Recruiting: The Power of Negative

By Ramzy Nasrallah on June 4, 2014 at 11:15a
Have a hand, lil' buddy.

The grumbling began while Urban Meyer's Florida house was still on the market.

It came from Bret Bielema, understandably sour about his 1-5 record against Ohio State:

“I can tell you this, we at the Big Ten don’t want to be like the SEC - in any way, shape or form.”

Everyone's favorite karmic SEC doormat has since upgraded his career from regional to national punchline, but at the time our Leaders Division buddy Bert had just climbed out of Barry Alvarez's lap to piously whine about Meyer plucking Cleveland Heights OL Kyle Dodson from his still-unsigned recruiting class. 

He was most likely referring to a make-believe gentleman's agreement Meyer violated by pursuing a non-binding verbal commitment. However, in being deliberately ambiguous Bielema also insinuated a) Ohio State - having just notched Repeat Offender status with the NCAA rulebook - was cheating conspicuously enough that he could talk about it openly, or b) Meyer had negatively recruited against Wisconsin in landing a lifelong Ohio State fan who had been ignored by the previous regime.

Kyle Dodson: Still not a Wisconsin Badger.

Note that negatively recruiting against Wisconsin is nearly impossible: The entire state cherishes football, beer and encased meats like no other in the history of the republic. The Badgers have turned falling backwards into Pasadena invitations into an art form, and Madison is a college football postcard overflowing with character and opportunity.

Kind of like Columbus. Not terribly different from Ann Arbor, either.

Urbs most likely took a conventional approach to recruiting Dodson: He called him. Dodson is a lifelong Ohio State fan who committed to Wisconsin two weeks after Jim Tressel's resignation - and 24 hours after finally receiving a scholarship offer from the slow-playing Buckeyes. Meyer was still an ESPN employee who had boned up on the nation's top recruits while covering National Signing Day for the network earlier that Spring.

Given the timing and circumstances, surely Bielema used the uncertainty surrounding Ohio State to his advantage. Program uncertainty is not only fair game, it's a gift for adversaries. 

Last week this tale surfaced, allegedly from a dinner Meyer held with some prospects being pursued by both programs: [Ed: Just assume (sic) applies to every single sentence]

(Urban) spent 10 mins negatively recruiting Michigan. He mentioned how Michigan went 7-6 because of the coaching and the coaches lack of trust in the players. Michigan coaches would have you believe it is the players fault. He mention that OSU recruits the SAME TYPE OF TALENT that Michigan recruits and he won 24 straight games while Michigan goes 7-6. My friend told me he hit Michigan HARD and was very good about it, apparently the recruits was eating it up. Afterwards, he played a 8 min video of Suckeye players crushing Michigan players.

Let's pretend the story is true: Your knee-jerk reaction (not just your knee, btw) is that Meyer's zing was accurate, as 1) Ohio State and Michigan do generally recruit the same players, and 2) only one of those teams lost six games last year. The why part seems to be informed speculation at best from a guy who has won a hell of a lot more games than he's lost.

Omitting Rich Rod's disastrous final two classes as the source of this infection is more than fair, as Ohio State has suffered quite a bit of bad luck in this area as well. [points angrily to fullbacks and tight ends being hastily switched to linebacker and tackle very recently]

That's negative recruiting. It's clean, it's candid and it's efficacious when executed confidently - but it's negative. It might even prove to be as effective as what Brady Hoke's staff pulled off in 2011.

Program uncertainty is not only fair game FOR ADVERSARIES - it's a gift.

