UK tight ends coach Vince Marrow has earned a reputation as one of the best recruiters in the country during his first few months with the Wildcats. The Youngstown, Ohio, native has successfully recruited several high-profile players from his home state and is one of the primary reasons Kentucky has the No. 4 class for 2014, according to Rivals.
On Monday, Marrow talked to reporters about the new staff’s recruiting efforts, his longtime relationship with Mark Stoops, the negative recruiting used against UK and much more.
With such a brutal schedule, how do you hold on to these recruits if things do get tough this season?
“I’m just speaking for my guys in Ohio. They know me, I know them. Their coaches know me. … We know that’s probably going to happen – if we lose a couple of games people are going to say, ‘Why do you want to go there?’ These kids are buying into the process of what we’re doing. The ’13 class, in six weeks (on the job) we finished with a top 26, top 28 class. Right now, with the ’14 class we’re (No. 4). And we’re moving on to the ’15 class. So the process is it’s a three-year window. And those guys already know (that). So if they want to use (negative recruiting), they’re just going to be using something that will count against them again.”
Do you prepare these guys for the negative recruiting that’s going to come? Do you specifically talk to them about it?
“I’m always a step ahead, because I know what the tactics are. They negative recruited when we first got here. We flipped some of these guys coming here in ’13. They said, ‘Why do you want to go there? There’s no tradition there.’ I think they thought (UK’s success) was going to stop there. I heard schools were showing attendance of a few thousand people in the stands, saying, ‘That’s what you’re going to play for.’ And then 50-some thousand showed up here for the spring game. And we had all the top recruits here from all over. That’s what sold it. It was the fans of Kentucky that sold it. They showed that if you put a product out there and you play hard and play with passion – if they see that, they will come.”
Is that a big selling point — that you can tell guys they can come in and maybe be the start of something special?
“I grew up with Mark Stoops. I know what he’s about. He’s a blue-collar guy. He’s a fun guy to be around, but when it comes to football he’s very serious. I know his plan. He hired two great coordinators. With the staff he put together, I’m not worried that. This thing will get done, and it’s going to get done soon.”
How is UK’s recruiting message being received in Ohio, where Kentucky hasn’t historically had much success?
“When I went to Nebraska and we moved to the Big Ten, we made Ohio one of our main recruiting points because we were selling the Big Ten. And we pulled some pretty good recruits in the two years I was there. When we got to Kentucky … you’re selling two things. I always tell our kids when I’m recruiting, ‘(63) and 22.’ That’s SEC players drafted compared to Big Ten players (in 2013). … Kids want to go play with the best. The problem was, we lived in Ohio and we didn’t realize – my son went to Alabama out of Toledo Central Catholic – for some reason, we didn’t realize Kentucky was right here and it was in the SEC. Now they know, and these Ohio kids are coming in droves. Don’t be fooled. Ohio kids want to play in the best conference, there was just no one coming up to recruit them. Now, we’re here. Our head coach is from Ohio. I’m from Ohio. We’re telling them, ‘You want to be the best? Come to Kentucky and play. Play in front of a great fan base – great people here.’ They saw that in the spring game. I think we had 30-some kids from Ohio down here that night. And they were blown away. Their families were blown away. They were thinking, ‘Oh, there are gonna be about two thousand people here. Not a great atmosphere.’ Then they saw that Cat Walk. Hell, (the fans) recruited the kids from Ohio. I didn’t recruit them. It was the people of Kentucky who recruited them. I just sealed the deal. … Why not here? The SEC isn’t going anywhere. It’s getting more and more stronger. More and more powerful. And your family can see you play in the best conference. Alabama comes in here. Your family can see you play against one of the greatest coaches in college history. Why not here? That’s what I sell. And they buy into it. And it’s the truth. There’s no gimmicks.”
Have you been surprised with how much early success you’ve had getting kids from Ohio?
“I think people give me a lot of credit, but I’m going to be honest with you. When you get them here, our coaching staff is so great. … It’s funny. I can bring a kid in and Coach Peveto, he’s not even from Ohio and he’ll know the kid and know his whole background. And their parents are blown away by that. And it’s the same way when you bring a kid in from (any other state). Our staff knows these kids. So they see that. In recruiting, these kids don’t want to be stroked but they want to know that you know everything about them – that you care about them. So I’m very confident when I get them here, because then they get to see how good our staff is. They get to see the energy in our staff. And they get to see the people (in Lexington). I tell most people from Ohio, ‘Go around and visit in the city and just see the hospitality of the people.’ And they do it. So, once they get here, I feel pretty good.”
