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Wednesday, February 7
The nation's top recruiters




Tom Lemming
Tom Lemming
To sign a true blue-chip prospect, a college football program needs a lot of factors in its favor: a winning tradition, rabid fan support, a colossal stadium, top-notch training facilities. But just as -- and often more -- important is the skill of the coaches doing the recruiting. Over the past 20 years I've always kept a list of the nation's top recruiters close at hand so when I receive a call from a head coach asking to recommend a talented recruiter, I'll feel qualified to do so.

The intense recruiting of high school football players by the major colleges has been going on since the days of Fielding Yost at Michigan and Knute Rockne at Notre Dame. Before the '70s most great recruiters were anonymous and college football fans did not know anything about their team's future players until these athletes arrived on campus. That all changed with the advent of freshman eligibility back in 1972. Since then, college football fans cannot get enough recruiting information concerning their favorite program. Around that time, not only were high school football players starting to get the recognition that they long deserved, but also the long-suffering college football assistants (who had always worked in anonymity) were now starting to earn well-deserved reputations not only as great coaches, but also as outstanding recruiters.

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Tom Lemming is editor of Prep Football Report. For information on how to subscribe to Prep Football Report's magazine, newsletters and website, log on to www.prepfootballreport.com. For year-round recruiting updates, call Tom Lemming's Prep Football Hotline at 900-860-9888. Calls are $1.79 per minute, and callers must be 18 years old or have parents' permission.

The first coach to make a national name for himself as a recruiter was a slight, unassuming man by the name of Jerry Pettibone, who was an assistant coach under Barry Switzer at Oklahoma during the early-to-mid-'70s. Pettibone was the antithesis of Switzer in every way. Still, he got the job done recruiting the state of Texas like no other Oklahoma coach had ever done before. Coach Pettibone earned such a great reputation that he was immediately deluged with head coaching offers, first taking a job at Northern Illinois and then moving on to Oregon State.

Chicagoan Bill Rees was the next big name in recruiting and became the country's first national recruiter. Whereas Pettibone reaped tremendous success in the limited areas of Texas, Oklahoma and Arkansas, Bill Rees (in a 10-year period from 1979 to 1988) landed All-Americans from just about every state in the Union for Terry Donahue's UCLA Bruins. After UCLA's great national recruiting success, several other teams took notice and hired coaches who would travel the length and breadth of the country in search of the elusive blue-chippers.

The next great recruiting name to surface was Notre Dame's Vinnie Cerato, who signed more than 70 future NFL players between 1985 and 1991. In fact, Cerato's success was so great that other major programs helped pass NCAA rules that would limit the time assistant coaches could spend on the road.

Rees is now in charge of scouting for the Chicago Bears, while Cerato (the best talent evaluator I have ever seen) is now scouting director of the Washington Redskins. Although there have been several rules put in place by the NCAA severely limiting assistant coaches' contacts with prospective football signees, there are still several truly gifted recruiters around the country who have the personality, work ethic and evaluation skills to make a difference in whether their respective teams are winners or losers.

Here's my list of the nation's top recruiting assistants, in alphabetical order:

Tim Cassidy, Texas A&M. Cassidy has been Texas A&M's main man since 1984 with the exception of two years spent as the top recruiter at Florida. Cassidy has long been regarded as an outstanding evaluator of talent and the go-to guy on the Aggies staff when things get rough. His organizational skills are terrific, and he is a "people person." He and head coach R.C. Slocum have recruited A&M into a position of power and into an elite status among major college programs.

Jim Collins and Bob Sanders, Florida. This duo has helped head coach Steve Spurrier maintain the tremendous talent flow to Gainesville since the late '80s. Collins is the organizer and recruiting coordinator while Bob Sanders is a defensive line coach who has been responsible for a high percentage of the super defensive players signed by the Gators. Both coaches are extremely competent with terrific work habits and an uncanny ability to spot talent. To the casual fan, the Gators' explosive offense and national TV exposure would seem to be all the program needs to recruit great talent, but because of the competitive nature of the recruiting game, coaches such as Collins and Sanders are invaluable.

Bill Conley, Ohio State. During the '90s Conley has led an Ohio State recruiting program that has signed more future NFL draftees than any other program in the '90s. He is known for his local ties in the state of Ohio and as one of the top recruiters of talent in Florida. Conley is an extremely personable coach who has great rapport with players and high school coaches alike. He has signed the likes of Orlando Pace, Korey Stringer, Terry Glenn, David Boston, Andy Katzenmoyer, Eddie George, Joey Galloway, Shawn Springs and Antoine Winfield. Known as the most prolific Ohio recruiter in recent history, he has helped Ohio State become one of the nation's top three recruiting programs.

