December 31, 2012
Recruiting focus is relationships, relentless approach
Willie Martinez paused briefly, the Vols' new secondary coach and resident SEC veteran asked to share what advice he might lend to the rest of Tennessee's first-year coaching staff under Butch Jones.
Martinez, like Jones' entire staff has done across its first three weeks on the job, made clear that everything circled back to recruiting.
"I think they're very aware of the conference itself and the respect it has nationwide. Recruiting never stops. Recruiting is every day. You can't stop recruiting," said Martinez, the former Georgia defensive coordinator who's recruited the Southeast for nearly two decades. "That's something that, you know, that's kind of like the one thing I would say to them every day. Even when a kid commits, that doesn't really mean anything until he signs. That's probably the one thing that sticks out."
Jones' inaugural Tennessee staff has burst from Rocky Top and recruited at an intense pace since Jones was tabbed to lead the Vols on Dec. 7. They got Northeast Tennessee standouts Malik Foreman and Devaun Swafford onto campus the last day before the dead period descended in mid-December, and both players committed this weekend.
"Recruiting never stops. Recruiting is every day. You can't stop recruiting." - Willie Martinez, UT secondary coach
Backing up Jones' promise to win in-state recruiting battles, the Vols also received a pledge from 2014 standout Vic Wharton on Christmas.
"I think it's a great idea. Just to make sure we cover the state as well as we possibly can," said running backs coach Jay Graham, the lone holdover and a former standout tailback at UT. "Every coach in this state should have a great relationship with the University of Tennessee and that comes from the assistant coaches."
Virtually each of the Vols' new assistants spoke of their fundamental belief that recruiting efforts centered on relationship building.
"It is relationships. Developing relationships with recruits, with our players, so much of what we do is based on the family environment and getting to know our players closely. We want to get to know our recruits so they know where we are coming from and the type of environment we are trying to create," offensive coordinator Mike Bajakian said. "The difficulty is that we are in a dead period where contact with recruits is limited so you explore all those avenues you can, reaching out to coaches. Number one we have to build those relationships with our current team, with recruits, that will help give us the foundation."
To that end, Martinez made clear he believed the long-established relationships of several of the Vols' new assistants --- Tommy Thigpen has recruited exceptionally well in the region for several years; like Martinez, defensive coordinator John Jancek spent some quality time at Georgia; recruiting coordinator Mike Azzanni previously worked at Florida and has several ties in the Miami area; and Graham has flourished at both South Carolina and UT on the recruiting trail --- would yield considerable dividends.
"That helps, that helps. We want to win this state. We want to do the best we can in the state of Tennessee. And (Georgia) would be the next state. I know the time we were at Georgia that we ended up turning the tide a little bit, our success and winning games we won, we were able to keep the kids in state," said Martinez, who played at Miami and has maintained strong ties in South Florida. "I think to be able to do that, Georgia's got to be a state you get some really good players. There's a lot of good players. The ties that we have, several of us on staff that have Georgia ties, is very important."
Tight ends coach Mark Elder also said selling the Vols' renowned 'power T' and the tradition of the Tennessee program helped expedite the transition.
"It's certainly a transition, but this is such an easy school to sell," Elder explained. "Who wouldn't want to come here? This is the greatest place in the country. As far as that is concerned, it is an easy transition because this is such a special place."
But, Elder emphasized, the Vols' new staff has embraced the need for a hefty amount of work on the recruiting trail as Tennessee tries to finish out its Class of '13 and places the foundation for Jones' first full class in '14.
"We still have a lot of work to do and a lot of ground to make up, as far as recruiting for both 2013 and 2014," Elder said. "That's been our focus thus far, is making sure that we are ahead of the game in recruiting, know who we are going after and working hard to continue to build those relationships."
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