By Rob Oller
COLUMBUS: Tom Herman knew how to recruit before working for Urban Meyer, but it didn’t take the Ohio State offensive coordinator long to learn what makes his boss one of the best recruiters in college football.
Herman picked up on it in two words: shut up.
Meyer was more diplomatic than that, but essentially his message to Herman was to talk less and listen more.
“The biggest thing I learned in the last year from coach Meyer is: stop talking,” Herman said in discussing the finer points of recruiting that helped Ohio State land one of the top classes in the country on national signing day yesterday. “He said, ‘Tom, this is what I think of you, and here’s how I think you could make your biggest improvement.’ ”
Meyer explained that coaches need not fill the dead air in their conversations with recruits by talking through the awkward silence.
“Eventually, they’re going to start talking about themselves, and a kid you might think is quiet — because you’ve kept rambling — maybe isn’t that quiet,” Herman said. “If you give him a few seconds of that uncomfortable silence, he’ll start opening up to you.”
That insight not only sheds light on Meyer’s extraordinary feel for recruiting, but it also shows how he demands his assistants be teachable. If assistants can’t learn to recruit to Meyer’s standards, they aren’t long for his staff.
“The way I evaluate … when I put a staff together is (they) have to go out and find quality student-athletes. That’s the No. 1 job description,” Meyer said. “If you as a coach can’t bring in a good player, your value, there’s no value, because it’s the lifeblood of what we do.”
Meyer’s advice might not have been central to helping Herman pull three recruits out of talent-rich Texas, where the Buckeyes traditionally have not fared well. Herman already knew the Lone Star State, having coached at five Texas colleges over 11 years. And his recruiting instincts go back even further.
“I stalked my wife for six months before she said yes to go out with me,” he said. “I asked her every other week, and the next thing you know, we’ve been married 12 years. And I certainly wasn’t her first choice.”
But recruiting success and failure rides on such a small margin of error that outmaneuvering a rival recruiter often comes down to how well an assistant coach clicks with the high-school player. And Meyer isn’t about to leave that to chance. So he monitors his assistants and offers tips when necessary.
“That’s the biggest area I’ve improved: I talk less and listen more,” Herman said.
What hasn’t changed is the amount of work that goes into building trust with an 18-year-old who has five other schools also trying to befriend him.
For Herman, that meant meandering across Texas and “staying in a different hotel every night.” For co-defensive coordinator Everett Withers, it meant hanging out in a barber shop in Chattanooga, Tenn.
Withers worked months getting to know safety Vonn Bell, who played football at Ridgeland (Ga.) High School, near the Tennessee border and Chattanooga. When Bell signed with OSU yesterday, Meyer credited Withers with the best start-to-finish recruiting job he has ever seen.
“It is the octopus approach: Surround him, wrap your tentacles around him and every person in his family, his coach, the people …” Meyer said.
Withers explained, “It’s about relationships B, and you want to find out as much as you can, good or bad about a young man.”
So Withers got to know “Chris the barber” and became an expert on the best barbecue joints in southern Tennessee.
Meyer resembled the proud papa as he praised his coaches for their recruiting work. He might be the ultimate closer, but he knows it’s his assistants who open the door.
And they better do it well. Or else.
Rob Oller is a sports reporter for the Columbus Dispatch.