Too many people criticize the recruiting process without understanding what it is all about. They badly need an education, a cold splash of reality. Recruiting may not be what we want it to be but it is what it is and it isn't going to change. So people, especially parents, must learn to deal with it.
Since I began covering high school sports in the 1950s, I've become acquainted with the process and some of the best football and basketball recruiters who ever persuaded a highly impressionable teenager to leave his family, friends and hometown for a name on a map that the youngster didn't know existed. In some cases, there wasn't even a name.
Sam Miranda was the best of all. He was an all-state basketball player at Collinsville under Vergil Fletcher, played at Indiana, then coached at Kankakee before joining Ted Owens' staff at Kansas.
Miranda built Kansas into a Final Four program in the 1970s and 1980s by recruiting many of the best high school players in Illinois, including Springfield's Dave Robisch, East Aurora's Tom Kivisto, Collinsville's Rodger Bohnenstiehl, Lincoln's Norman Cook, Kenwood's Donnie Von Moore and Kewanee's Tommie Smith.
He set the standard for recruiters who followed him. He wrote the book. Nobody worked harder. In an era where there were virtually no restrictions on recruiting, Miranda literally camped out on a recruit's doorstep. Before anyone else, he understood the two most important axioms of recruiting:
1. The first coach in the door usually is the one who signs the kid.
2. You must learn who will make the final decision--athlete, father, mother, grandmother, uncle, high school coach, AAU coach--and form a close relationship.
Every recruiter has an angle, especially the most successful ones. When he was coaching at Indiana, Bob Knight called me to volunteer to speak at the Chicago Daily News' All-Area banquet. Why? He was recruiting East Leyden star Glen Grunwald, the team's honorary captain, and Knight knew the guest speaker and the honorary captain and his parents always were seated at the same table. It wasn't surprising that Knight signed Grunwald.
Illinois coach Lou Henson had a habit of wearing his bright orange jacket on recruiting trips. He would station himself under the basket during pregame drills so the player he was there to recruit couldn't miss him. The trick is for the coach to let the recruit know he's there. The recruit always remembers who came to see him, especially the one who came first and the one came the most.
For years, the Daily News and Sun-Times football and basketball banquets were must-stops for big-time coaches. They volunteered to serve as guest speakers. No pay, please, just a seat at the front table and 20 minutes to talk to the best athletes in the Chicago area, their coaches and parents. The list was long and distinguished...Knight, Schembechler, Holtz, Meyer, Olson, Henson, Raveling, Keady, Orr.
One year, a player from the Chicago Bears had to cancel only minutes before the banquet was to begin. Even before we could figure out how to deal with the problem, a Big 10 coach who was attending the event as a guest approached me: "I understand you might be looking for a speaker. I'll do it," he said. And he did.
Coaches often get more impressive reputations for their recruiting skills than their X's and O's. Illinois' new assistant, Jerrance Howard, is a promising newcomer to the fraternity. But he has a long way to go before he can be rated in a class with Tony Yates, Jimmy Collins, George Raveling, Joe B. Hall, Jim Rosborough, Tom Izzo, Bill Callahan, Bill Taylor, Vinny Cerrato, Bill Frieder, Joey Meyer, Jim Molinari and Roy Williams.