Bill Rees served as an assistant coach, recruiting coordinator, scout and director of player-personnel for more than 30 years. He spent 16 years at UCLA and 15 years in the NFL, mostly with the Chicago Bears. Now he is intrigued by how other coaches evaluate his son, Tommy, a junior at Lake Forest who is one of the top-rated quarterbacks in the Chicago area in the class of 2010.
Rees is a 1972 graduate of New Trier. He played quarterback for coach Chick Cichowski. Later, he launched his coaching career at Northwestern for three years under John Pont and Rick Venturi. Then he joined Terry Donahue's staff at UCLA.
To compete with crosstown rival USC, UCLA had to become a national recruiter. Rees was in charge of UCLA's national recruiting plan. There was no recruiting calendar in those days, no restrictions, so Rees traveled extensively from the end of spring practice to June, attending jamborees and 7-on-7 events in Florida and elsewhere, wherever there was talent to evaluate.
The plan was successful. UCLA won eight bowl games in a row, including three Rose Bowls. Rees recruited offensive lineman Jonathan Ogden, a future pro football Hall of Famer, and lured Hall of Fame quarterback Troy Aikman from Oklahoma after Aikman realized he couldn't fit into the wishbone offense. He also recruited Wheaton North's Kent Graham, who chose Notre Dame.
"The biggest change in recruiting is the Internet and the information that goes with it, good and bad, a lot of misinformation," Rees said. "In the past, you could outwork people. They didn't have as much information and you could sell your school and your program.
"Twenty years ago, there was no Internet. You had to generate recruiting lists by yourself. You had to find the best prospects. Tom Lemming and Dick Lascola were the only reliable sources, the only national recruiting analysts who were accountable. They were lifelines on how you did things."
The process was sometimes as painful as root canal. Rees mailed questionnaires to every high school in the United States that played football. He established a reliable network of high school coaches who had good track records of producing Division I players and knew how to identify one when they saw one.
"Now the high school coach has been taken out of the process. we used to rely a lot on his opinion and the opinion of opposing coaches," Rees said. "That has been lost because people are moving so fast in the process that they have lost the resources that helped them do the best job of evaluating.
"Because of the rules today, coaches don't get as much exposure to the kids. Because of early commitments, you project kids too far out. People look at snippets of highlight tape, eight or 10 clips, then make a decision. In the past, we wouldn't take a kid unless we saw his junior and senior tapes and saw him play live. You don't have that luxury today.
"The trend has been reversed. Today, kids get offered off their performances at one-day camps. That used to be the last piece of the puzzle. More mistakes are being made today. The critical factors used to evaluate players by position haven't changed. But do you have enough exposure to identify those factors? Not anymore."