Ronnie Cottrell, Alabama. One of the more recognizable national names, Cottrell was tremendously successful from 1989 to 1997 as Florida State's chief recruiter. During that period Florida State had the South's top recruiting class every year except 1994. Twice he signed both the USA Today offensive and defensive players of the year. He was responsible for signing such Seminoles stars as Warrick Dunn, Peter Boulware, Marquette Smith, Derrick Brooks, Peter Warrick, Chris Weinke, Tamarick Vanover, Tra Thomas, Reinard Wilson and Walter Jones. The past two years Cottrell has headed Alabama's recruiting efforts and helped the Tide earn top 10 finishes in both years. He has signed such future stars as Kenny King, Dante Ellington, Antonio Carter and Freddie Milons. Cottrell is a "people person" with great contacts and an outstanding ability to sell his school. He is someone you want on your side. A major talent in the recruiting game.

Rodney Garner, Georgia. Another one of the nation's big-name recruiters. A bidding war between Tennessee and Georgia propelled this young coach into superstar status. He first earned recognition as the key recruiter under Terry Bowden at Auburn. He then moved on to Tennessee where he signed a good number of the 1998 national championship team's stars. Garner's personality, connections and salesmanship earned him a great reputation in the states of Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi and Tennessee. In fact, his successful recruitment of Georgia All-Americans Cosey Coleman, Deon Grant and Jamal Lewis to the Vols is the main reason why the bidding war erupted. Bulldogs head man Jim Donnan figured if you can't beat 'em, you might as well get 'em to join you. Garner did just that, and the Bulldogs have been the beneficiaries of his recruiting prowess ever since.

Danny Hope, Purdue. The least-known to fans of the big-name recruiters, Hope is well-known among his peers. He has a reputation as a recruiter who'll outwork any coach in the country, who'll spend 18-hour days in film study during the recruiting month of May. While as an assistant coach at Louisville, Hope recruited several future NFL players including All-Pro DB Ray Buchanan. Hope is known as a player's coach with outstanding communication skills. He is a fiery competitor who, once he latches on to a prospect, is extremely difficult to shake free.

Rob Ianello, Arizona. Ten years ago at the age of 23 Ianello was already earning a recruiting reputation at Alabama. He moved on to Wisconsin where, along with head coach Barry Alvarez, he put together the Badgers' first Rose Bowl team in 30 years. What benefited Rob early on in his coaching career was his exuberance and phone personality. He was rarely seen without a telephone pressed against his ear. He was also the subject of several bidding wars while at Wisconsin, with schools like Maryland, Illinois and Arizona offering big money for his services. He eventually settled on the Wildcats of Arizona and has helped that program land several All-Americans from Texas, Arizona, California and the Pacific Northwest.

Greg Mattison, Notre Dame. In most situations, being a successful recruiter at Notre Dame will get you noticed. In Mattison's situation he was already an established recruiter at both Texas A&M and Michigan. He was so highly thought of as a recruiter at both of those two successful institutions that he had already earned a reputation as one of the nation's premier recruiters before he even set foot on the Notre Dame campus. A pleasant, highly energized workaholic, Mattison is the complete package. He's a skilled evaluator, a tremendous phone conversationalist and one of the best salesmen any school could hope to have. A highly sought-after defensive coordinator, he is on many college athletic directors' short list when it comes to seeking their school's next head coach.

Larry Petroff, Southern California. Another highly prized and heavily sought-after recruiter, Petroff has known success at Purdue, Pittsburgh, Ohio State and now USC. He is a very thorough evaluator of talent and has been blessed with a pleasant personality and the gift of gab. He's an extremely organized recruiter with an eye for detail. He can keep a recruit interested without exaggerating the depth of that prospect's particular position. Honest to a fault, he is known for his integrity and loyalty.

Dave Roberts, University of South Carolina. Arguably the nation's premier recruiter, Roberts has helped turn around programs as the head coach at Western Kentucky and Northeast Louisiana and signed 20 prospects in just two years of recruiting as Notre Dame's offensive coordinator. After leaving Baylor in January, 1999, he was hotly pursued by several programs and ended up joining former mentor Lou Holtz at South Carolina. In 1986 Roberts was named one of the nation's top five recruiters by Sports Illustrated. Coaches who have worked with him have talked about his high level of energy, 18-hour work days and ability to sell a prospect on his school. Just what the doctor ordered for the ailing Gamecocks program.

Just missed the list:
Brad Lawing, Michigan State. The Spartans are ready for a breakthrough recruiting class, which could be their best in 30 years.

Other big-time recruiting names:
Mickey Andrews, Florida State
Kevin Cosgrove, Wisconsin
Mike DeBord, Michigan
Kirk Doll, Notre Dame
Turner Gill, Nebraska
Al Golden, Boston College
Doc Holiday, West Virginia
Don Horton, Boston College
Fred Jackson, Michigan
Art Kehoe, Miami
Greg McMahon, Illinois
Stan Parrish, Michigan
Kevin Ramsey, Georgia
Rich Stockstill, Clemson
Mike Tolleson, Texas
Pat Washington, Tennessee

 




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