Papuchis has Ohio. Terry Joseph has the southern (SEC) states, and I have parts of Ohio and the Mid-East Coast. We've all had a role in Florida for this class. For the 2014 class, Coach Beck, Coach Brown, Coach Fisher and Coach Cotton are keeping their same areas. Coach Garrison will subtract Indiana to concentrate on Illinois and Missouri. Coach Papuchis will concentrate on Ohio and the Mid-East Coast and Coach Kaz will cover Ohio and Indiana. Coach Joseph will focus on Texas and Louisiana, and I will have some responsibilities in Texas. When this recruiting season ends, we will all sit down to discuss how we want to approach Florida because we intend to increase our focus and attention there.
Q: When your staff huddles up, what’s your collective measurement of success?
A: The key is you have to fill your positions, and you always ask yourself: ‘What are the biggest needs we have?’ You say: ‘We need to have x-number of offensive linemen, and we need x-number of defensive backs.' Fortunately, we have that filled, and we feel really good about that. Now it’s just a matter of finishing things up and signing the best athletes possible. We probably have two to three scholarships that we want to fill up. We’re not going to take a kid just to fill out. There are a lot of very good athletes out there, and we’ll take the best available athlete at certain positions. We have 23 recruits committed, and we’re willing to go to 26. We can do that because that’s the number of scholarships that are available.
Q: Last question. Tom Osborne’s post-Capital One Bowl analysis was that Nebraska, as a program, is not that far off in its ability to compete for a national championship. What do recruits think about that and what do you think?
A: I think they (recruits) saw that at least we made it to the Big Ten Championship game. Obviously the game was a disaster, but they saw that we have the potential to get there. We also know that in this day and age, we came back and won a lot of games in the second half, so we were very close to being a .500 team. It’s a very fine line, but from a recruiting standpoint, I don’t think you can ever say losing a game helps you. What did help was the fact that we were playing on New Year’s Day in a prestigious bowl against a team that came very, very close to being in the national championship game. We want to get to that level ourselves, and it all starts with recruiting.
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