Mark Pantoni: The Mastermind Behind Ohio State's Recruiting Effort

By Kyle Rowland on February 7, 2014 at 9:15a
The Architect.
34 Comments

Ohio State has American Idol and Randy Jackson to thank for one of the program’s foremost buzzwords: swaggernaut.

Recruiting extraordinaire Mark Pantoni and his wife, Kristin, sat in front of the TV a few years ago, joining millions of other Americans watching the popular reality-singing competition. At one point, Jackson used the term “swaggernaut.” Suddenly, the Buckeyes added a new work to their lexicon.

“I was like, ‘Swaggernaut, I kind of like that.’ So ever since then I just kind of took off with it,” Pantoni said.

The vernacular also includes coded words such as “5-star Friday” and “BOOOOOOOM!!!!!” – no, he doesn’t say it out loud – which signals a verbal commitment. As the point man for Ohio State’s recruiting efforts, Pantoni, armed with the title of director of player personnel, must keep up with the times. That means being active on Facebook and Twitter, where his followers number more than 15,000.

He describes himself as a 32-year-old going on 18, because he’s up-to-date on the hip-hop culture, recent trends and all the latest fads.

“It helps keep me young,” Pantoni said, with a smile. “What I have to be good at is thinking inside the minds of 17- and 18-year-olds. By tweeting out silly stuff, I hope it grabs their attention. If they retweet or favorite it, that’s my time to send them a message. Now let’s build that relationship. It’s fun. It’s a good part of my job.”

While he doesn’t game plan or coach on Saturdays, Pantoni’s position on the football staff is valuable. Upon bringing Pantoni to Ohio State, Urban Meyer referred to him as one of his most important hires. There’s a reason for that, Pantoni is Meyer’s right-hand man and considered to be the top recruiting coordinator in the country.

The process begins two years out. Sometime during a prospect’s sophomore season, Pantoni will reach out – on Facebook or Twitter, naturally – and begin the recruiting cycle. At Florida, he was the driving force behind a recruiting machine that produced two national championships.

“I don’t know how to quantify [his value],” offensive coordinator Tom Herman said. “He’s worth whatever they’re paying him times two. He does a phenomenal job of not only the things you guys see – the boom, the swaggernaut and all that cool stuff on Twitter – but he picks up a lot of the slack from us during the season. And the stuff you guys don’t see – the organization of recruiting weekends, us going on the road. It’s unbelievable. He’s the glue that holds the entire recruiting operation together.”

Said Meyer: “He’s my guy. I have to have him. I don’t know how you do it without him. I don’t want to put him in the same category as the strength coach, but when you start talking about the most valuable assets of a program, No. 1 is personnel, and he’s knee deep in it.”

There’s an age and generational gap between the duo, but Pantoni has earned Meyer’s utmost trust. It’s reached a point where Pantoni holds veto power on offers. If a coach – Meyer included – is misguided on extending an offer to a recruit, Pantoni will speak up and sometimes nix the decision.

He calls Meyer “relentless” and says the coach possesses unique leadership qualities that galvanize the entire coaching staff.

“He’s my guy. I have to have him. I don’t know how you do it without him.” -Urban Meyer

“We follow his lead,” Pantoni said. “We set things up for him, and when it’s time for him to go in and close, the table’s set in place. He’s outstanding to work for. He takes care of the coaches and their families, and the players as well.”

What starts with a simple message on social media is meant to evolve into a relationship with a position coach and, eventually, the head coach. Pantoni and a trusted group of interns rifle through 150-200 players, sorting out the good and the bad. They went through 2,700 full games for members of the 2014, ’15 and ’16 classes.

“I’m trying to keep creating a huge umbrella and maintain some sort of contact with as many as I can and try and get them up here on campus,” Pantoni said. “It takes a lot of time and effort, which I pride myself on.”

That time and effort equals waking up before the sun breaks the horizon and continued texting and tweeting while lying in bed. Thanks to an extra battery pack, his phone never dies. Maybe that’s one reason why Pantoni jokes that his wife has thrown it through the window multiple times.

“It’s a good thing I don’t have any hobbies,” he quipped. “I do the best I can. My family is most important to me, keeping my wife happy. But she understands the job and knows I’m driven to want to be the best at what I do. So she gets it.”

One week a year, he’ll go on vacation to decompress. But even then it’s hard to completely get away. Pantoni compares recruiting to brushing your teeth – you can’t take days off. If you aren’t contacting a five-star recruit, Alabama and Florida State are, which creates constant paranoia. Recruiting is all about building relationships. The day-to-day grind is a relentless battle with some contact between Pantoni and a potential or already committed player being a daily ritual. 

