CHAPEL HILL — North Carolina is expected to sign a top-10 ranked football recruiting class on Wednesday, including seven in-state players rated four stars or higher by rivals.com.
How did the Tar Heels dominate recruiting in the state? Does UNC have the space to sign them all? And what does recruiting have to do with Heidi Klum?
UNC football coach Butch Davis addressed those topics with the N&O last Friday.
Q: What’s your strategy with in-state recruiting, and why do you think you have been so successful?
A: There’s several factors. Every year, you’ve got to have a strategy. Signing Day is a culmination of more than 12 months. I’m not going to say it’s a two-year project, but of 12 to14 months worth of planning.
Like the last two months, we’ve been looking exclusively of tape and stuff of 2010 kids.
We’re already starting to work on ‘10 because — not that ‘09 is already put to bed —- but a significant amount of it is put to bed and done with the commitments and stuff. That allows us to spend sometime projecting and talking about positions and players and areas and stuff.
When I took the job, I made the statement that one of the most important things we can do at the University of North Carolina in building this program is to make sure that we build it, beginning in the state of North Carolina. That’s where we need to start. We’ve had coaches that have gone into every high school in this state almost every year. Whether they have players or not, we want to coaches to know that we care about the state of North Carolina. And it takes a while to get that traction going.
In ‘07 they’re there, ‘08 they’re there, now in ‘09 we’re there.
And it takes a while. And a huge big part of that is the consistency and the continuity of the coaching staff, so the same face that you know is walking through that door. ...
[We’re] seeing them at high school football games, they’re seeing them at clinics, they’re seeing them at basketball games, they’re seeing them when they come to visit our games.
So they know who we are and what we’re all about as people ... We’re going to start every year in this state. And when we recruit out of state, it’s generally because there’s somebody out of state that might not be in the state.
There might not be enough of a certain position, or they might not be a position -- there may be a year that there just isn’t anybody at that position.
... You're still going to chase the best players around the country; that will never stop. But if there’s a kid — a Marvin Austin — that is a great player, and he expresses an interest in us, we're going to follow up on that. ... You can't canvas the country; it's too big, it's too expensive, it's too time-consuming.
But we want to make sure we always have the great players here in North Carolina.
So starting here, and having continuity with the assistant coaching staff, and then the consistent success of the program. As the program has gotten better, we're on TV more, winning games more, going to bowl games, the kids start to see the vision of where the program is going, and what it can be.
Q: So this year’s success is the culmination of all the work since you’ve gotten here?
A: It’s not the culmination, but it’s climbing the mountain. It’s just like the team; we’re still getting traction and still gaining momentum, because you have to build credibility with the high school coaches, with the kids you’re recruiting.
Kids coming to camp has been unbelievably invaluable because the first year, we got a few kids in. Then the next year, we got a lot of kids in. ...With our first two classes and the incoming ‘09 class, I would say that 75 percent of the kids that we’ve signed, at least, have been to a camp here -- either a one-day camp or a three-day camp or a skill camp.
So we got a chance to work with them, but they got a chance to know us and build a relationship. Because you want to find kids that are on fire to be in your program. This is not like me trying to talk Heidi Klum into getting married; this is trying to find kids that are good matches. Are they going to be inspired by being coached by John Shoop or Sam Pittman or John Blake or Everett Withers?
And if the chemistry’s right, kids are going to have a lot of success.
In the first couple of years, when I first took the job, we were probably 18 months behind everybody, because all the kids we were trying to recruit that year, and all the kids we were trying to recruit for the next year, had those relationships going with school in the area.
They’d been to Phil Fulmer’s camp when they were a freshmen or a sophomore, so they kind of knew about Clemson or they knew about Virginia Tech, or they knew somebody else. So subsequently, we were always behind.
We were trying to talk somebody out of getting married to somebody that they had been dating for a while.
Now, it's kind of like a level playing field because the kids that we’re talking to now, they didn’t have any preconceived ideas about where they were going their sophomore year, before we had a chance to get to know them.
Q: With so few senior leaving , how difficult is it to come up with a formula that will keep you within the mandates of signing 25 players a year, and having only 85 athletes on scholarship per year?
A: You never know how many available scholarships you’re going to have. Last year, was it going to be 17, 18, 19, 20? You don't know who’s going to get hurt and have career-ending injuries; you don’t know who is going to graduate, and feel very comfortable and feel like, 'I had a great four-year career; I’m not going to the NFL, but I had a great career, I’m going to get my degree, I’m going to move on with my life.'
You don't know those kinds of things, you don’t know about Hakeem Nicks.
The number we're going to sign next Wednesday would be one less if Hakeem would have said he was staying. Hakeem would have been one of the best recruits we had gotten in ‘09 if he had chosen to stay.
And that’s going to be a mission, that in future years.
... The success I had in Miami in the early years — Warren Sapp went out before I got there, but Ray Lewis went out early ... Kenard Lang went out early, and we kept being 9-3 and 9-3. And the difference between the 11-1 and 12-0 teams was the Santana Mosses and Reggie Waynes and those types of guys stayed for their senior years.
And when you get the types of high profile guys on your team, and you can — look at Ohio State, they played like 23 seniors in that game. And I watched the Orange Bowl, the Fiesta Bowl, the Rose Bowl, the National Championship Game. Florida was the only team that had less than 15 to 18 seniors.
Most all of them had 18, 19, 20 -- Oklahoma, USC -- Ohio State was at the far end of the spectrum, I think they had 23 seniors.
So the difference in 2010, '11, '12, '13 is to realize that 'I could leave early, and I might go in the second, third, fourth round, or if I stay, we might be in the national championship [picture], win the ACC, and I might move up.' Which is what all those kids at Miami ended up doing, they all ended up creeping into the first round; but if they had left, they would probably not have gone as first-round draft choices.
So each year at the start, how many we're going to have for 2010, we can project, we know what the minimum is. But we don’t know what the ceiling's going to be, because who’s going to graduate early? Who's going to potentially get hurt, and those kinds of things? We hope as we go forward there will be less and less of the discipline things that would create other opportunities.
But you don't know with some of the kids that have left the program, you couldn't project that stuff.
So to sit here, I don’t have that crystal ball to figure out where we’re going to be in 2010, where we’ll be in 2011 and those kinds of things.
Ideally, I will tell you, that once the program gets sorted out, once we’ve been here probably hopefully four years, maybe going into the fifth year, ideally what you’d like to have are senior classes somewhere between 17 and 20, as a routine almost every year. If you've got 19 this year, then you’ve got 17, you've got 20, you’ve got 19 again — and even if one guy decides to go early in the draft, it just gives you one more number.
You don't spike at 25, but you also don't crater out at 12 or 13.
Ideally, you'd like not to be at either one of those, you want to be somewhere in the middle so that you can bring in 18, 19, 20 true freshmen every single year.
Q: When you don’t know the exact number of scholarships that will be available, how do you say to a recruit, "Come to my school, I have a scholarship for you?"
A: Thirty-five years of experience, of knowing what we'll have. You know that there are kids who will graduate, that they've had a wonderful career; they spent four years, and they know that life after football is that season — 'I'm not going to the NFL, I'm going to use my Carolina education, I'm going to start networking with alumni, I'm going get a degree, I'm going to start my career, I'm going to get married, whatever it is.'
And you can speculate, you know what the hard number is, but then you can say there's probably going to be three, four or five of those kinds of guys every single year.
Q: So there's no doubt in your mind that you’ll get to 85/25 mandate by Wednesday?
A: There was never any doubt, never any doubt at all.