December 23, 2008

New coaches share recruiting philosophies

THE COACHES: Swinney | Mullen | Locksley | Marrone | Kiffin | Sarkisian MORE: Coaching carousel

Every assistant wants an opportunity to become a head coach, and this offseason, there are some young and dynamic assistants getting that chance with some major programs.

Clemson took the "interim" tag off Dabo Swinney. Mississippi State hired Florida offensive coordinator Dan Mullen. Tennessee and Washington turned to 30-something former USC assistants Lane Kiffin and Steve Sarkisian, respectively. New Orleans Saints offensive coordinator Doug Marrone is returning to his alma mater, Syracuse. And Mike Locksley finally is getting his chance at New Mexico.

What do these six first time head coaches all have in common? They are all offensive guys and each knows how to recruit.

Here's a closer look at the six.

Clemson: "There is no secret formula."

Going into the 2008 season, there were great expectations for Clemson. Then again, that's always the case. But the Tigers didn't meet them, and coach Tommy Bowden resigned midway through the season. Dabo Swinney, 39, was made the interim coach and guided Clemson to a 4-2 finish and a Gator Bowl bid. That was enough to get the permanent job a few weeks ago.

"We tweaked some things if you watched our last six games," Swinney said. "There was a difference both offensively and defensively. We lost our way a little bit, but then we were able to vertically stretch the passing game and we got the ball to the right guys as often as possible.

"Defensively, I just want our defense to make it happen, have an aggressive mentality. We played with that down the stretch."

The good thing with this hire is stability to still there with the program. At the same time he has to be himself yet put his own stamp on the program, especially in terms of recruiting.

"Tommy Bowden did a great job and he was always available to the coaches and kids. As a coach, you help in any way you can and I will be the same way.

Swinney has been regarded as one of the best recruiters in Southeast.

"There is no secret formula to recruiting because it all boils down to being yourself and being honest with people. Recruiting is about relationships," he said. "The good Lord blessed me with this and I have always been good at relationships. You also must have a good track record and don't be something you are not. You also have to know your program inside and out.

"I am the type of coach that doesn't believe in negative recruiting. You talk about your program. It's all about Clemson and I have always presented that is a positive way."

Swinney and his Tigers will still stick with their recruiting formula. That's recruiting the Carolinas, Florida, Georgia and Alabama.

"We will go wherever to get kids to help out this program," he said. "But at the same time we know where our bread gets buttered."

Mississippi State: "Strike a perfect balance."

The spread is coming to Starkville, Miss., as Dan Mullen, 37, takes over as the new coach.

Mullen will leave his post as offensive coordinator at Florida, and to run the spread offense, you have to have talented, athletic players. If there is one thing about the state of Mississippi, it's loaded with great athletes. Thus, the big question is how effective Mullen will be as a recruiter.

"Our first priority is Mississippi," Mullen said. "There is so much talent in Mississippi. Our mission is to get to every high school, get to know these coaches and kids, and lock it up as best we can. That's our first task.

"We have to build relationships and make everyone comfortable with me and this staff. Hopefully, they will want to come to their state university. As far as other areas, we will recruit the Southeast and get a little in Texas."

On the other side of the ball, Mullen wants to employ an aggressive defense that will mirror his offense and always will be on the attack.

"We are going to come at you from so many directions," Mullen said. "We will also fit it to the personnel we have here."

Mullen has been an assistant under Urban Meyer for eight years. Meyer has made a huge impression on Mullen, especially when it comes to recruiting.

"I have learned so much about recruiting from Urban," Mullen said. "You see how involved he gets in recruiting and the amount he invests in the total recruiting process. He's also great with people skills, and how to relate to young people today. You have to know how to talk with them, and I learned a lot of this from Urban."

Mullen hopes to strike a perfect balance with assistants who can coach, know Mississippi and can recruit Mississippi and the surrounding areas.

"If there's one thing I have learned is that championship teams play with passion and they are relentless,' Mullen said. "We will be both, on and off the field."

New Mexico: "Attacking and aggressive."

If you follow recruiting closely, you know all about Mike Locksley, New Mexico's new coach. Locksley, 38, is widely regarded as one of the best recruiters in the country. He was an ace recruiter at Maryland for Ralph Friedgen, and he did exceptionally well at Florida and Illinois for Ron Zook.

Locksley now gets his first head-coaching job at a program he feels could be on the verge of something big.

