Relationships and In-State Recruiting

We always hear about how back in the day, there was a fence around Nebraska. How no schools came in here to try and grab high school recruits because they knew how so few and far between they were to leave the state. Sure, you had your guys like Gale Sayers who went to Omaha Central but ended up at Kansas, or Trevor Robinson who was from Elkhorn and ended up at Notre Dame that you would lose, but the vast majority that we wanted stayed. Nebraska back in the day was a national contender, one of the few schools on TV every weekend, had a factory where basically every school in the state ran the same offense, and the narrative from outside coaches looking in was there weren’t as many quality recruits here as there would be in California, Texas, Georgia, Florida, etc. So why try?

Fast-forward 20 years and every team is on TV now, the “factory” of same offenses is pretty much everywhere in the United States, sites like Rivals/247/On3 have came about holding camps where kids can go get noticed, and people are starting to see players like Drew Ott, Harrison Philips, and Noah Fant not only leave the state for college but have outstanding college careers. There are certainly some factors that have changed for Nebraska.

But the one we are going to focus on today is the fact that this century, the staff with the most staying-power in Nebraska was Pelini’s. What I mean, is back in the day Turner Gill, Charlie McBride, Frank Solich, Ron Brown, Milt Tenopir, they were all staples within the football program. Coaches from Lincoln Southeast, Omaha Central, and everywhere else within the state knew them. They were familiar with them. So when they had someone, not only did we hear about it, but the high school coaches were comfortable enough to have the conversation. They weren’t scaerd to lob the email or phone call. This century we have had Solich, Callahan, Pelini, Riley, Frost, and now Rhule.

This past week we witnessed the University of Iowa come in and offer one of our in-state TEs before our new staff could:

There was some gamesmanship there… as the Iowa coaches snuck in and did this while all of our staff except 2 were down in Texas recruiting at a camp. “Where’s the Nebraska guys? Why haven’t they offered yet?”

I rattled off 6 head coaches for Nebraska in the 2000s up above, Iowa has had one. Kirk Ferentz. And for the most part his staff sticks around with him. Levar Woods who is primarily responsible for the Omaha area with the Hawkeye staff has been with Ferentz since 2008. Coaches within the state (and Omaha-proper particularly) are comfortable with him. When he calls or texts they know they can say “hey why don’t you take a look at this kid.” It’s a huge uphill battle that our new staff (again) has to overcome. He has the “ins”.

This isn’t to say the new staff isn’t working their tails off. We saw media and fans swoon over how the new staff was getting out to meet new coaches and high schools in the area. One of our coaches was tweeting so much about how many high schools he was at there was a message board that literally had a tracker for him. When they asked Coach Foley about it, he seemed surprised with the question that we were so taken aback by what he was doing:

He for sure is doing all the right things. But there are some things that take some sweat equity. I had a recent conversation with a high school coach where Foley was coming up to make his rounds. This particular coach already has a player on the team at Nebraska, and they have a kid on their team currently that is getting Power 5 looks (though no offer yet). Foley shows up and introduces himself to the coach, makes the small talk, and is on his way. No real look at the kid that is for sure going FCS at minimum while watching the weight session. Later that day, a coach from a different Power 5 program calls and asks specifically about the recruit to the head coach of the high school. The head coach tells him “hey by the way he will be at state competing against some other guys you have offers to.” The coach from the college says “well, I have plans down in California and into Colorado, but maybe I can get there instead.” That coach ends up at the State Track Meet and watches Nelson, Piper, and this kid and takes off. But those small school coaches were ready to stroke him off. Again, other teams just know what schools are producing some players.

Without some stability on our staff, Foley (and any of our coaches for that matter) won’t be able to create relationships with not only the coaches around the state, but the players on the team who many times are the best source of information for players who we should be going after to our coaches.

And I know what some of you are thinking… “Alabama doesn’t have stability and they do just fine.” I think there is a massive difference between recruiting NFL first-rounders that everyone knows about in high school, and trying to find the type of kids that help fill out classes at Nebraska, Iowa State, Iowa, and Kansas State.

And sometimes it takes more than stability. It takes effort (much like what Foley is giving). Frost’s first full recruiting class was in 2019, he signed the top 5 recruits in Nebraska that year. In 2020, he lost 1 of the top 3, he lost 2 of the top 3 in 2021, and lost all 3 of the top 3 in 2022 (actually lost the top 4). So while Frost and his team had stability, if you aren’t putting in the effort to build the relationships, you are still going to lose them. And we saw that manifest itself into things other than recruiting for that regime.

Just look at how quickly Mickey Joseph was able to turn some things around in-state (with the help of Bill Busch). He got out and hustled. It’s interesting, an in-state recruit and his parents basically had to tell Frost that he didn’t need to send MJ to see him anymore because “we were good there”. They wanted to see defensive coaches where the recruit was projected to play. MJ was putting in the work, but the relationship with the WR coach wasn’t what was important.

