Relationships Pave Road to Recruiting Gold

By Kyle Rowland on February 10, 2014 at 3:00p

As far as sports analogies go, being equated to Mariano Rivera doesn’t get much better. When the appraisal deals with closing, the picture becomes brighter and more elegant. Think Michelangelo and da Vinci during the Renaissance. That’s Urban Meyer and his ability to lure the nation’s top recruits to Ohio State.

While Meyer and his staffs – Florida and Ohio Sate – have developed a reputation as being one of the game’s top set of late-inning relievers, it’s not the end of the process where attention should be focused. Instead, the shine should stretch back two years prior to when the Buckeyes lay the foundation, constructing the first Lincoln Log on a relationship that develops into a 30,000 square-foot mansion.

“I usually walk in because I’m kind of the closer,” Meyer said. “[Assistants] set the groundwork, and I know where we’re headed when I walk in that home. The number one thing, without question, is relationships being built.”

Woody Hayes brought forth numerous phrases that are still recited as frequently as scripture in Central Ohio. One is “You win with people.” It can be used in all walks of life, but in particular ventures that involve teamwork. Meyer’s implemented it heavily in recruiting, stressing the importance of establishing relationships.

“It’s a very honest, open approach,” he said. “They come in and see everything we’ve got. This is the way we do our business. It's not for everybody, and if you want to be a part of, it we’d love to have you.”

The journey to secure linebacker Raekwon McMillan began with a simple social media message from director of player personnel Mark Pantoni. The recruiting maestro zeroed in on McMillan early in the process and tabbed him as a possible impact player. When McMillan became a five-star recruit, the instinct proved valuable.

For two years, Pantoni and McMillan exchanged text messages, tweets and Facebook interactions. In December, McMillan, a Georgia native, spurned Alabama and Clemson for Ohio State.

“That was a guy I targeted and told myself I wanted to get, and we had to get,” Pantoni said.

Naturally, out-of-state prospects are more difficult to sign. If you grow up in the shadow of Ohio Stadium, you’re indoctrinated into all things Buckeye at birth. Listening to music on your iPod means hearing the sounds of The Ohio State University Marching Band. When the family buys a golden retriever, picking a name is a non-issue – he’s known as Brutus.

But fight songs and traditions are foreign to Virginians and Floridians. For recruits lacking a direct connection to Ohio State, relationships take on a greater significance. Enter Zach Smith, the Big Ten’s 2014 recruiter of the year. He scoured Florida and much of the East Coast in search of talent.

For Smith, landing defensive end Jalyn Holmes and wide receiver Johnnie Dixon was akin to acing a college midterm.

“To go to Norfolk and get a kid to come to Columbus, Ohio, and beat all of those schools in recruiting, or to go to South Florida and take a receiver out of other people’s back yards, they have to know that someone’s going to take care of them when they get here,” Smith said. “It’s more than just a coach-player relationship.”

Said Pantoni: “Building relationships is the most important thing in this whole process. With some of these kids, it’s an every day deal of reaching out and selling Ohio State, selling yourself and building that relationship.”

The Buckeyes’ coaching staff convinced 14 players in its third-ranked Class of 2014 that Ohio State was the right place for them during the good and bad times. Honesty and genuinely caring about recruits’ well being is a large step in growing connections. Smith and Co. pride themselves on not spewing “B.S.”

That includes letting a potential future Buckeye know he just played poorly. Smith did exactly that with Dixon. If recruits can’t handle the truth, Ohio State probably isn’t the rightful destination anyway, Smith says. Players who take the criticism as advice generally fare better inside uber-competitive locker rooms.

“We became best friends just over the process,” Dixon said of Smith. “We talked like every day. He’s a great guy. He's still young and we have a great connection. I can joke with him whenever. We connect on a lot of areas as a player and a coach. It's just a great relationship, like a friend.”

If rules permitted, Meyer wouldn’t be sending stuffed animals and balloons to recruits. He’s about trust and the truth.

“[Meyer] is really a great recruiter. He crosses all the Ts,” defensive line coach Larry Johnson said. “My first in-home with him was awesome, really awesome. You watch a guy go to work and he’s got it all going on. He covers all his bases, know the family, know the kids, and that’s pretty awesome what he does.

“He gets that involved. You call it aggressive, but I think that’s his style.”


Comments Show All Comments

bucknasty13's picture

We are so lucky to have Urban Meyer.  It could be much, much worse.  

+14 HS
bucknasty13's picture
+17 HS
MichiganBuckeye222's picture

Brady Joke is actually a great recruiter.  He is a believable guy...and a guy that you can't help but like....this has been said by many recruits.

His biggest problem is that he can't coach up talent.

but I would never question his ability to convince a kid to got o TTUN.

Representing the Buckeyes in the Mitten State since 1987.


+2 HS
Seattle Linga's picture

His crackling voice makes my skin crawl..........

