The-Ozone Rewind: Jim Tressel’s Hard-Target Recruiting Approach, 2005

Jim Tressel Ohio State Buckeyes

[Editor’s Note: From now until Big Ten Media Days, we’ll be reaching into The-Ozone’s 23 years worth of archives and each day we will be posting a story from yesteryear. Big moments, small moments, big games, bigger games, and the random recruiting updates about guys you haven’t thought about in a decade or two.]

February 3, 2005 | Recruiting is an ever-evolving beast, and it grows bigger every single year. Gone are the days of an assistant coach being in charge of recruiting. They have given way to entire departments. This allows a school to cover more ground — figuratively and literally — in the search for recruits. Nowadays, if a recruit takes an official visit to your school, that means you are maybe one of his top five choices (or that he just wants to come watch a big game that week). For a while at Ohio State, however, there was a time when a player needed to be more than just interested in order to receive an invite for an official visit. This story comes from John Porentas following the 2005 signing day and details just how precise the Buckeyes were with their targeting. — TG

Letter of intent day has come and gone. The faxes have been received and 18 new scholarship players have been brought on board to keep the pipeline full at Ohio State. From the outside looking in, it looks like business as usual, but things were a bit different this year in the Ohio State recruiting effort.

The most obvious difference is that there is a new guy in charge. Long-time recruiting coordinator Bill Conley is gone, and new recruiting coordinator John Peterson has now landed his first recruiting class. While the results are nearly the same (the Buckeyes did well) the method differed markedly.

The Buckeyes hosted just 27 official visits this year despite the fact that NCAA rules allow more-than 50. Under Conley, OSU always hosted near the limit, but this year, the Buckeyes hosted about half the allowable number.

Conley has been openly critical of the Buckeye recruiting effort in the local media outlets, saying that the small number of visits put the Buckeyes at a competitive disadvantage, but Jim Tressel seems to be one who approves of the method.

“That was definitely by design,” said Tressel when asked if the small number was planned or simply evolved because the Buckeyes were having trouble getting athletes to visit.

“We thought the kids we had in had genuine interest, and we had real interest in them. I think the more you do something you ought to be more efficient,” Tressel said.

There was a fundamental change in philosophy that led naturally to the more efficient approach. Under Conley, the Buckeyes took a “numbers” approach, often entertaining more players than they could offer scholarships to, and always offering more scholarships than they could grant. This year, however, the focus was not on numbers, but on qualifying each prospect and offering only those who were actually on the OSU wish list, and who the coaching staff felt they could take given the needs of the team, etc.

“We never want to offer more than we can take. It’s not like we had 50 offers out there and said the first 20 come on, which some people do. We kind of offer as we feel there is definitely room,” said Tressel.

It was a change in the way business is done at OSU, but one that the coaching staff seemed in general to like.

“As long as you bring in the right guys. You don’t want to bring in a whole bunch of guys you haven’t offered scholarships to,” said defensive backs coach and co-defensive coordinator Mel Tucker.

“You want to bring in guys that you’re serious about, that you’re willing to take the commitment from if they commit on the visit.”

If you got an invitation to visit, that meant that the Buckeyes had room for you and were interested in you, and if you wanted to be a Buckeye, they were ready to take you. Of course, the smaller number of visits meant that the Buckeyes had to close a higher percentage of players who made official visits, but according to Luke Fickell, that sort of follows from the philosophy.

“If you bring in a bunch of guys on a weekend, and say you have five linebackers in, I can’t really pay close enough attention to any one of them to really get the job done. When there was just one linebacker on campus, he had my complete attention, and I think that conveys something to the recruits,” said Fickell

“You can spend more focused time on the kids if you have those kinds of numbers,” Fickell added.

“I think it’s pretty special to bring in as few as we did and get as many as we did. You have to be more selective, but it’s great,” agreed defensive line coach Jim Heacock.

In addition to the overall efficiency of the new approach, there is another aspect that Tressel likes. According to Tressel, it’s a more honest approach that doesn’t lead to false hopes for athletes and the parents of athletes. By not bringing in players that really won’t get an offer or that the Buckeyes are not sold on, OSU does not put itself in the position of having to disappoint those people.

“The one thing that is very difficult about recruiting is that the most important principals involved in it are the kids and their families, and it’s the first time they’re doing it,” said Tressel.

“They get tussled back and forth. They get excited about it, then they got worn down by it. Then there’s irritability in the household because the phone is ringing and the Internet service is calling, the recruiting service is calling, the TV is calling, the radio and newspaper is calling, the coaches are calling, their friends are calling, so if there is anything we could change, it would be to make it a little less stressful on the kids.”

For Tressel, that seemingly includes not raising false hopes for kids just for the sake of numbers in the recruiting process.

It’s a different approach, but it’s typical Jim Tressel, and at least for this year, the Buckeyes’ recruiting staff pulled it off. OSU closed on all but nine of the players that made official visits. That’s a great batting average that left an absolute minimum number of disappointed families across Ohio and the country.

Recruiting Notes:

* The Buckeyes were assumed to have an uphill climb this recruiting season due to the avalanche of negative publicity and threat of NCAA sanctions on the football program. According to Tressel, those problems didn’t seem to materialize. Tressel’s approach to tough questions from recruits was simple: just tell the truth.

“I want to be up front and honest with them from the day I start recruiting him, because I’m going to want to be up front and honest with them and candid when they’re here. I don’t think that puts us at a competitive disadvantage. I think anytime honesty and the truth, that never puts you at a disadvantage,” said Tressel.

* The Buckeyes signed 18 players, leaving themselves about two players short of the maximum 85 allowed by the NCAA. According to Tressel, that was according to plan.

“John Peterson told me we have 16 seniors next year. We always like to have in the 18 range to give in a recruiting class, so I don’t think it hurts to be a little conservative and not overbook,” said Tressel.

By shorting this class by two, the Buckeyes can “bank” the scholarships toward next year’s class, or award them to deserving walk-ons this season.

“We like to keep a couple for that,” said Tressel. “We’ve awarded about 12 scholarships to walk-ons since I’ve been here.