In the wacky world of recruiting, Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh sleeping over at a prospect’s house somehow makes perfect sense.
Just ask Gerry DiNardo, who used to coach in the Big Ten himself.
“We felt like whatever we could do to distinguish ourselves within the rules, we would do,” DiNardo said. “I was all for the gimmicks. I think they’re effective. I think the only difference now is everybody knows what’s going on because of social media.”
If Twitter had existed 20 years ago, maybe DiNardo could have been the football coach going viral. Instead, it’s Harbaugh who has made waves over the past month for his unorthodox approach to recruiting, and he’s just one example of the intensity and creativity that big-time programs show in the hypercompetitive weeks leading into signing day.
“It’s gotten crazy, of course,” said Donald Chumley, who coaches one of the nation’s top prospects at Savannah Christian Prep in Georgia. “Everybody’s trying to make that last impression.”
Demetris Robertson of Savannah Christian is the No. 8 prospect in the country according to Rivals. With his recruitment coming down to the wire, Notre Dame caused a stir by sending a truck to Georgia in an effort to impress him. Chumley said he saw the massive vehicle — practically a billboard on wheels for Notre Dame football — at school.
Chumley says all this attention can be a positive if players keep it in perspective. For recruits who are under a lot of pressure, it’s nice to be able to have fun with the process.
Harbaugh, who has rarely shied away from the spotlight since taking over as Michigan’s coach about 13 months ago, recently spent the night at the house of Quinn Nordin, a top kicking prospect from Rockford H.S. in Michigan.
Nordin told MLive.com that Harbaugh arrived just after midnight.
“He slept in the guest room at our house,” Nordin said. “I was in my pajamas laughing when he showed up at the door. I couldn’t believe it. There were fans in the street.”
Harbaugh may offer more details about that tactic at signing day Wednesday, especially if Nordin ends up at Michigan, but until the letters of intent are signed, college coaches aren’t allowed to say much about players they’re recruiting. Still, information about who is recruiting whom — and how — isn’t hard to find, especially now that players can post pictures and videos on social media.
So there’s value in these types of stunts. A coach can’t come out and announce who he’s recruiting, but if he acts in a way that will draw attention on Twitter, suddenly there’s additional buzz for his program.
“More coaches are doing things they know can and will go viral because it’s great advertisement,” said Mike Bellotti, the former Oregon coach who is now an ESPN analyst. “The other thing is that at one point, coaches could rely on their football accomplishments and the strength of their program and all of those things. Now there’s a little bit of a kickback to be more personable, to be more ‘with it’ — to relate to the athlete better.”
DiNardo coached at Vanderbilt, LSU and Indiana and is now an analyst for the Big Ten Network. He recalled the time he was recruiting a linebacker named Carlton Hall to Vandy, and he couldn’t go into Hall’s house because of NCAA rules.
So he stayed by the curb and visited from there.
“I had burned my home visit early in recruiting,” DiNardo said. “So I got a speaker phone, and I had the assistant coach go into the house, reorganize the furniture and put the kitchen table by the kitchen window. I parked on the sidewalk. I had my cellphone, and the assistant coach was in the house because he was allowed to be there more than once. So I conducted my second home visit from the curb.”
The idea is to show players how important they are to your school. Handwritten notes are another tactic, and DiNardo had a system.
“I would put 10 names on the greaseboard in the morning before the staff room,” he said. “Every coach had to write a handwritten note to those 10 people before they left the staff room. So we basically had about 100 handwritten notes. ... So a prospect could very well get 10-15 notes from us in one day, handwritten notes.”
DiNardo did have to amend that strategy in one respect.
“I had one coach who couldn’t spell,” DiNardo said. “I had to stop him from writing handwritten notes.”
The No. 1 recruit in the country right now, according to several rankings, is Rashan Gary, a defensive lineman from New Jersey. Needless to say, he’s had a lot to think about lately.
“It’s getting crazy,” he said recently. “A lot of college coaches are trying to get back into the fight. It’s just me and my mom, me and my family handling it. It’s getting crazy but I’m enjoying it.”
Clemson recently gave Gary’s mother a cake. Every little gesture can help.
“It’s a competition,” Bellotti said. “People forget coaches are competitive at everything. You never want to lose. You don’t want to lose a recruit, you don’t want to lose a battle.”