Sherman Morris is currently the assistant athletic director for recruiting at Arizona State. He came to Tempe from Baton Rouge where he served as LSU's director of player personnel for six years under Les Miles. All words are his own.
Recruiting is recruiting wherever you go. Some individuals view it as a job; others view it as a passion. I am fond of saying I haven’t worked a year in my life because what I do is a passion for me.
I don’t recruit. I help individuals change lives.
These young athletes are recruiting-savvy. They understand how the process works and come into contact with a lot of different people. The guys who earn commitments are the ones who have a passion, a calling. They believe in the work that they are doing and truly want to positively affect these young men's lives.
If you don’t love this—recruiting and changing lives—you can’t work in today's recruiting environment. It’s long hours, a lot of travel and a lot of sleepless nights. Ultimately, those individuals who succeed as recruiters have a purpose.
I had the privilege of being around great coaches, recruiters and support staff during my time at LSU. Coach Les Miles and recruiting coordinator Frank Wilson mean the world to me. So when Arizona State asked me to come over here last spring, I was a little hesitant. But they stayed with me and got me to understand what head coach Todd Graham was trying to accomplish.
I saw that Coach Graham has a vision and a passion for this program. Just being around him, you can tell. It is infectious. It resonated with me, and I am sure it will resonate with prospects and their families.
At the end of the day, recruiters and recruits must believe in the the vision and direction of the head football coach. A lot of guys commit to programs because of him. Prospects like assistant coaches, and assistants play an important role in recruiting, but that stability of the head coach is the key.
For us to be successful at Arizona State, we need to win here in the state of Arizona more than anything. History has taught us that ASU has won when we’ve been able to capture this state. We need the best players in the state of Arizona to play at ASU. Period.
We then need to be successful in the state of California. From there, we have the opportunity to expand our area of recruiting.
When I was at LSU, our focus was exactly the same. We win the state first. We want to get 90 to 95 percent of those prospects who are good enough to play for us.
I’m originally from South Florida, so I’ll use the University of Miami as an example. When the Canes were highly successful in the '80s, '90s and early '00s, the coaches were winning three counties: Dade, Broward and Palm Beach, each of which is no more than 100 miles from campus.
When you are successful, it always starts at home.
To build relationships with prospects and earn their commitment, we have to be where they are. Social media is where the prospects are now. What we need to take into consideration as college football professionals is that prospects don’t view recruiting like they did 10 years ago. They aren’t worried about how many times you call them. People don’t really talk on the phone as much anymore. It’s more about text messages, tweets and video conferencing.
The channels of communication have changed. We have to embrace that.
At Arizona State, we use social media for two purposes: to effectively communicate our brand—who we are—and to establish and maintain lines of communication.
It is a medium, a way of communicating, but it will never replace that personal relationship a student-athlete has with a position coach or head coach. That will always be a major part of the recruiting. Technology won’t change that.
You have to be willing to do the heavy lifting to learn as much as you can about each prospect not only on the field, but away from the game. That is how you make sure you have the right student-athletes for your philosophy, your program and your system.
I don’t like to recruit a kid just because he is talented. Individuals can get caught up in star rankings and things of that nature.
What you find in players who are successful is character, discipline, desire to get better and willingness to work. Do you want that high-profile guy? Sure. Everybody does. But the 2- or 3-stars, those are the guys who change your program. Those are the guys you need to do the most assessment work on.
Over the last few years, character assessment has taken a bigger role in the evaluation process. That is the No. 1 thing on Coach Graham’s agenda.
Sure, you are looking at what a kid can do on the field, but now coaches are going in and completing assessments with high school coaches and counselors who deal with the players as well.
Anybody can look at that top-10 list and say, "We’ll take any of those guys," but the reality of it is, nine out of 10 times, those players are not the guys who are going to come in and affect your program in the way you want it to be affected.
At LSU, Coach Wilson and I developed a process of evaluation that we firmly believe in, and I have been able to bring that process over here to ASU.
There are certain things that you look for in a prospect at a given position that you know will fit your system and help your program improve. That’s what you want to recruit to. We call it being responsible to our recruiting process.
We discourage falling in love with the idea of a 5-star prospect—it means nothing at all. A 5-star defensive end in a 3-4 is not a 5-star defensive end in a 4-3. He’s a tackle. If he is not in the right program, how is he a 5-star? I have visited with a variety of NFL and college coaches, and I can assure you that there is no magical formula for talent evaluation.
It is our job to understand Coach Graham’s offensive and defensive philosophies and populate our board with individuals who fit our program's philosophy and systems that we utilize on offense, defense and special teams.
If you study the great NFL or collegiate programs, those that are successful over time have a model of what they want to get accomplished, and they either draft, trade or recruit those types of players to that system. They are interchangeable.
While I was at LSU, the defensive ends and defensive backs looked a certain way, the tackles looked a certain way, and so on down the line. It’s just who’s up next because you have a system in place that allows you to recruit to that mold all the time.
At Arizona State, we use a complex model of evaluation where we measure and evaluate many different characteristics.
The player-type model—desirable height/weight ranges for a given position—is one component. You also want to know if he can play special teams. Special-teams action provides young players an opportunity to get on the field immediately, adjust to the speed of the game and earn valuable experience. We want to make sure we recruit guys who can impact special teams on Day 1.
In terms of attracting the student-athletes we target, the thing that is going to make us different from anyone else is Coach Graham: his vision, his direction and the passion he has for student-athletes.
Football is just one part of what we do. Our model is Graham 360. It is a comprehensive approach for developing student-athletes from a holistic standpoint. We’re not just touching guys in one or two aspects of their lives. We are in every aspect.
Our coaches are in contact with our players on a daily basis. The level of player interaction I have seen at Arizona State is even more impressive than what I saw in the SEC.
We’re not recruiting kids for four years; we are recruiting them for 40 years. This is not a four-year commitment; it’s a lifetime commitment.
I still visit with former players from time to time. Patrick Peterson, Kevin Minter, Curtis Taylor and Tyrann Mathieu are in Arizona and know I’m here. Ultimately, I’m a resource when they need me. As long as life is going well, I just enjoy them from a distance because when they get to the NFL, there are so many people pulling them in so many different directions. I don’t want to be one of those guys.
When I have the opportunity to visit with former student-athletes, our conversations are typically about family, future goals and responsibilities. They always end with me encouraging them to make sure they complete their degrees. That was a promise.
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