Another ‘X’ factor is when camps are for certain schools. For example, a 2025 recruit from Elkhorn North received an offer from Oklahoma because he camped there last week:

I don’t blame Rhule and his staff for this. They are new and will start ironing out their camp schedule to get in-state kids in here first. But it does bring up one of the “concerns” I have with this staff, and it is their affinity for Texas. Look, I know you need to have pipelines elsewhere. We aren’t building a championship football team with only kids from Nebraska, but we don’t have ANY local connections on this staff. It’s one of the reasons I thought Bill Busch had a real shot to be kept here. It’s one of the reasons I think he will be looked at to help if we do lose someone eventually from the staff. The question I would pose, is Flynt out of Texas a better 2024 prospect than Ingwerson out of Papio that is committed to Pitt? I appreciate us getting a former Texas high school coach to come up here and fill out the staff, and that state is where Rhule’s ties are, but not having a local flavor to the staff makes the battle for some of these in-state guys tougher than it needs to be. However, this staff seems to be doing much better than the previous two.

I also want to point out that this entire post about relationships is maybe a moot point if we are winning West division titles every once in awhile, but while we don’t have the wins on Saturday’s, things like what Foley is doing will pay huge dividends down the road if we can keep these guys around. Foley is here for the long haul. We get the wins, and he’s going to start hearing about these kids before other schools.

Here’s just hoping we made the right hire for once and we can develop these relationships over time and mitigate the advantage teams like Iowa over us. Again, we aren’t bashing this staff. The reality is we have more recruits from Texas committed for 2024 than here in the state of Nebraska, and Nebraska has at least 9 guys with Power 5 offers right now. Once we get these relationships going like they have in Texas, you’ll see some borders put up around our state.

Monday we will go over my thoughts on the 2024 in-state recruiting class as I think we should see a commit from in-state coming soon.

We are excited for our T-Shirt Etsy store that will be opening soon. We are planning to launch it June 26th along with a two-part series that i’m really pumped to release (already written). I appreciate anyone who has been donating through PayPal to keep this site going. The T-shirt store will be a way you can get something in return for your generosity since my rambling may sometimes not be worth anything.

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7 thoughts on “Relationships and In-State Recruiting

  1. Nothing against Foley but I definitely believed that would be Busch’s job. I thought the staff would want to keep one guy for continuity and he made the most sense to me. He already had the local connections and loves Nebraska so much he’d probably damn near do the job for free. Not to mention our special teams made big improvements under him and then he went and turned around our defense in the middle of the year to top it off. Foley is darn sure putting the time in but Busch would of had a big head start on having relationships already built. Simply I was surprised and a little disappointed that Busch wasn’t kept on staff.

    1. I actually thought the same. But I also understand Rhule’s relationship with Foley. The good thing with Busch is he wants to stay in Lincoln and can coach multiple areas in case we have someone bounce. I know Rhule is aware of him.

      Quite frankly if I could have picked one guy to keep from the previous staff it would have been Busch, not Raiola.

  2. Is it possible/likely that the staff let Busch go because they thought they had their in-state guy with MJ (until all the ugliness happened).

  3. This will be a long post. Parents got season tickets when the north stadium was expanded in the 1960’s. First game I got to go to was Army in 1970 as an 8 year old. They went undefeated the first two years I got interested in football and got to meet Devaney before he stopped coaching. At that age, I believed they would never lose a game. Naturally when they lost it would ruin my weekend as a kid. Every kid I knew wanted to play for NU back in the day. Of course many of us never had the talent to play at that level. I remember when NU’s freshman team (Gill was QB) played UNO’s JV team. It was a massacre as the talent discrepancy was pretty remarkable.

    At any rate, I guess I was lucky to see a stretch of NU football that may never be repeated again. I have no idea if they can get back to being relevant or not. If someone told me in 2001, that they wouldn’t have a conference championship for the next 20+ years and end up having 6 losing seasons in a row, I never would have believed it. Kids these days have no idea what NU was like 20 to 30 years ago. All they see is a team that can’t win games and gets blown out from time to time. If I was a kid growing up today and had the talent to play at NU I think I would be looking around as well.

    Rhule needs to turn this thing around now. IMHO he must get NU to a bowl game this upcoming season which means at least 6 wins. Another losing season and it’s going to be even tougher for recruiting going forward.

    1. For sure. There is a coach up in Omaha that came to Nebraska from the south and kids that he coaches now always ask “why did you come up here instead of going to Alabama?” He has to tell them that Nebraska WAS Alabama back in the day.

      I have faith that Rhule can get us to bowl games regularly. That’s not a tough task IMO. Getting to 9 or 10 so we can play for a conference title is where it will be interesting.

  4. Yeah I would’ve loved to have Busch retained, I thought he did an awesome job. But whenever there’s a head coach change I think you just have to kind of accept those assistant changes because the bottom line falls back with the HC.

    I think we’re on a great track with this staff for in state stuff.

    I think people will have to accept that no matter what we do from an in-state perspective and how good we are, there will be some kids who leave from time to time now much more then before, it’s just a much smaller world now. No doubt we weren’t doing all we could before though.

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