How tough is it to change the “culture” of this program?
“I don’t think it’s tough. It depends on who you bring in as a head coach and then the supporting cast. If the guy isn’t the right guy, you aren’t going to change that culture. If the guy is the right guy – I played for Coach (Nick) Saban and saw him change the culture at Toledo. I saw him change the culture at Alabama. I grew up with Mark Stoops. … And I just like the experience of our staff. The culture will change. I’m not even worried about that.”
How has it helped that guys who have already signed or committed to UK are now helping recruit others?
“When I recruit kids from Ohio, they come here and it’s a natural thing to say, ‘Hey, I want these other Ohio guys to come.’ And the parents are probably the biggest recruiters with the other parents. When they come here and they see it, they say, ‘Hey, there’s some great things going on down there at Kentucky.’ So it’s a domino effect. I’ll be telling a fib if I said these guys weren’t recruiting other guys. It’s known. And with all this media and Twitter and all this stuff? Man, you can do a lot of great things with that. I’m not good on Twitter so I’m not tweeting anybody. But these (recruits) are doing it.”
Being from Ohio, just how rich in talent is that state?
“I might be biased because I’m from there, but I will tell you this. They produce anywhere from 150 to 160 D-I players every year. If you look at the upper echelons of the Big Ten, you’ll see eight or nine guys from Ohio on those rosters. … Make no mistake about it, we have adopted (Ohio). That’s our home base — next to Kentucky — and we’re going to stay there.”
How do you approach recruiting individual players?
“I think most people that I’ve been recruiting, they know there’s no BS with me. I don’t go in there and sell something that’s not already in the product. … You’re selling two guys. First, you’re selling the head coach. I grew up with him. Most people recruit for head coaches and they say they know him, but they don’t know him. I’ve been knowing this guy since we were 10, 11 years old. I know what he’s about. I know what his family is about. Then, you have the coordinators. You’re selling Air Raid offense. Most kids – they want the ball. So when I go in and recruit receivers, when I recruit running backs, I say, ‘Hey, you want to play in an offense that’s high-powered.’ And then on defense, Coach Stoops (and Eliot) just had seven guys drafted in the NFL from Florida State. So you’re selling that. And then, the main thing you’re selling is the SEC. I don’t want to recruit kids that don’t want to play in the SEC. I want kids that want to play in the SEC. If you want to play here, come to Kentucky. Great fan base. I’m from Ohio. Kentucky people remind me of people from Ohio. I think the fan base is the same as Ohio State. I think the passion (is the same). The biggest myth that people use against us is that it’s a basketball state. And I remember when I first got hired here, there was a guy that told me, ‘Coach, this is a football state too.’ And I was kind of like, ‘Uh, OK.’ But that spring game convinced me. Blew me away. Like I told these players this morning, ‘We owe it to the people of this state. We owe it to them. They’re coming out. They’re supporting you guys.’ And I tell my recruits, ‘Look at the spring game. There were over 50,000 people here. Can you imagine when you guys get here and we’re doing this thing right?’”
How do you take that sales pitch of the potential and turn it into results? What is a realistic expectation for the 2013 season?
“I’ll tell you this: We’re not getting caught up with wins and losses. That will take care of itself. What we want to see from offense is to be efficient, execute, don’t have too many (missed assignments). If you have that, then you have a chance to win games. Special teams – don’t lose on special teams. And defense – get turnovers. And then at the end of the day, we’re going to come out successful, whether that adds up to eight wins, 12 wins or four wins. But when we look at the product of what we have, and then what we’re bringing in, I feel pretty good about it.”
How big is it that you’ve already got 20-plus commitments for 2014 and you can already start to concentrate more on the class of 2015?
“I think that just shows you that people are buying into what we’re saying. Usually it’s the teams like Alabama, Ohio State that have their recruiting class pent up right now. I think Coach Stoops did a good job of selling what he’s selling and the opportunity you can have here. And what our vision is.”
There have been a couple of coaches that have called Kentucky out by name and have done some negative recruiting through the media. What was your reaction to that?
“I’m not going to name any names, but I’ll say this. When people think you’re supposed to be down and you haven’t been recruiting the type of guys they’ve been recruiting – and then all of the sudden you’re kicking in their door, it makes people feel a little funny. It makes people feel a little nervous. And then they started saying things that normally you shouldn’t say. Well, they better keep saying it. Because we’re here. And we’re going to stay here.”