Last night, on February 8th, Bear Insider hosted their annual recruiting event presentation in Los Angeles, and I was on hand to make sure CGB was represented. The event was about hearing Sandy Barbour, LB Coach Kenwick Thompson, and Jim McGill (BI’s recruiting reporter) talk about the greatness that was this year’s recruiting class. This is Part I in a two part series of Q&A that I'll post.
I was all prepared to ask Sandy some tough questions before I realized it was going to cost me $30 (remember that next time you’re buying beers, Avi). Still, I made the trek to Mountaingate Country Club nonetheless. Ok, so the country club alone was pretty cool, its not every day I get to hang out at one of these….several double-breasted suits were running around, and a lot of Old Blues were in attendance.
As I talked to people before the session got started, I realized there are a LOT of lawyers among us! My first impression was, wow these people must be pretty important, and I tried to rub elbows as much as I could in between bites of gourmet sliders and cheeses (had to eat my $30 worth). It dawned on me that this is how recruits must feel when they’re courted by a school. Ah yes! That’s why I was here wasn’t it?
Ok, seriously I’m going to get to the point sooner or later. I tightened up the balls, and sat down for what would become 3 hours of awesomeness hearing about Cal recruiting.
I was feeling a little anxiety over whether I could take good notes. It’s been a while since I’ve been in a classroom, and at work I don’t participate in meetings; I sit there surfing CGB on my iPhone. So I made some extra scribbles and thought about how I would phrase some of the questions. Here are some of the highlights.
I’ll start with Sandy’s presentation, before focusing purely on football.
Sandy question #1: What's your most important goal for 2011?
Response: Building the Cal brand (you’ll hear a lot more of this theme), and reinforcing it in everything we do. We want to identify the Cal brand as character; making good decisions even when nobody is looking; focusing on the success of student athletes early on, pointing out the Aaron Rodgers’s of our community, the Natalie Coughlin’s. Its hard to imagine the pressure these kids have on them, as they’re 17-22 year olds trying to make good decisions 100% of the time, but this is the brand we are trying to build.
Sandy question #2: Is Colorado a done deal for our 2011 schedule? What about the other open slot in the schedule, would it go to an "A" level team like TCU?
Response: Colorado was just formally signed today (Tuesday, Feb 8th), so that’s official and they will not count as a conference game. We consider them the "A" team for the schedule, and we will absolutely NOT (she was very adamant about this point) schedule TCU. We will play Fresno at a NEUTRAL (again, emphasis) site in Candlestick Park, and consider them to be our "B" level opponent. We will schedule some lower division team as our "C" level opponent.
Sandy question #3: Any updates on building a Pac-12 television network like Texas just created?
Response: Texas built that, and is going to use that as leverage for whatever they decide to do about moving to another conference in the near future. The Pac-12 is working on a deal but we will honor our existing commitments to other networks while we work something out (she didn’t explicitly commit to it, but for all intents and purposes indicated we should look to having a Pac-12 network in place by the 2013 season).
Sandy question #4: What's going on with BCS contraction? Will we see fewer BCS conferences in the near future?
Response: This is on the minds of all AD’s right now, as we’re discussing the feasibility of contracting from 6 BCS conferences down to 4 within 4-5 years.
Sandy question #5: What influence do the Pac-12 AD's have on officiating and is this something you're currently involved with?
Response: The AD’s have a lot of influence on the officiating, and this week have been meeting with Pac-12 leadership to evaluate and diagnose the issues with officiating in both football and basketball. The current sentiment is that there is a deficiency in the quality of the officiating, and we’re developing a plan to address it. It’s one of the hottest issues being addressed at the moment.
Sandy question #6: With what level of certainty will we be playing games in Memorial in 2012?
Response: With 100% certainty we will play in Memorial Stadium in 2012. This doesn’t mean that the stadium will be finished, nor can we say with certainty that we will be ready to play the first game of the 2012 season in Memorial. What we can commit to is that we will be back in Memorial at some point in 2012, hopefully if all goes according to plan by the first game. As far as the degree of completion, if needed we will have the stadium in "playable condition" that will not pose inconveniences or any risks to fans or players.
