Recruiting a never-ending grind for coaches

ATHENS, Ga. -- John Lilly is reluctant to divulge the steps he has occasionally taken to determine which football programs were interested in recruits he was pursuing.

The instinct creating that hesitance is not self-preservation, however.

“I’ve got to save all those stories for the book someday,” Lilly joked.

And a book he could write. One of the ace recruiters on Mark Richt’s coaching staff -- Lilly played a key role in Georgia landing signatures from top prospects Tramel Terry, Shaq Wiggins and Tray Matthews in the most recent recruiting class alone -- Georgia’s tight ends coach came to Athens after spending a decade as Bobby Bowden’s recruiting coordinator at Florida State.

There are surely dozens of stories, featuring some of the sport’s biggest names over the past decade, which would keep the average reader enthralled. And yet the long hours spent on the road to accumulate those stories come with a cost.

Like many of his fellow assistants, Lilly is a husband and a father to young children. When coaches are on the recruiting trail throughout the spring evaluation period -- on top of the already-demanding schedules they keep during the season -- they’re away from those they love most.

“You don’t want to miss anything,” Lilly said. “Obviously when you’re out of town, you don’t see your wife, you don’t see your children, they don’t see you. Right now, speaking for me, my children are almost 4 and 2. They don’t necessarily keep track of time and time doesn’t mean as much to them, but they realize after a couple days, ‘Hey, where’s dad?’ It does make it a little bit harder.”

But coaches understand that situation when they accept the job. The wins and losses from the fall are the true measuring sticks that determine whether they hold onto their positions, but it’s their behind-the-scenes work as recruiters that stocks the depth chart with talent that makes wins easier to achieve.

“It is what you make of it,” Georgia inside linebackers coach Kirk Olivadotti said, specifically referring to the travel-heavy evaluation period between mid-April and the end of May. “Everybody talks about it being a grind, but it’s just part of the job. You can enjoy it or you can complain about it and I choose to enjoy it.”

NCAA rules help somewhat, since the entire staff is not allowed to be on the road recruiting at once during the spring, and the group is allowed only so many evaluations during that time period.

But the breaks are short-lived if the coaches are doing an adequate job in determining who to chase for their next recruiting class.

“Really the second week after the spring game, we’ve been on the road recruiting and evaluating players, crosschecking -- meaning I may see one guy and someone else may go see him -- and just trying to do a diligent job of recruiting players that can help us be successful at Georgia and win the SEC,” Bulldogs defensive coordinator Todd Grantham said at a UGA Alumni Association meeting in Atlanta in mid-May.

Olivadotti and Lilly said it is not unheard of for them to hit 10 to 12 schools in a day in May, provided that they are within close proximity. Such days are not ideal in most cases, however. Recruiting is about building relationships with players, coaches and families -- and that’s a time-consuming process if done correctly.

That’s why coaches typically make only a handful of daily stops in the final weeks leading up to national signing day while trying to solidify their recruiting classes -- a big change from when their off-campus contact with players is restricted in the spring.

“Most of us really enjoy the relationships you form with people because at the end of the day, it’s just fun to get to know a lot of people in a lot of places and all that,” Lilly said. “But if you’re really going to spend time with people and get to know them and them get to know you, you’re probably maxing yourself out if you go to any more than [10 or 11 in May]. If you’re in the January mode, you may only hit a couple in a day at that point.”

By the time signing day arrives, the coaching staff has already started laying the groundwork for the next class -- and often the one that’s two years away. It’s a process that never truly ends for coaches at the country’s elite programs.

“You’d better know everybody that’s walking the halls for two or three years down the road if you can,” Lilly said.