Wooing football recruits to the University of Hawaii — even with the promise of a slice of paradise — could be a logistical nightmare for Nick Rolovich during his four seasons as the Rainbow Warriors’ coach.
The distance from the mainland, and the associated travel costs to and fro, are inherent challenges in attracting recruits to Hawaii.
Then there was the football program’s bare-bones budget, which afforded Rolovich just two operations staffers and one recruiting coordinator, who was, it turns out, a student intern. Those three supplemental staffers made Hawaii’s operations team the smallest such staff in the Mountain West Conference, and one of the smallest in college football, according to a 2017 NCAA survey of staff sizes.
To offset those issues, Rolovich often relied on outside input — specifically, tips from fans on social media directing him and his coaches to potential recruits they might not have seen on their own.
“We got a lot of help in Hawaii from social media, and from fans who would send us emails and send us film. And we would check ’em out,” Rolovich said. “We looked at (those fans) as part of our recruiting department.”
Wooing high-end recruits to Pullman has its inherent challenges, too, particularly when Washington State is competing against teams from big-city Pac-12 counterparts in Seattle, Los Angeles or the Bay Area.
Rolovich knows that, and he’s shown he knows how to adapt.
“The good thing is, it is similar to Hawaii, but in a different way. We didn’t trick anyone to come to Hawaii,” said Rolovich, named the Cougars’ coach Jan. 15. “It’s the same here. We’re not going to be selling big buildings and freeways and all the flash that some of the other schools might have. You have to have a filter for guys who want to be here, to be in great college-town experience.”
Rolovich will go through his first signing day at Washington State on Wednesday. He picked up his first WSU commitments from three recruits over the past two days: The first from Chau Smith, a three-star defensive back from Chicago; Kentwood three-star defensive back Alphonse Oywak committed Monday night; and Tuesday morning, from three-star receiver Mike Pettway out of Alabama.
The past few years, the Cougars had six operations staffers and three recruiting coordinators — the smallest operations/recruiting staff in the Pac-12, according to that 2017 NCAA survey. Rolovich plans to double the size of his recruiting staff, to six.
“It’s definitely more than we’ve had in the past. Now it’s, what is the flow chart going to look like a far as hierarchy of the recruiting department? Because there’s definitely resources to be used. And having those extra eyes that can really concentrate on (recruiting), you can really get the filter going at higher level and you can be more efficient.
“The net you cast (for recruits) is bigger. You’re not searching everywhere, but you’re able to go through more kids, contact more coaches, just by sheer number of people on your staff.”
Even in his first few weeks at WSU, he said the added recruiting help has paid off.
“It’s been pretty amazing to see how effective the process can be,” he said.
During December’s early signing period, the Cougars (with then-coach Mike Leach) signed 18 recruits. Only one of those signees was from the state of Washington — compared with six for the University of Washington.
Rolovich said in his introductory news conference that closing that gap will be a priority. The commitment from Oywak — who was previously committed to Arizona — is a promising start.