After that part of the Q&A, it was onto the recruiting and football portion of the presentations, starting with the recruiting process, and then talking about the recruits themselves.
Recruiting process: Coach Thompson gave some solid insights into the recruiting process, the psychology of both the coaching staff and the recruits themselves, and what it means when kids "get it". Coach started off the night on a funny note when he handed the mic back to the MC and said "a linebacker coach shouldn’t need a mic when he speaks".
Recruiting question #1: What is the top characteristic that you look for in recruits?
Coach T said more than anything, the coaches look for guys who "get it". What is "it"? "It" is the Cal brand: the Bay Area being the #1 destination for both leisure and work across the country, the Haas School of Business, College of Engineering, English, History, and Chemistry being ranked in the top 3 of schools across the country. Kids for whom "it" resonates will be willing to come across the country to go to school here.
More about "the Cal brand": Coach T talked about the importance of selling the message that these kids will continue to be "Cal men" long after they stop being "Cal athletes", and pointed out a couple cool statistics: 50% of Cal athletes go on to get advanced degrees, and the median salary for Cal athletes in their careers is over $202,000! Cool stuff!
Recruiting question #2: Some guys play multiple positions in high school, how do you decide what side of the ball they'll play once they get here?
Coach T said simply: "You ask them what position they want to play. Because more than anything, you want them to be motivated to come in and play the role they see themselves most comfortable in, so that they in turn are motivated to be here and contribute."
Recruiting question #3: What is the impact of social networking sites?
Response: Social networking sites are really important, and all of the coaches have Facebook pages, post photos of their current and past players on their site so that kids see "the family". In this day and age, there are no secrets, and you can’t promise something to one kid that you can’t deliver on, because kids will post things on their pages too. Word spreads fast among recruits, and they’re all connected on each other’s Facebook pages, so you have to be very careful what you say both in public and privately.
Recruiting question #4: We didn't have any major surprises (positive or negative) in recruiting this year, why is that?
Coach T: This year more than ever, we focused on kids who "got it" (you guys see a pattern here?) early on in the process, so they were bought into what we want to accomplish. We targeted guys who fit better with the message and with the system, and guys who weren’t a fit went separate ways sooner in the cycle.
Recruiting question #5: As a follow up to the previous question, were there any recruits that you missed out on that you wish had chosen Cal?
With a smile and a wink, Coach T said: "Yes, but I’ve already forgotten his name". Nice.
Recruiting question #6: How much time do you guys devote to watching game film, and what about time spent actually seeing the kids play in person?
Surprisingly: We watch tape from 6pm-midnight nearly every day between June and January, and part of that is a result of all the DVDs and video that come in from recruits and recruiting services. In fact, each coach gets about 20 DVDs per day to review, and with varying qualities in video production, we have to study them carefully. More than anything, we don’t want to be the coach that overlooked "that kid" that went on to become a star (e.g. Aaron Rodgers). As for seeing kids play in person, we always want to see kids play live at least once, because you want to make sure that a guy who is listed as 6’2" and looks like he’s 6’2" on film isn’t actually 5’9" in person just because they play in a league with a bunch of short kids (not sure why, but I took offense to his comments about height, and I reminded him that I still have 4 years of eligibility remaining).
Recruiting question #7: How did last year's and this year's recruits feel about the turnover in coaching staff, and what impact did it have on recruiting?
Coach Thompson: We preach the message about becoming "Cal men" and we stress that we’re putting the right generals in command of the troops, the best generals to turn them into men that we can deploy to grow and mature them. We overcame the initial apprehension about the changes by focusing on the system as a whole. Most of these recruits, they build a relationship with their position coach, but it’s Coach Tedford who comes in and closes the deal. So if they resonate with him, and what he’s all about, then they’re going to buy into the system as a whole.
In Part II (coming next week), I delve into evaluations of each recruit, and who you might be seeing suit up early in AT&T Park in 2011.