Around the same time Dodson verballed to Bert, numerous other Ohio State targets who were also being courted by Michigan began repeating an eerily similar refrain to a Buckeye recruiting beat desperately trying to piece together OSU's strategy while the program was in limbo. That refrain was an almost-boilerplate response that curiously included the words Lane and Kiffin

Kiffin had confidently told prospects two recruiting classes earlier the NCAA would be kind to Southern Cal once it ruled on the Reggie Bush scandal, and they shouldn't be concerned about pledging to the Trojans. Once sanctions including a two-year postseason ban and a reduction of 30 scholarships were levied, it appeared Kiffin was either ill-informed or deliberately misleading recruits. 

oh noooooooo
The biggest reason to avoid Ohio State, circa 2011.

That precedent - despite the fact that USC's transgressions dwarfed Ohio State's and the respective athletic departments were in total contrast to each other vis a vis NCAA cooperation - was the indirect sales pitch Michigan coaches used that summer. It was quite brilliant, actually - all they did was lay out the dots and the recruits predictably connected them.

It didn't even matter if Tressel's coaching refugees were reassuring recruits as Kiffin had (that's not what they were selling, as Tyvis Powell's commitment right after Tressel's resignation will tell you). All that mattered was the asteroid from the Kiffin Cautionary Tale was now certain to crater Columbus.

Recruits began mentioning Kiffin when talking about Ohio State. Kyle Kalis went from solidly reaffirming his long-time commitment to Ohio State to decommitting for Michigan and actively recruiting other players to join him - inside of a couple weeks.

And just like that, Ohio State wasn't fighting a battle against program uncertainty. It was fighting against certainty, as in the inevitability of being decaptitated to the point of requiring a generation to recover. The incessant media coverage only gave credibilty to Michigan's warning.

That's negative recruiting too - though less clean than suggesting the coaching leading Michigan to a 7-6 record in the 2013 Big Ten wasn't all that great - but negative nonetheless. It's still the most dazzling stunt pulled off by Hoke since his arrival. Personally, I have a hard time not admiring the strategy.

Recruiting is sales, and sales is the dark, delicate art of persuasion. Urban's gastric reflux potentially fatal heart condition and penchant for abrupt retirements are fair game in a competitive sale. Columbus is cold. The Big Ten is down. All of this could backfire, by the way. Just how devastating was that Kiffin asteroid, anyway?

Negative recruiting is part of every sales cycle across every industry, except it's usually referred to as competitive selling.

The largest threats get hit harder and more frequently than the anklebiters, which makes negative recruiting an insincere form of flattery: Hoke is in over his head, is hopelessly out of touch and has a clumsy helicopter AD who meddles with football decisions. The vast majority of football players are tucked into the safe harbor of General Studies.

None of it is especially vicious or untrue, but no one is going to buy a product only because the alternative looks uglier.

Ask anyone who's ever carried a sales bag if addressing your threats is off-limits: Failing to gracefully frame your competition can be the catastrophic failure of your pitch, which means negative recruiting cannot be a stand-alone tactic or strategy. It's simply an important part of either selling effectively or losing the business.

And losing - be it on the field or in living rooms - isn't allowed at Ohio State or Michigan. Good luck falling backwards into the Sugar Bowl, Bert.


Comments Show All Comments

Denny's picture

I like negative recruiting but only when our coach does it because my coach is being honest and straightforward not like those other big meanie coaches who negative recruit like meanies.


+33 HS
Alice in Aggieland's picture

He mentioned how Michigan went 7-6 because of the coaching and the coaches lack of trust in the players. Michigan coaches would have you believe it is the players fault. He mention that OSU recruits the SAME TYPE OF TALENT that Michigan recruits and he won 24 straight games while Michigan goes 7-6. 

Ah, yes. Coming from ESPN or other media outlets, this is a fair assessment of the state of the Michigan football program. Coming from Urban, it's the slanderous defamation of a storied athletic tradition. 

Urban's shit-talking is funny 'cause it's true.

+7 HS
gumtape's picture

Am I an 11w addict if I can tell who the author of an article is without peeking?

High and tight boo boo

+20 HS
Denny's picture

(ramzy is the only one who pixelates/filters his images so it's usually p clear)


+6 HS
MordenoftheSith's picture

Addict no, psychic psycho and web-stalker, yes!

