By Bob Hertzel
For the Times West Virginian
When Robert Gillespie packed his bags and left for Tennessee just days before spring football was to begin, Dana Holgorsen had a bigger problem than just replacing his running back coach.
True, Gillespie was talented at that aspect of the profession, but where his greatest asset lay was in recruiting the state of Florida, a territory that West Virginia has mined over the past three decades the way they mine diamonds in South Africa.
It is difficult to grasp the importance of the door that onetime Don Nehlen assistant Doc Holliday opened when he first ventured into South Florida, but when one considers the likes of Stedman Bailey, Geno Smith, Jarrett Brown, John Browning, Noel Devine, Charles Emanuel, Barrett Green, Kay-Jay Harris, Reggie Rembert, Jock Sanders, Robert Sands, Darren Studstill, Shawne and Nate Terry, J.T. Thomas (both of them) and Vann Washington all coming to WVU out of Florida, it becomes clear.
That is what made the hire of former WVU quarterback JaJuan Seider as Gillespie’s replacement such an important hire.
Seider himself had been plucked out of South Florida by Doc Holliday and at Marshall, working under Holliday, he had become a prime factor in recruiting the area, and now he was bringing that to West Virginia.
He believes he will be even better at WVU than he was at Marshall because he can be true to himself.
“I can actually sell the program because I have been a player here, I am an alumni here, I was a grad assistant here. When I talk to a kid now, I can actually sell the program. I lived it,” he said.
He now adds that to the other advantage he had, that being he once was one of the kids he is recruiting, knows what they are like, what they are looking for, what they need.
“I can talk the same language some of those kids talk down there and flip the switch,” he said.
Recruiting South Florida is different from other places, he notes.
“You have to recruit South Florida. You can’t recruit like you recruit the Big 12. You can’t just say, ‘I’m going to recruit Joe The 5-Star’ because there’s another Joe who is a 3-star who is just as good. You have to stay in to the end with every kid because you are battling with Florida and Florida State and everyone thinks they are going to one of those schools,” Seider explained.
And it isn’t just those two schools, along with Miami, any longer that you compete with for the best as it was when Seider came out.
“Now you have to deal with Alabama. They build the SEC up so much, you even have to deal with second-tier schools like Arkansas and Kentucky. You have to stay in to the end with everyone.”
The key, Seider says, is trust.
“Finding 40 kids in four years at Marshall helped. They trust me. They know I’m a man of my word.
“They want to send their kids with guys they trust,” he said.
By trust he doesn’t always mean trusting him in what he says in recruiting. He means someone they can trust once he gets to the school because they know that there will be issues and their son will be a long way from home.
“It can’t always be an issue that the head coach has to deal with. If you are an assistant coach, you have to deal with issues so they don’t get to the head coach. Taking on those responsibilities it helps to have trust,” Seider said.
And trust comes from one thing.
“South Florida is all about relationships. Last year I signed A.J. Leggett, the top cornerback in the country. He could have gone anywhere, but we beat Alabama and Tennessee at the end. It’s all about relationships,” Seider said.
“I stayed with him. No one thought he was going to make it (academically) ... but he never took the test. Then he took the test at the end, got a 22 and he was eligible.”
That should carry over to West Virginia.
“When you get that one kid that everyone knows, it helps your program. Like at Marshall, we got quarterback Rakeem Cato, wide receiver Tommy Shuler. Those may not be big names on a national scale, but in that area everyone knew them. They kind of just continue to build your program.”
And the way Seider sees it, the timing is perfect to do that building in Florida.
“We have to build here on the excitement from Pro Day — Geno and Tavon plastered all over everywhere. I’m ready, guns blazing,” he said.
Email Bob Hertzel at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @bhertzel.