The top priority is to sell Ohio State. There’s history, tradition, one of the best coaching staffs in the nation, NFL alums, a positive academic reputation and a winning culture to pitch. To many, it sounds as difficult as convincing someone to buy beachfront property in Miami.

But there’s a distance factor with out-of-state recruits and the giant elephant in the room – cold and snow, though Raekwon McMillan (Georgia) and Johnnie Dixon (South Florida) scoffed Wednesday at the notion weather impacted their decisions.

It worked. Raekwon McMillan received 2 years of messages.

Pre-existing relationships help when leaving the state borders. Meyer, Pantoni and wide receivers coach Zach Smith are familiar with coaches throughout the state of Florida from their time with the Gators. That helped get Dixon to Ohio State. And in an odd twist, two of McMillan’s high school coaches were from Ohio.

“The brand itself is huge. A lot of times [recruits] don’t know the actual specifics,” Pantoni said. “They don’t know the intensity of the [Michigan] rivalry. They don’t understand all the traditions. But they know the Block ‘O’ and all the great former players. Once you get them up here on campus, it’s an eye-opener for them how big and how great everything is.”

In 2011, Pantoni was in the same situation. Born and raised in Florida, he came north with little knowledge about Ohio State. As Pantoni was selling recruits on the Buckeyes, he was also brushing up on Ohio State’s football history. It sure beat being facedown in medical books, which was the alternative.

The Sarasota native enrolled at Florida with sights set on medical school. A detour eventually came. As a college football fan, Pantoni enjoyed following recruiting. That led him to a volunteer position with the Florida football program. 

“I got my foot in the door and I really loved it. It was a passion of mine,” Pantoni said. “I took it as an opportunity and worked as hard as I could. I never asked for a t-shirt or anything. Coaches started to respect how hard I worked, and I was there because I loved what I did. It paid off over time. Here we are today. I’m glad I made this decision. I’d probably be finishing up residency and be in a lot of debt right now.”

Instead, he just helped secure yet another top-five recruiting class and is even inspiring Ohio State’s basketball program to hire a recruiting guru. College basketball recruiting, like its football brethren, is undergoing a constant evolution. So Thad Matta hired Christopher Spartz to oversee the team’s recruiting efforts and do many of the things Pantoni does with the football Buckeyes.

Pantoni, Spartz and assistant coaches Jeff Boals and Greg Paulus share information and new strategies with one another to try and keep Ohio State on the cutting edge of recruiting.

“A guy like Mark Pantoni, those people who can organize that dynamic, almost like they’re an assistant GM or director of player personnel in professional football, so you can weed out all the stuff that could get in the way of the coach focusing on who the best players are, that’s the model that’s being used to build successful programs,” ESPN national recruiting director Tom Luginbill said. “It’s critical not only for Ohio State, but you’re seeing that direction in a lot of programs out there.”

For now, Pantoni just needs ideas on how to sleep well – National Signing Day meant a 4 a.m. wake up call – and who to vote for in the next episode of American Idol.

Thursday and beyond is aimed at 2015.

“There’s no catching our breath,” Pantoni said. “We have to get this next class ready.”

34 Comments

Comments

flying-banana's picture

It's amazing watching the difference in recruiting between Tressel and Meyer. Not that Tressel was a bad recruiter by any stretch of the imagination, but there is this excitement or spark around what Meyer and Pantoni put together. It radiates from the program and recruits are definitely taking notice. Glad to have you on board Pantoni and looking forward to more BOOOOOOM!!!!'s in the near future!

+6 HS
popeurban's picture

I believe people like Pantoni are the difference between how Meyer closes out a class and how Tres closed out classes.  Tressel was the king of Ohio, but Meyer and Pantoni take it to a different level.  

+1 HS
Killer nuts's picture

This guy is a huge part of our recruiting success, I'm really happy he followed Urban to Columbus

+2 HS
Seattle Linga's picture

Goes the dynamite !!!!!!!!!!

+1 HS
chili96's picture

I love how he followed his passion and put in the hard work to be successful. When you have people like this in your program, winning inevitably follows.

+3 HS
Et_Tu_OSU's picture

I love the way the thinking has shifted from "who are we going to be able to get" to "who do we want" and "who can we flip to help us."

"The revolution will be televised."