"New Mexico fit all the criteria that I was looking for in a program when I did my research," he said. "First, they have financial resources that you need to succeed. Then, there's a commitment from the administration. They have good facilities. These are all the things you need to be successful.

"The clincher, though, was meeting with the school president. I interviewed six times for different head-coaching jobs, and this was the first time where a president was involved. That's what sold me. They want football to be the face of this university."

Now all Locksley has to do is what he does best: coach and recruit.

"I have an action plan with recruiting; you have to," he said. "Each year I look at where the prospects are coming from. We will recruit Texas hard because they produce so many players. Of course, you have to start at home, and we will take the best players from this state. Southern California will play a big part and so will Phoenix.

"We will also recruit conference areas. People need to understand that Albuquerque has one million people and a great airport with direct flights to so many big cities, so we will have the ability to get recruits here. That will open doors for us."

Recruiting boils down to relationships and Locksley is a master at this.

Locksley, who was the offensive coordinator at Illinois, wants to attack on both sides of the ball. His team's base offense will be the spread.

"We have to identify playmakers and develop the offense around them," he said. "We will have different tempos and create balance.

"Everything about this program will be aggressive and attacking. That will be our defense and that will be true with recruiting. I want to recruit the same way I did at Illinois, and I want to win the Mountain West."

Success at New Mexico is not unprecedented. The Lobos have been to five bowls in the past seven seasons. But Locksley wants more: He wants to beat the big three in his conference Utah, TCU and BYU.

"That's the goal," he said. "That's what I plan to do here."

Syracuse: "Who can sell this program better than me?"

Syracuse, the 14th-winningest program in college football history (673 wins), was 10-37 under Greg Robinson. The Orange's last winning season was 2001, when they finished 10-3. From 1980-2001, though, they had just four losing seasons, so the Orange went back to their roots in hiring New Orleans Saints offensive line coach Doug Marrone, who played for Syracuse in the mid-1980s.

"The first thing I did is I went back and looked at the three most successful teams Syracuse had here and where the players came from," Marrone said. "Those are the areas I want to recruit because those are the areas that are producing talent each year.

"I want to re-establish those recruiting grounds and get back to where we need to be."

Those recruiting grounds are New York and New Jersey. Marrone also wants to hit Pennsylvania and Ohio hard, as well as big metropolitan areas such as Detroit, Atlanta and Chicago, the home of former Syracuse quarterback Donavan McNabb. Marrone also plans to spot recruit the state of Florida.

This season, the Orangemen were 115th in total offense, 108th in scoring offense, 101st in total defense and 102nd in scoring defense, so Marrone and his staff obviously need to find a lot more talent.

"We will be multiple on offense, and this is important because I want the offense to fit the players and I want to get the ball to my playmakers," Marrone said. "I want an attacking style defense with good gap control. We will do a lot of things, coverage-wise, and mix it up for the quarterbacks. In the NFL, I got to experience different pressures, and I will scheme those things in our defense so we can get to the quarterback."

The biggest task now is to get the players. While an assistant at Georgia, Georgia and Tennessee, Marrone was regarded as one of the best recruiters in the Southeast.

"I learned about recruiting when I was being recruited because I was being recruited by a lot of good football programs," he said. "I had an opportunity to see all of this and hear all the talk. The other thing is I learned something valuable from my dad. He said, 'You have two ears and a mouth; listen as much as you talk.'

"I think as coaches we sometimes don't listen well enough to the kids, coaches and parents. So I believe I do that well. Perhaps the most important thing is building relationships with the high school coaches because we are taking care of their kids."

Marrone was on the staff when Jim Donnan was Georgia's coach.

"Doug Marrone is one of the best recruiters in America," Donnan said. "He can relate to these high school coaches and kids, and he has had [recruiting] success everywhere. He's got a great wealth of background and knowledge in coaching. Doug has great people skills and is a graduate of Syracuse. That's a big plus because he can rally all the Orange."

Marrone has two big tasks. First, he needs to recruit the players to be successful. Second, he wants to bring the Orange nation together.

"This is my dream job, and those that really know me know that," he said. "I am so passionate about this place. I can relate to the players because I sat in the same seat and bled on the same football field. I know the rivalries. Failure is not an option.

"Who could be more committed to Syracuse than me? Who can sell this school better than me?"