If you only knew the POWER of the Dark Side.

BrooklynBuckeye's picture

This is nothing compared to the way Urbz talked to the rest of the B1G coaches when he first joined the conference. It all started when Kirk Ferentz was told to put the coffee down.

"You see this ring? This ring cost more than your car! That's why Gene and Earle brought me here. I can go out there tonight with the materials you've got and get myself three five star recruits. Tonight! In two hours! Can you? Can YOU? Go and do likewise. A-I-D-A. Get mad you son of a bitches, get mad. You know what it takes to win national championships? It takes brass balls to win national championships."


+13 HS
pcg396's picture

Love it!  Always be closing, UFM.

Scottsdale Buckeye

+3 HS
chemicalwaste's picture

Urban doesnt say "son of a bitches," because its grammatically incorrect.

+1 HS
BeijingBucks's picture

It's grammatically incorrect FTW

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

+1 HS
chemicalwaste's picture

Im not urban meyer.

mh277907's picture

Urban really doesn't need to negatively recruit against Michigan. They have pretty much done that themselves every fall Saturday for the past 10 years.


+9 HS
Alice in Aggieland's picture

Well, their September Heisman trophy case is pretty impressive.

+12 HS
buckguyfan1's picture

I can see Urbz now...


+3 HS

I'll drink to this!

"I don't apologize for anything.  When I make a mistake, I take the blame and go on from there." - Woody Hayes

buckeyepastor's picture

I think all programs utilize some negative recruiting.  I think no other program, including Penn State, has had the decided disadvantage of ESPN's full throttle innuendo that OSU had to endure from late 2010 - early 2012.  Our competition for a couple of years didn't need to say a word about OSU football being toxic.   Anyone with cable heard it over and over from Mark May, Pat Forde, Herbstreit, and others at the "worldwide leader."   While we have question marks for 2014 (receivers, linebackers especially), it's hard to think of any other program to rebound as quickly as we did in spite of sanctions and a mountain of negative press.    

"Woody would have wanted it that way" 

+1 HS
whobdis's picture

Agree completely..what's strange is..ESPN (and others) have seemingly blew their wad on Ohio State. Since that time period numberous programs have been guilty of all kinds of missgivings but the story lasts a day or two.  If a current Bama player came out today and stated he was being paid I'm not sure there would be much uproar. Hell Pat White stated he was offered a car and nobody cares. It's more interesting to dig up stories on Urban's Florida teams apparently

+2 HS
BTBuckeye's picture

"Good luck falling backwards into the Sugar Bowl, Bert."




+5 HS
Oldschoolbuck's picture

BT, that gif will always get an upvote!

+1 HS
IGotAWoody's picture

Great teammates you got there, Devin. Several players walk on past, not a one came to console or even offer a hand up.

“The good life is a process, not a state of being. It is a direction, not a destination.” ~Carl Rogers

+3 HS
chemicalwaste's picture

Is that negative recruiting? I like it.

+1 HS
OSUpawn's picture

Not surprised.   If the recruits were smart they wouldn't have picked that school.

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

BlueBayou's picture

Thanks for the clear example of negative recruiting.  Just a little bit of research shows the manipulation of the data that was done.  Example, for tOSU stats, the number one major of exploring is left off of the list with 18 people that year.  (yes I know it is temporary, but still it is what people declared for the moment)  Michigan's semi equivalent (yes, you can get a degree in it) of General Studies is left on with 24, but the athletes most times end up with different degrees (case in point Devin Gardner being general studies and then focusing on and graduating with a Afro-American and African studies degree and now pursuing a Masters in social work.

The other example is that for tOSU statistics, walk-ons were included where it benefited the numbers (5 of 6 in engineering, 5 of 6 in business, and 4 of 4 in biology (yes I know the total numbers don't match the sign, but these numbers come from the official media guide).  On Michigan's side, the tOSU staff did the opposite and didn't count walk-ons such as saying Michigan had 0 business majors on the team.

