Tom Lemming spoke at Little Rock Touchdown Club

Arkansas is hoping for a top notch recruiter for the next coach. Will we get one?

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10/29/2012 at 3:45pm

As much as recruiting seems to excite every college football fan base, including Arkansas’, one would have expected a lot bigger crowd to show up for Tom Lemming’s talk at the Little Rock Touchdown Club. Surely if Arkansas Athletic Director Jeff Long can pack the Embassy Suites ballroom and say nothing, Lemming ought to draw the same because he said plenty.

Maybe he just knew the crowd he was addressing, but Lemming, who may be the country’s most influential national recruiting expert, evluated Arkansas’ football program as two recruiting classes away from being right up with Alabama’s and said it was a “sleeping giant.”

Like others before him, Lemming said Jeff Long had a huge job ahead in hiring the right guy as the Razorbacks’ next football coach, but he rattled off a list of familiar names who are both top coaches and excellent recruiters that he felt could fill the bill and restore the Hogs to the lofty position Bobby Petrino had the program in 2010-11.

“I’ll be able to tell you when Arkansas hires a new coach if he’s going to be able to win. I mean, they’re going to win but I’ll tell you if they’re going to win a national title or not or not by his history of recruiting,” Lemming said.

Of some of the names linked over the past few months with the Arkansas job, Louisville’s Charlie Strong is a good recruiter and coach, while Iowa State’s Paul Rhoads “is an excellent recuiter and coach,” Lemming said.

Alabama’s Nick Saban apparently is the coaching standard in which all others are measured because he not only recruits well but also develops his players, Lemming noted.

And, if an athletic director such as Long is looking for the best recruiter and coach available, take note of that prospect’s hobbies.

“Show me a coach whose hobby is golf, golf, golf, and I’ll tell you he’s not much of a recruiter,” the fast-talking Chicago native said. “Your hobby has to be recruiting.”

Lemming has been following recruiting since the 1970s, when he made almost nothing while traveling 65,000 miles a year to interview high school players and drum up interest for a newsletter. Eventually, USA Today brought Lemming to a national audience.

In more recent years, Lemming was the key force behind several national recruiting sites and helped start postseason prep all-star games such as the U.S. Army-sponsored event in San Antonio in early January, which has been carried for almost a decade by NBC. Now, he leads the Semper Fi postseason game.

But maybe what brought Lemming the most fame was an appearance in the movie “The Blind Side,” in which he played himself. He was the recruiting expert who first brought Michael Oher’s name to a national following while the future NFL offensive tackle played for Hugh Freeze at Memphis Briarcrest Christian School.

Lemming jokes that while he got to know the actor who played Oher in the movie, he still hasn’t had an in-depth conversation with the real Oher. When they first met, Oher wouldn’t raise his head to to speak and didn’t fill out a questionnaire. It was only after that meeting that Lemming found out from Freeze about Oher’s troubled Memphis background and that he could not read or write.

Other coaches that recruit, like Alabama’s Saban these days, Lemming said, are Miami’s Al Golden and Ohio State’s Urban Meyer, to name two. Lemming also fielded a club member’s question about the various strengths of five candidates linked to the Arkansas job.

  • Oklahoma State’s Mike Gundy: “Tremendous recruiter and coach. Oklahoma State had always been dead in the water until Boone Pickens put a bunch of money in the program and they promoted Gundy.”
  • Alabama defensive coordinator Kirby Smart: “He’s probably the best defensive coordinator around, but he’s not known as a great recruiter.”
  • Louisville’s Charlie Strong: “Very strong recruiter and a great defensive coach.”
  • Baylor’s Art Briles: “If you’ve ever talked with him, he belongs in Central Texas … he’s perfect for Baylor.”
  • Mississippi State’s Dan Mullen: “Both, a great coach and recruiter, and he does a great job of organizing. You talk to many of the players in Mississippi and they say they are going to Ole Miss, but he outrecruits them.”

With a small gathering of local media, Lemming added, when asked about TCU head coach Gary Patterson: “He’s done a great job, but he’s had some problems down there, some internal problems with players. I’m not sure how good of a recruiter he is.”

As for Arkansas’ recently departed head coach, Petrino, who continues to be in the conversation for possible openings at Auburn and Tennessee and elsewhere, Lemming said, “As a coach he’s one of the best. As a recruiter I don’t know if he golfs [laughing] … I don’t think he would be one of the guys spending a lot of time talking to juniors all year long like Saban, Urban Meyer.

“But he’s a great coach and I think recruiting-wise, if he had spent as much time as like Nick Saban or some of the other guys, Arkansas would be considered for the national title. His coaching ability is one of the best around. I thought his recruiting was not as good as some of the other guys.”

Arkansas’ next coach needs strong ties, or needs to hire an assistant coach with significant connections, to recruit the Dallas-Fort Worth area, Lemming said.

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