Tennessee: "Lane Kiffin was born to be a football coach."

While Phil Fulmer fielded some outstanding teams in Knoxville, the Vols became inconsistent in the past few seasons in the SEC. Enter Lane Kiffin, who was fired earlier this season as coach of the Oakland Raiders. Kiffin's most recent college job was offensive coordinator at USC in 2005 and '06.

"It's a really exciting time for me and my family," Kiffin said last week. "We've been there two weeks now. I've been on campus for three of those days, but we've been everywhere and the people have been great not just the state of Tennessee but the whole Southeast."

To be successful at Tennessee, you have to have a broad recruiting base. Kiffin will recruit the state of Tennessee, but he knows two things have to improve. First, the Vols must do a better job in their backyard. Second, he wants Tennessee to have the ability to go anywhere in the country to land a prospect.

"We have to start with Tennessee, and that's what we did the first two days: I went to as many places as I could," he said. "We've got to develop a plan to keep guys in-state, and that's where our focus is all the way.

"We are setting up a system and a coaching staff where we can go get a player anywhere in the country. We will go after the best players that fit into our system. There should be nowhere that we shouldn't go."

Kiffin speaks highly of his days at USC with Pete Carroll.

"In six years with him, from the first day I got there, he took me aside and said I'm going to walk you through this whole thing, all the steps we take, how we build this," he said. "He took me through the whole process as if he was preparing me to be a head coach the whole time. He brought me in and said, 'This why we do this, this is why we do this on offense, defense and special teams. This is how we use the media in this case; this is how we're going to recruit.' So it was really valuable to have a head coach that really taught me how to do it instead of just doing it himself."

While he was at USC, another member of the staff was defensive line coach/recruiting coordinator Ed Orgeron. Orgeron feels Kiffin is the perfect fit for Tennessee.

"Lane was our national recruiter [at USC]," Orgeron said. "He has tremendous energy and a great eye for talent. His dad [Monte, who will be on the staff] is best defensive coordinator in football history, and he has learned so much. Lane Kiffin was born to be a football coach. He's a leader with a great offensive mind."

Monte Kiffin will join his son in Knoxville as soon the season ends for Tampa Bay. Getting his father away from the Bucs will be Kiffin's biggest recruiting coup.

"Being an offensive coach as I am, I had to take a look at the other side of the ball because I didn't want to spend a lot of time over there [on defense] because of all the recruiting and all the things that go into being the head coach at Tennessee," Kiffin said. "We went and found what we thought was the best coach and it helped that he had the same last name."

Washington: "He never has a bad day."

You can argue that no program has underachieved over the past few seasons like Washington. The Huskies were winless this season and went 11-37 in four seasons under former coach Tyrone Willingham. He leaves U-Dub with a 14-game losing streak.

To replace Willingham, the hired USC offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian, 34. He welcomes the opportunity for a chance to turn around this struggling program.

"We know what Washington was and what Washington can be," Sarkisian said. "UW is held in high regard, with hope and a lot of promise."

Sarkisian knows recruiting is vital; the Huskies are way down on the talent list in the Pac-10. He wants to nail down his home state, hit the Northwest hard and go into California to get prospects.

"We need to do a great job in Northwest and we have to do a great job in California, especially southern California," he said. "One of the biggest things I have is my relationship with the high school coaches, especially there. This area will be critical for us. We also have to recruit Hawaii very well.

"Finding and filling our needs is the biggest thing. I have to understand the kids who are committed and try and keep them committed. At the same time, we will not settle and we have to find the best players to fit our systems. We have to give a great effort in recruiting and have to get better and move forward."

Sarkisian had been at USC for the past eight seasons, most recently two seasons as the offensive coordinator. There, he learned the game on and off the field from Pete Carroll.

"I learned a lot from Pete," he said. "First, he's a hands-on recruiter. I can't be a stand-back guy. We need exposure in recruiting. Pete has always done a great job of that. Second, we have to evaluate really well. I will have the same approach here because we have to get the best players that fit our program."

Ed Orgeron, who was on the same staff with Sarkisian at USC for four years, believes the Huskies made a good hire.

"Steve Sarkisian is one of brightest coaches I have ever been around," he said. "He picks up things so quickly, so well. This guy never has a bad day. He's also a fantastic recruiter who knows a lot of people out there. He's very well-known, and I expect Steve Sarkisian to do a great job at Washington."




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