Negative recruiting is just part of the game though and likening it to sales accurate.  A coach that negatively recruits is just doing his job and it is up to the recruit and their parents to do their own research to make sure they are making an informed decision.  Unfortunately, sometimes these kids don't get the proper help during their search, but it is what it is.

Ramzy Nasrallah's picture

FYI, "Exploring" is fancy Ohio State language for undeclared. It's a shepherd program to help undecided students - not just athletes - figure out where they want to focus. There's no basis for comparing it to General Studies, which is what less than 2% of the UM general student body majors in along with over half the football team.

Devin Gardner's MGo profile on the day of his graduation last May had him as undeclared. Everything else including his 2012 season statistics were up-to-date.

Ohio State did use the walk-ons in only half of its statistics. Not the first time Ohio State football has lied by omission TOO SOON TOO SOON

BlueBayou's picture

Ramzy, first I just want to let you know that I always enjoy your writing.

As for the merits of the UM general studies program, I won't argue that it is where Michigan athletes get sheperded.  My point is even though an athlete will spend most of his academic career there, quite often there are ones that end up with a different degree, so it can be an "exploring/undecided" major as well, only one that doesn't actually force you to decide before getting a degree.  I still would prefer to see the athletes' academic stats match those of the regular student body, but let's be honest, at most power 5 conference  programs (replacement for now defunct BCS?), the football / basketball student-athletes aren't going there to play school, with Michigan and Ohio State being no different than anybody else.

As for Ohio State's Exploring program.  I understand the merits of that as well.  It is an outstanding program for those that are undecided and need the extra time to figure things out, but at the same time, according to the program's student guide,  student-athletes are not held to the same 4 semester limitations the rest of the student body are (page 8).  While they don't put anything in writing (remember, don't ever put anything in writing you don't want seen), I'm sure they are allowed to stay in the program longer than your standard student since I've seen tOSU football players still "exploring" in their third year, evidenced by Terelle Pryor entering his Senior year still undecided.  Since a student-athlete is allowed to be undecided for at least 3 years (maybe 4 years if redshirted?  not sure but I guess possible), that means that if a tOSU football player is good enough to declare early for the draft, it is possible for them to leave the program without ever declaring a major?  Doesn't that leave enough wiggle room to potentially abuse the Exploring program in the same manner that Michigan uses General Studies?

As for Devin Gardner and his degree in "Undeclared", you are surprised that an athletic department ran website is current on sports statistics before it is on academic information?  It is surprising to me that they can even do that since you know the athletic department has to get their Groupon ads finished and submitted and then move on to the Living Social campaign before working the less important tasks.  I guess if I were you, I'd probably laugh too, but that doesn't devalue the fact that he actually graduated from college at a rather quick timeline of three and a half years (just a semester longer than the amount of time Terrelle Pryor was undecided) with a degree in Afro-American and African studies and was accepted into graduate school and is pursuing a Master's degree in Social Work.  Pretty impressive if you ask me.

faux_maestro's picture


Your mom told me she wants a Dicken Cidar.

+1 HS
Jastot's picture

Negative recruiting is the only recruiting there is.  Any coach that claims they don't do it is LYING through his teeth. 

Oldschoolbuck's picture

Some college football coaches sound a lot like politicians who complain their opponent is "going negative" when they simply point out his/her record.


+1 HS
Findog5's picture

ESPN was just referenced?  I really didn't miss seeing those letters on 11w during the off season. Still don't watch it. Hard to believe I used to be an ESPN addict. Due to the SEC coverage, they contine to alienate.  

Raleigh Buckeye

+5 HS
Smanpoint10's picture

If you have any doubt that negative recruiting does not happen just keep in mind that I was negatively recruited to by a D3 golf coach

+2 HS
Buckeye Knight's picture

“I can tell you this, we at the Big Ten don’t want to be like the SEC - in any way, shape or form.”


