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Mon. February 15, 2010 | Keith Niebuhr

While looking through old recruiting stories, I found this masterpiece from 2005. It’s about negative recruiting, so hopefully you’ll find it somewhat enjoyable. By the way, I was the author, so in case you fall asleep, don’t say I didn’t warn you …


Published January 25, 2005

It was so ludicrous, John Reaves had to laugh.

Then ... and now.

While locked in an intense recruiting battle with Florida State for future NFL running back Fred Taylor during the mid 1990s, the former Florida assistant and the rest of the Gators staff were shocked at what they heard from the mouth of the prized high school athlete.

"FSU told him we were going to go all wideouts on offense with no backs," Reaves said. "I was like, "What?' Nobody plays with no backs for 60 minutes."

Jim Gladden, an FSU assistant from 1975-2002, neither confirms nor denies the story. And like Reaves, he kind of chuckles when talking about it.

"I don't know that we said that," he said. "But it could have been said."

Gladden, by the way, quickly noted the Gators have no room to gripe. No room at all.

"One of the things they'd say down at Florida is that, "You don't want to go up there (to FSU). They work you too hard, and you have to get up at 5:30 a.m. in the offseason. We don't do that (in Gainesville),"' Gladden said.

Welcome to the world of negative recruiting.

It happens everywhere. Everybody knows it. Most coaches probably do it.

But as you might imagine, few admit it. And fans, naturally, believe their coaches are the honorable ones and the other guys are dirty.

"Have you ever heard a politician say he does negative campaigning?" Reaves said.

What constitutes negative recruiting?

That depends on which side of the field you're on. Many tactics indisputably cross that line, such as saying another school's academics are substandard or it has ugly coeds.

"To me," Gladden said, "negative recruiting is attached to the character of people."

But much of what is said and done isn't cut and dried. To some, mentioning another team's depth chart is perceived as negative. Others say it's just being honest.

Take the case of Steve Spurrier.

During his tenure at Florida, recruits, Gator coaches claimed, often were told by other programs that Spurrier would soon leave for the NFL. He always claimed he had no intention (notice his choice of words) of departing. After 12 seasons, he left for the Redskins job.

So was the opposition being negative or showing foresight?

Then there's FSU coach Bobby Bowden.

For many years, rivals have used his age against the Seminoles by telling players Bowden would retire before they finished in Tallahassee. The coach maintains he has no plans of retiring. At 75, Bowden still is going strong as he heads into season No.30 at FSU.

But then again, he can't coach forever, so the truth is in the eye of the recruiter.

Armwood fullback Kalvin Bailey, rated by the recruiting service rivals100.com as the nation's top high school fullback, was at the center of a heated battle before committing to Iowa.

He chose the Hawkeyes over FSU, Georgia, Georgia Tech, Miami and Nebraska largely because he was told he would get more carries at Iowa.

Fullback is a unique position because every team uses it differently. Each school that pursued Bailey told him something different, not only about how it would use him, but how the others would. Nebraska, which last season switched from a run-oriented offense to a passing scheme, bore the brunt of the attacks.

"The other teams were saying, "They're pro style. ... You're never going to get the ball,"' Bailey said.

Rivals100.com editor Jeremy Crabtree talks to hundreds of recruits each year and hears the good, bad and ugly. A recruit who ultimately signed with Texas A&M once told Crabtree a college advised the player not to attend Texas Tech. Why? The water was bad. "Oh, we hear some funny ones," Crabtree said.

While fans might be angered about the use of the age issue with Bowden and Penn State's Joe Paterno, 78, Crabtree said that type of negative recruiting isn't too prominent. Today's hot buttons, he insisted, are playing time and playing schemes.

"It gets frustrating," said South Carolina assistant David Reaves, John's son. "You've got to come in and show the kid the truth and bring him some information.

"The good thing is, when you show a coach is not giving kids correct information, that makes them look bad. You get all kind of negative talk from other schools. But that means they're starting to worry about you, which is kind of good."

Part of a coach's job is countering the attacks. If an athlete is told one thing about the depth chart, coaches show him the "truth" on theirs. Recruits also are bombarded with information about the schools themselves.

At FSU, assistants are trained to handle questions about Bowden's age.

When Gladden coached, it was standard procedure for him to inform recruits Bowden always had five years left on his contract and he intended to, at the very least, finish that out. And Gladden said if that didn't work, Bowden would step in and personally confront the issue.

"You try to keep it clean," Gladden said. "You try to refute what's been said. I always tried to sell the good points of (FSU)."

Of course, not everybody has that attitude.

"Negative recruiting came along with negative campaigning," said John Reaves, who was the state's top high school player out of Robinson in 1967. "It gets competitive.

"It gets ugly."

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