+4 HS
bucknasty13's picture
Yeah....  I'm having trouble posting videos.  Of course I'm just kidding.  I think he probably is a fantastic recruiter.


+1 HS
Ericgobucks's picture

You are absolutely right he can't coach up talent. We will watch Jabrill Peppers very closely. I don't think it's a coincidence that Hoke's class this year was a disappointment considering what he did his first 2 years. He's now bearing the burden of explaining what he's NOT doing on the field. Barbecues are all fun and games, but wins matter and he's not developing talent and getting the right guys in key spots like QB. I have thought for a while he's in trouble after this season. MSU's emergence is the absolute worst possible thing for Brady Hoke and Michigan. 

+1 HS
ABrown07's picture

I like to read these kind of articles, they give insight into the relationships the coaches have with the players. You don't really get these genuine reads anywhere else, so thank you for this write-up. It's nice to know who we have running our favorite football program.

I don't like nice people. I like tough, honest people.

-Woody Hayes

+3 HS
Killer nuts's picture

I love the analogy of our staff being the setup guys and Urban being the Closer. I also love that Urban sets the goal of having the best recruiting class in the country every year

+2 HS
Furious George 27's picture

I would love to know what other coaches had to say about OSU to our recruits during the process..... I believe anything is fair play, just curious on what is said. Gotta believe SEC schools bad mouth each other.

Yeah, well…that’s just like, your opinion, man.

+1 HS
CC's picture

What is the story with the criticism of Dixon?

HotSauceCommittee's picture

CC - I was thinking the same thing. It jumped out at me so I went back and re-read some of the article to find out if I missed something.

Crimson's picture

Players have bad games.  We don't tell them they had a great game when that happens.  Criticism isn't a bad thing in this context, unless you can't handle it.

Nashville Buckeye's picture

You hear ALL these horror stories about recruiting and other coaches bashing other programs.  It's really awesome to know that by all accounts, we do things the right way.  We don't need to bash other programs to make ourselves look better.  We are THE Ohio State University.  I'm proud to be a Buckeye.




+1 HS
OSUpawn's picture

I have been coaching 11-12 year old boys baseball for 12 years.  We find ways to relate with the kids and they look up and respect us.  I have had parents come up to me to talk to their son for them (He won't listen to me).  Nothing better than that player to coach bond.

I can only imagine how awesome it is to coaching at tOSU.    

I believe the SEC players put their pants on one leg at a time like we do.

+2 HS
Barnsey69's picture

UFB has a fantastic product to sell, so combine that with his unbelievable recruiting techniques and a super-team of assistants...hard to beat. The bar is forever set at the highest point, so I do not envy the guy(s) that come after the Urban era....hopefully he goes all Joe Pa and coaches till he's 104.

Thank the Maker that I was born in Ohio, cradle of coaches, US Presidents, confederate-stomping Generals, and home of The Ohio State University Football Buckeyes- 2014 UNDISPUTED National Champions!

sharks's picture

No word on whether he wears the 80's Indians jersey with 99 on the back when he enters the house?

A man got to have a code...

BuckeyeSouth's picture

I know there have been some very good times over the years, but this just feels like we're in a golden age of Buckeye football.  We have 1 of the very best coaches in the entire country and are bringing in loads of top-notch recruits in every class.  It only stands to reason that National Championships are the ultimate conclusion.  I know I'll be enjoying this period for as long as it lasts.

Champions.  Undisputed.  

Sebastian's picture

Hoke sounds like Super Dave

+1 HS
steveoz49's picture

When the Robert Plant of Head Coaches sits down on your coach, you have to be in awe.....


Edit: When the Robert Plant of Head Coaches sits down on your COUCH, you have to be in awe.....

(I'm leaving my mistake up for anyone that wants to have fun at my expense)

+1 HS
Buckeye419er's picture

I hope no one sits on our coach :( 


There can be only one

+3 HS
steveoz49's picture

Nice catch!  Time to edit... lol  Thumbs up for you

ScarletGray43157's picture

Relationships are what life is about.  In sports recruiting.  In business.  In every aspect of life, relationships are what it is all about.  Do not burn your bridges, friends.  

In old Ohio there's a team that's known throughout the land...

MN Buckeye's picture

Which is why Urban never rips a kid for choosing another school, unlike some coaches. You never know what can happen, or how that relationship might come back years down the line.

DC-town's picture

I would be interested in how the talk of redshirting is delivered...we all know the overall stance, but I would be very interested in hearing how it sounds to Dixon vs a 3 star guy coming into a position of depth

'Piss excellence' -RB

216ToThe614's picture

Totally thought this was a Ramzy article with the faded color on the picture but then upon further inspection its just someone's finger obscuring part of it. Whoops.


This, tied together with the other article from Meechy on how his recruitment ended, paints an interesting picture of what goes on behind the scenes and what is really important in recruiting.

Pick up your feet, turn your corners square! And DRIVE DRIVE DRIVE!!!