WSU coach Mike Leach has not shied away from hiring assistant coaches who don’t have West Coast connections, and the class WSU has put together ahead of Wednesday’s national signing day with three four-star recruits shows that pre-existing connections don’t matter as much as a recruiter’s work ethic.
Until he accepted his job as Washington State’s outside-linebackers coach, Roy Manning had never lived on the West Coast.
So when Manning joined Alex Grinch’s defensive coaching staff at WSU in January 2015, he was immediately faced with a novel challenge: How to make recruiting inroads with prep coaches and prospects in a part of the country he had no ties to.
“It’s some work because you just don’t have that network or this established database of guys you know,” Manning said. “It’s a lot of busy work at first.”
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WSU coach Mike Leach has not shied away from hiring assistant coaches who don’t have West Coast connections, and the class WSU has put together ahead of national signing day on Wednesday with three four-star recruits shows that pre-existing connections don’t matter as much as a recruiter’s work ethic.
Manning is a native of Saginaw, Mich., who played at Michigan before a three-year NFL career that got him as far west as Houston. But he isn’t the only WSU coach without previous West Coast ties.
Special-teams coordinator Eric Mele is a New Jersey product who spent his career on the East Coast, offensive-line coach Clay McGuire played and coached in Texas and came to WSU from East Carolina in Greenville, N.C., while the newest addition to the staff, defensive-line coach Jeff Phelps, was born and raised in Chicago and has never worked outside the Midwest.
“A good recruiter can recruit anywhere if he’s persistent and diligent and can communicate with young kids and can also talk to their parents and coaches,” said Dave Emerick, WSU’s football chief of staff.
It can, however, be more difficult for coaches who come to the West Coast without any ties to the region to make an immediate impact here, says Brandon Huffman, Scout.com’s National Recruiting Director.
“It’s such a regionally based conference,” Huffman said of the Pac-12. “It’s not like a guy who’s coaching the SEC and then goes to the ACC — they’re recruiting the same region all the time. But unless you’re really recruiting in Southern California, you’re not recruiting the entire West Coast (if you’re) outside of the Pac-12.
“It’s a different animal in terms of the surrounding area, in terms of the school you’re trying to recruit to. It’s a different mentality and mindset out here.”
Huffman points to USC’s Tee Martin and WSU’s Manning as two Pac-12 assistants who’ve managed to quickly find success recruiting on the West Coast despite having no previous ties to the region.
Martin had a slightly easier time of it because USC has more of a national brand, Huffman said. It also helped that Martin, who’s from Alabama, played at Tennessee and coached at Kentucky, has contacts throughout the fertile recruiting grounds of the Southeast.
“Roy Manning had a very easy transition for WSU,” Huffman said. “It was real different for him in terms of the fan support and financial support that he had when he was recruiting for Michigan.”
Manning was assigned the Los Angeles region for the Cougars, and he was the lead recruiter in WSU’s signing of Downey High safety Jalen Thompson, who finished his first season as a freshman All-American; defensive lineman Derek Moore, who played in every game as a freshman; and receiver Renard Bell, who redshirted in 2016.
Hit the ground running
When Manning joined the Cougars, his first priority was to make the rounds with the linebacker recruits who had already committed to WSU, or whom the Cougars were targeting.
But he also tried to get ahead of the game by introducing himself to prep coaches in his assigned region.
“As soon as I was assigned the Los Angeles area, the first thing I’m doing is gathering a list of every single high school, and making a phone call to all of them and trying to get in touch with the head coaches over there,” Manning said.
Manning wasn’t starting entirely from scratch. Dennis Simmons had recruited Los Angeles for the Cougars before him, and WSU uses a recruiting-database service called ASC that helps compile and track the Cougars’ contacts at the various high schools throughout their recruiting areas. However, Manning had to do the legwork to ensure his list was up to date.
So that January was a busy time — though not anywhere near as busy as Manning’s first spring on the road for the Cougars.
“I went to every single high school in Los Angeles and Los Angeles County,” Manning said. “Los Angeles is tough because of the traffic. Typically, if you really hammer the area you can get to about 10 or 12 schools a day, but you gotta be flyin’ to do that.
“I got to about six to eight high schools per day for 2½ to three weeks straight. There were times that first year when I went to schools that didn’t even have a football program. I didn’t know. I crossed those schools off the list for the second year.”
That first spring, Manning said he made no distinction between schools that had reputations as football powerhouses and schools that hadn’t sent a recruit to the FBS level in decades.
“It’s all about relationships,” Manning said. “You want to try to get to know all the coaches because a lot of times, these coaches help you out big-time. Even if they don’t have a (Division I-caliber) player, they know the coaches who do, or played against them.