You didn't look very SEC-like your first year at Arky either Bert!  #Karma

+5 HS
Jbucks's picture

I love it especially when its reported that the recruits were "Eating it up" F TTUN! but we need it to pay off in the end, poking fun & talking truth about your rivals is just talk if it doesnt work...
on an off topic, Anybody hear anything about Sh'mar Kilby Lane as of late?

Light shines in the darkness and the darkness has not overcome it-John 1:5 SEC meet Ohio State, Ohio State meet SEC

Groveport Heisman's picture

Just wait until we have enough ammunition to negatively recruit PSU and Franklin. Wait...63-14...Oh hell never mind.

Mark my words..I don't need acceptance. I'm catching interceptions on you innocent pedestrians.

Jpfbuck's picture

my favorite recruiting story comes from Rod Gerald for the young ones on here the QB prior to Art S. I once got a chance to read a biography he was thinking of writing and he related the basics of this following story in the introduction, the book was never completed or published btw

in this intro he relates how he heard about Woody passing away and how Woody never gave up on him and was always on him to finish his degree even though he had developed a drug habit etc, all great stuff

but then he tells the story of how he was recruited and how he ended up as a kid from Texas committing to OSU. Rod was a highly regarding option QB and had many teams after him. He had narrowed his choices down to OSU and Texas, a coupe days after visiting OSU he made a Trip to Austin and according to Rod was offered a sports car if he would sign.

He called Woody to tell him the news that he intended to commit to Texas, and Woody was surprised as it seemed Rod had been very happy on his Trip to Columbus.

Woody asked Rod why Texas since you seemed so at home here?

Rod related the story of the car offer to Woody and said he simply couldn't pass it up.

Rod said the next thing Woody said stunned him. He expected Woody to potentially counter offer with a better car or something, but per Rod this is what Woody told him.

quote "Rod you are going to commit to OSU right now and here is why. If you don't I will turn you in to the NCAA and have you ruled ineligible for accepting improper benefits,, so you decided

Rod says, so,,,, I ended up at OSU playing for Woody, and it was the best decision I ever made.

Of course I cant substantiate any of this now, but at the time I thought it was so cool the way Woody handled it....and in retrospect how dumb Rod was for revealing it to Woody

+3 HS
CentralFloridaBuckeye's picture

Great article Ramzy! 

Go Bucks!

+1 HS
lvccacamcrca's picture

@#$%  ichigan!........What negative recruiting? @#$%  ichigan! Who would ever accuse us of that?


Knarcisi's picture

As a career sales professional, growing sales and success is a product of performance.  Success breeds success. We have performed and succeeded, at a very high level, very consistently. You can essentially take this back to the Cooper days.  Call it selling, but it's merely a reminder of our proven performance rather than "promises" of improvement. 

PoKeY21's picture

I have no problem with the negative recruiting in either of the 2 stories above. Instead of calling it negative recruiting lets call it gamesmanship instead. There's no doubt that much more horrific things have been said to recruits (especially w the Internet and cell phones) by coaches, other players, and fans alike. Most recruits aren't that completely naive though, and hopefully they have adults around them that can help decipher through the garbage. As for whats really listened to though it is up to the coaches and if they want to talk trash in front of recruits so be it. Some players will buy in others won't, sometimes it will work and sometimes it will come back to bite them. All should be fair as far as wits and gamesmenship goes, it's when bank accounts get involved; that's the problem.

"It was a woman who drove me to drink, come to think of it I never did hang around to thank her for that"

ziplock007's picture

I hate to say this... but Bert Beliema is my favorite coach. Without his gaffes, Rose Bowl futility, and pending Arkansas termination... there would be less humor in the world.

All Meyer does is win, but the world needs laughter too.

+1 HS