In football and business, recruiting dictates success

By Gene Chizik

It’s often said that recruiting is the “lifeblood” of any major college football program.

That cliché football fans have heard a thousand times is not entirely accurate. It’s not accurate because it understates how important recruiting the “right” players are for your program.

Recruiting is more than the lifeblood of your program. Recruiting is who you are as a program.

It determines everything. It doesn’t matter how good your coaches are if you don’t have talented players. It doesn’t matter how splashy your facilities are if you don’t have enough quality depth to compete through the grind of a long season.

It doesn’t matter how effective your player support staff is if you don’t recruit enough players who will do the right thing, stay out of trouble and remain academically eligible.

Recruiting is the single most important thing a coach does in football. Simply put, it’s the single most important thing a business owner or manager does, too.

As I shared in my last article on LinkedIn, I’ve discovered running a business is exactly like coaching a football team.

From a big picture perspective, a head coach has five lanes to think about every day: Recruiting, coaching, player development, operations and branding. I see the same lanes at work in my businesses, which I’ve been enjoying getting more involved in the past several months.

None is more important than recruiting.


I love studying successful businesses and what separates the good from the great. The great ones generally have two things in common. The key to success is the way they recruit people and the world-class training programs they use to invest in people once they are hired.

It’s the same in college football on many levels. You might be surprised to know a recruiting class of 25 players starts as a pool of somewhere around 1,000 prospects who you begin recruiting two or even three years prior to National Signing Day.

Assistant coaches and analysts evaluate hundreds of them by spending hours watching film. When the active recruiting season comes around, coaches hit the road to watch them play or practice.

As you begin to narrow the pool of potential recruits, you end up actively recruiting somewhere in the range of 75 to 100 prospects, depending on the school.

However, it doesn’t end with film and a few visits to watch prospects play. They are invited to campus for several visits, and as Signing Day draws closer, coaches visit with prospects and their families in their homes.

Throughout that entire process, coaches are looking for more than athletic ability. They look at academics. They look at attitude. They look at work ethic. They look at character.

There is no question you sometimes take a risk on what I call an “edge” guy—a young man who has amazing potential but could falter if they don’t grow up—but despite what skeptics think most coaches I’ve worked with over three decades genuinely want to recruit kids who can play and have a chance to succeed off the field.


Now think of the business you run or where you work. What if that much time, energy, analysis and debate were put into every single hire you make? Imagine how much stronger your business would be.

I’ve found many business take a haphazard approach to hiring and don’t do much more than take an application and conduct one basic interview at best.

I’ve even seen this in the past at some of the businesses where I’m involved. In my restaurant business, I had to explain to my managers that we were always recruiting talent, not just when we had an opening.

We changed our process to interview potential employees every week at a designated time. We don’t leave it to chance, either. My general manager is a part of every interview now, regardless of what fires need to be put out from day to day.

Running a small business is hard work. It takes energy and time just to maintain the status quo and keep the doors open. It’s easy to take a sloppy approach to hiring by pointing to excuses or time killers. The problem is there will always be excuses if you want to find them. Remember this: Excuses only sound good to the person who makes them.

Another way to look at it as a manager is to think about how much time you spend dealing with problems. Well consider this: You hire your problems.

If businesses spent more time finding the right people instead of taking whoever happens to walk in the door when a job is posted, they would have more wins and fewer problems.

That’s why recruiting the right talent is too important to do it any other way.

Jack SmithComment