+2 HS
Nashville Buckeye's picture

Great article. Pantoni is awesome. I definitely think he is a HUUUGE reason we will be National Champs in the not-too-distant future!

 

Go Bucks!

+1 HS
MikeEagleBuckeye's picture

Never knew Pantoni was this involved in the organization.  So thankful to have him in Columbus!  Hopefully he sticks around for a LONG time!

Killer nuts's picture

Pantoni in the circle drill

 

+5 HS
allbucksallthetime's picture

Thanks for sharing this video.  I had not seen this before so appreciate your sharing it.  Go Bucks!

BeijingBucks's picture

He's Urban 'billy beane's' Paul DePodesta.....

 

 

None can love freedom heartily, but good men; the rest love not freedom, but license. ~ John Milton

DeepSouthBuckeye's picture

Just out of curiosity, does anyone know how much Pantoni makes? Like Herman said, I promise it is not what he's worth! Glad he's a Buckeye!

Loving all things Buckeye from SEC country in Alabama.
"How firm thy friendship....O-HI-O"

dlb72osu's picture

I do know, but it is totally personal. Let's all just be thankful that Mark decided to come up north a few years ago. And what he makes is not even one-half of his value to all of us alumni and fans.

I am the master of my fate: I am the captain of my soul.
- Invictus

+1 HS
Golden Buckeye's picture

$80,000 salary.  I thought it would be a little higher than that to be honest.

+2 HS
cuttyrock's picture

Wow that's it. Urban Meyer needs to get him to about $160,000 asap.

 

-1 HS
CC's picture

Based on what?  If they other schools are only willing to pay 70k, his 80k looks pretty good.

It's easy to spend other people's money.

-1 HS
pabdublin78's picture

Definitely the unsung hero that is always there but never in the lime light.....we are very lucky he's working for the good guys...

+1 HS
buckskin's picture

Glad he's with the good guys.  It's amazing how these guys are carrying on Woody's legacy:  you win with people.  Bruce, Cooper, Tressel, and now Urban are experts at building relationships with young men and really caring for them.  Proud to be a Buckeye.

+1 HS
osu07asu10's picture

 

"They don't know what they don't know." - Coach Mick

+1 HS
Go1Bucks's picture

Thanks to Mark Pantoni for all he does for the Buckeyes!

 

 

 

Go Bucks!

Go Bucks!

+1 HS
phxbuck's picture

What is crazy to me is when Tressel would have those years where he would have a class out of the top 10 I wouldn't think twice about it.  Now with this group in place anything out of the top 5 seems like a disappointment.  It is funny how expectations even for a place like Ohio State continue to change in short amounts of time. 

+1 HS
BUCKSOMIES's picture

Wow!  Great write up.  Thanks Kyle.

+1 HS
Arizona_Buckeye's picture

I'm guessing Urban guards him like a hawk when it comes to other schools sniffing around trying to gain his services.

The best thing about Pastafarianism? It is not only acceptable, but advisable, to be heavily sauced

+1 HS
Squirrel Master's picture

Ever watch the show "American Pickers"? I get visions of that show with Pantoni as the girl back in the shop while the coaches are out "picking".

BTW, would love if BTN would do a reality show kind of like that where a camera crew follows Pantoni and his every day stuff during recruiting season (pretty much what goes on after the season till NSD) and his communication with the coaches out on the road, then follow the coaches out meeting recruits. The cameras don't have to go into the meetings to get a good enough show, just follow to the door and then the rest.

I bet it would have been huge ratings if Herman had a camera crew with him in Atlanta!

I saw a UFO once.......it told me to have a goodyear!

+3 HS
CC's picture

great anology.

Hovenaut's picture

Nice write-up, good look at a very important member of the OSU staff. 

Mark Pantoni's efforts are greatly appreciated by this Buckeye fan. 

"Success...it's what you do with what you got" - Woody Hayes

+1 HS
buckeyeradar's picture

Mark Pantoni is the man.  What a great job he's doing!  I think and wonder since my retirement what it would have been like to have a job you enjoyed and getting paid too.  BOOOOOM.

Buckeye in Texas

+1 HS
allbucksallthetime's picture

There is no doubt that Pantoni has taken building relationships with recruits to another level via social media.  It's great to see how passionate he is for what he does.  Thank goodness Pantoni works for tOSU.  Go Bucks!

osubuckeye4life's picture

Pantoni is a invaluable cog in the recruiting machine that is, Urban Assault. 

Art Harrell's picture

Another great article by Kyle and 11 WARRIORS