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How coaches know when to give up on recruiting a prospect

There’s no prize for second place. Spending too long on Plan A can result in missing plan B and settling for Plan C.

Terrelle Pryor Announces College Decision Photo by Charles LeClaire/Getty Images

So you’ve decided to offer a prospect. You like his film. You chatted with his high school coach. You stopped by the guidance counselor’s office to check his transcripts.

OK, now what? Assuming he does not commit immediately, how do you decide how long to pursue?

This is the question that every program faces. There is no prize for second place in recruiting, as the saying goes.

Staying on a prospect for too long can cause a team to take too long to offer its Plan B, which would mean settling for a Plan C. Yet giving up on a kid too early can mean missing on an elite talent.

So how do schools make the right decision? How do they decide whether to stick it out or to stop throwing good money after bad? I chatted with coaches and recruiting personnel to find out.

Let the prospect set the tone and rely on your assistant coaches.

The assistant coach who is in charge of recruiting the player (typically the area recruiter) is an important source of info.

Assistant coaches might want to tell the rest of the staff that the school has a better shot at the recruit than it really does, so honesty is key. Inflating a team’s chances makes the assistant coach look better to his co-workers in the short term, but in the long term, it hurts the school.

The assistant coach needs to accurately gauge his interaction with the prospect. Does the player pick up when the assistant calls? How quickly does he respond to texts, Twitter, or Instagram messages? Recruits typically are not spouses or parents, and they usually don’t work, so they have free time. They will speak with the schools they really like.

Advice from another context can also be of use here. As Greg Behrendt wrote in He’s Just Not That Into You:

If he’s not calling you, it’s because you are not on his mind.

The assistant is likely to interact with the player’s high school coach, parents, or potentially mentors, who have intel on the recruit. It’s also important for the assistant coach to swap information with a team’s recruiting writers, who presumably speak with the recruit, and also with the recruiting writers for rival teams.

Making sure the information matches up is key. And if it does not, getting to the bottom of it is important. Sometimes, prospects just tell schools what they want to hear.

Otherwise, your school might suffer surprising whiffs, like this one detailed by Bruin Report Online.

Not having any self-awareness in its recruiting chances with recruits was never more evident than in the reported story that Kelly lost his temper when the five-star receiver from Santa Ana (Calif.) Mater Dei, Bru McCoy, informed him he was signing with USC. Kelly getting a little surly with the McCoys stemmed from the coach thoroughly believing he was going to get McCoy and being broadsided by the news he wasn’t, while everyone in the recruiting world knew McCoy would sign with USC (and that UCLA was running behind Texas and probably Washington, too).

How much time has your school put into this prospect, and does the history show your relationship is improving?

Has the prospect held an offer for months? If so, review the progression. Did he once respond back to DMs/texts with multi-word answers or full sentences, but now is short?

Reviewing conversations over time is key. Several staffers showed me screenshots of their discussions with prospects, showing in hindsight when they knew things had gone south. Being able to read the room in real time is important.

Paying attention to a prospect’s social media is also important.

Tracking his likes, retweets, and interactions — and those of his family — can yield valuable information on whether a player is truly interested. Recruits give away a ton of information via their social media, whether they know it or not.

Assistants must be able to answer why a prospect who has been recruited for months or years is not yet committed.

If it was his plan to wait until National Signing Day all along, that’s one thing. But there’s the chance that he is waiting for a better offer, instead of jumping on your offer. If the player has had opportunities to commit and has decided to hold off, have a good reason for why you believe a commitment is still coming. If not, be sure you have a realistic backup plan.

Most coaches I spoke with believe getting a prospect on campus multiple times drastically increases a school’s chances, but keep an eye on the competition.

Multiple visits typically means coming at least one time on the player’s own dime before taking an official visit. Clemson’s Dabo Swinney went into this recently.

“It’s easy to get on a plane and fly (on Clemson’s dime). You may not have any interest in Clemson whatsoever, but if Clemson calls and they want to pay for you to come and feed you and put you in a hotel, well who doesn’t want to go do that?” Swinney said.

“I want guys that are sincerely interested in coming to Clemson. I don’t need any practice recruiting and I don’t like wasting time. I want to be transparent and I want prospects to be transparent and if they’re really interested in Clemson then they’re going to come here unofficially on their own. And so my message to the staff was If they won’t come unofficially, they’re not going to come for four years.’

This can be tricky, however. Some prospects simply do not have the money to travel. This can be especially true if a kid lives clear across the country.

Has the player put together a concrete plan to visit? Has the player been wishy-washy about setting up a visit?

If a player isn’t visiting your school, is he visiting elsewhere? That’s a bad sign.

If the prospect isn’t taking any visits outside his immediate area, it could be a sign that he really can’t or won’t visit before official visits. Of course, that’s also potentially a trouble spot for you, because prospects typically want to play where their family can come see them in person. It’s also possible that the prospect simply doesn’t want to take visits outside of his immediate area.

Be honest about how your school compares to the others in the picture.

Is this the level of player your school is typically able to sign? Is your school typically just happy to make a bowl game, yet is trying to compete for prospects against programs that play in New Year’s Six bowls?

If so, there had better be a special reason to believe the recruit will sign with you. Perhaps a family connection, a legacy connection, or the length of the relationship (some prospects do value a school being on them a long time, as opposed to one which has just recently shown up).

But in general, if programs much better than yours start offering, prepare to bail.

Even if you doubt your chances of signing this player, is there PR value to staying in the running?

If a prospect is a local star, sometimes the downside to not recruiting him — even if you know it’ll result in finishing second — is big with local boosters. While it makes sense to keep recruiting certain players even while knowing it won’t work out, programs are wise to also offer some players they can actually sign.

And sometimes, just having a hat on the table among a player’s final choices is a publicity win for a school that wasn’t really in the running.