“That’s the stuff you can’t find out unless you talk to or interact with people. It’s probably one of my favorite parts of recruiting.”
Jack Williams, the football coach at Downey High, met Manning while the Cougars were recruiting Thompson.
He remembers being impressed by Manning’s sincerity and his genuine interest in Thompson.
“Roy is sincere, and that comes off from the get-go,” Williams said. “I’ve had other coaches who came in, didn’t know who Jalen was, found out he had a bunch of offers, and offered him right there. Coach Manning is one of the few who want to get to know the kid personally before they offer. That’s how he developed that relationship with Jalen.”
Williams also appreciates how Manning has kept in touch even after Thompson’s recruitment process.
“I’ve been head coach here for six years. I’ve run into maybe 300 coaches that come and go. I stay in contact with only three of them outside recruiting. Manning is one of them,” Williams said. “Every now and then, I’ll get a text from him, ‘Hey, just wanna check in on you and see how things are going?’ Or ‘Happy Thanksgiving, hope the family is good.’ Manning is good about that.”
Maintaining a recruiting edge
Ultimately, there’s no shortcut to building relationships. It comes down to good, old-fashioned face time.
“I say it’s just like dating. If I want a kid, I’ve got to know them and their parents and their girlfriends. I’ve got to know what makes this kid tick,” Manning said. “You’ve gotta really have great lines of communication with the kids and be able to answer their questions. They sometimes call you early or late, and I feel like as a recruiter, you’ve got to make yourself available at all times.
“I tell them no question is a dumb question, even if it’s not about WSU, or if it’s just about the process.”
Recruiting takes place almost year round and now extends into the cybersphere as well.
That’s part of the reason why, last season, Manning got in the habit of filming a minute-long video of himself after every victory. The video clips generally show a fired-up Manning recapping high points of the game from the perspective of the Air Raid offense, WSU’s “Speed D” defense and special teams, aka “Special Forces.”
“It’s genius,” Huffman said of Manning’s victory videos on Twitter. “That’s so much of how recruiting is nowadays: How energetic are you on social media? How hip are you to how kids are thinking and feeling? These kids are on Snapchat and Twitter 24/7. He’s dealing with the short attention spans of recruits.
“And he’s funny, he’s engaging and the personality is there. He’s hitting the market like he has to.”
Manning, 35, readily admits he started his victory videos with recruits in mind.
“I’d be lying if I said that wasn’t part of it,” he said. “I just think exposure is part of it. If you’re not constantly contacting these kids, if someone else is doing that, you’re going to lose ground.”
The videos have proved incredibly popular with Cougars fans and recruits, and Manning says he plans to continue the newly established tradition this year.
“I clearly don’t have much to say after a loss, so we’ve gotta make sure we win more than we lose this year,” Manning said. “But it’s all positive. All positive energy out there for Washington State University, and not just for football. I just want to continue to put the message out there. I think it’s exciting and the program is trending in the right direction.”
|WSU’s 2017 recruiting classThe Cougars have received 25 commitments. National signing day is Wednesday.Name
High schoolCole Dubots
Vista Murrieta (Calif.) HSFaavae Faavae
Mater Dei HS, Santa Ana, Calif.Sean Harper*
Holmes (Miss.) CCPreston Hendry
Orange Coast (Calif.) CollegeGeorge Hicks
Cajon HS, San Bernardino, Calif.Dallas Hobbs
Deerfield (Mass.) AcademyAlec Kuzmack
Eagle (Idaho) HSDamion Lee
Palm Springs (Calif.) HSIsaiah Love*
West Covina (Calif.) HSAbe Lucas
Archbishop Murphy HS, EverettDavontavean Martin
Ellender Memorial HS, Houma, La.Christian Mejia
Kailua (Hawaii) HSJonathan Nathaniel
Basha HS, Chandler, Ariz.Connor Neville
Wilsonville (Ore.) HSCaleb Perry
Kings School, ShorelineDontae Powell
Richland HSWill Rodgers Jr.
Valor Christian (Colo.) HSKelle Sanders
River Ridge HS, LaceyDominick Silvels
Patrick Henry HS, San DiegoJosh Talbott
Polytechnic HS, Long Beach, Calif.Willie Taylor
Bleckley County HS, Cochran, Ga.Robert Valencia*
City College of San FranciscoZaire Webb
Fletcher HS, Neptune Beach, Fla.Anthony White Jr.*
Miami (Fla.) Central HSEasop Winston*
City College of San Francisco*Already signed and enrolled at WSU