Based on the woman he so missed when she was in Buffalo and he was starting his new job in Lawrence, the woman he married, it’s obvious Turner Gill never was one to shy away from asking out the prettiest girl in the class.
Gill approaches recruiting the same way. Some might snicker when they learn that Kansas is knocking on the doors of elite recruits. So what?
“Coach Gill’s deal is to make them tell you no,” said Reggie Mitchell, KU’s recruiting coordinator and running backs coach. “We’re going to recruit the very best player there is that fits our system. If they tell us no, we’ll move on. But we’re not going to shy away from recruiting anyone.”
Elite college basketball and football recruits are under so much pressure from family members, friends and coaches who want them to sign with the most prestigious suitor so they can brag about it, it’s difficult for the talented teenagers to do otherwise. Such slotting helps KU recruit elite basketball recruits and causes them to lose football blue chips.
“Some guys say, ‘Hey, don’t spin your wheels. Know who you can get and recruit them.’ Coach Gill has instructed us to make ’em say no,” Mitchell said.
That sounds like risky business. Teenagers have so much trouble saying no, don’t they?
“Not really,” Mitchell said. “They’ll say no. Even if they don’t, you can tell when you’re talking to them.”
Fear of rejection can’t come into play when trying to land a recruit.
“When you call them and they’re picking up, taking your call, it’s kind of like dating,” Mitchell said. “If she really likes you, she’s going to be receptive. If not, she’s not going to pick up.”
Mitchell knows recruiting. During his first tenure at Kansas (1988-96), working for Glen Mason, Mitchell recruited NFL stars Dana Stubblefield and Gilbert Brown and many others who played for pay. From there, he worked at Minnesota, Michigan State and Illinois before signing on with Gill. At Michigan State, he recruited Charles Rogers, the second overall pick in the 2003 NFL Draft.
To an extent, a salesman is only as good as his product. What is Mitchell selling?
“The thing we’re selling and are going to continue to sell is coach Gill,” Mitchell said. “He’s a guy you can sell because of the success he had as a player, the success he had at Buffalo and just the way he treats the players. The hardest thing about recruiting at KU is getting them on campus. Once you get them on campus, it sells itself.”
“It’s just a friendly place, a place you feel safe,” Mitchell said. “When I was here the first time, the thing I used to sell is at least when their child is here you don’t have to worry about anything happening to them. A lot of the kids we recruited were from major cities. Then when you got the parent out here and the kid out here, they felt it. Think about all the former players who still live here because it’s a great place to raise a family.”
When losses mount this season as the new coach gets to know his team and inexperienced players at key positions learn on the job, focus on the future and hope the aim-high gamble pays off for Gill as well professionally as it has personally.