Spend a few minutes with Vince Marrow, and it’s not difficult to envision the persuasiveness of the pitch that he delivers in living rooms on the recruiting trail.
Once Marrow gets going — and it doesn’t take much to get him on a roll — the charisma takes over, the salesmanship takes hold.
The UK football team’s recruiting guru was on such a roll Sunday — standing in one of the end zones at Kroger Field for the team’s annual media day — when the talk turned, as it often does, to recruiting in the state of Ohio.
“A lot of people probably don’t care for Urban Meyer,” Marrow said of the Ohio State head coach. “I love Urban Meyer, and I’m going to tell you why. He recruits nationally. And Ohio is (one of the highest) producing states in football. I have to tell him, ‘Thank you for not recruiting all those guys.’”
Marrow paused a moment to motion around the field.
“Because if Jim Tressel was still there,” he said, “half of these kids you see out here from Ohio would be at Ohio State.”
UK’s recruiting offensive into the state of Ohio since Mark Stoops became head coach nearly five years ago has been well chronicled, and Marrow has earned much of the credit for that success.
Stoops and Marrow came to Kentucky one season after Meyer landed at Ohio State. His time with the Buckeyes already has resulted in one national title, and it also has seen a gradual shift in recruiting philosophy.
Marrow is seemingly as happy as anyone with that shift.
UK’s recruiting coordinator explained that, under Tressel — the Buckeyes’ head coach from 2001 to 2010 — OSU would concentrate largely on getting the best players from Ohio and filling out their class with out-of-state talents.
Marrow was in the middle of saying that Tressel would successfully recruit “the top 15 kids” in Ohio every year — taking who he wanted and leaving the rest — when UK defensive backs coach Steve Clinkscale wandered past the conversation.
“Hey, Clink, am I lyin’?” Marrow shouted at his colleague before explaining his point.
Clinkscale, a Youngstown native like Marrow and Stoops, is a former assistant coach at Cincinnati, Illinois and Toledo. He knows plenty about recruiting the state of Ohio.
“They did a great job in Ohio,” he said of the Tressel regime. “They always took the top players and would find a few hidden gems, like what Coach Marrow has done. He’s found a couple of those guys that have come in and have been excellent players for us.”
The numbers largely back up Marrow’s claims.
There’s some embellishment — all great recruiters are masters of that, after all — but it’s true that Tressel’s more localized view of recruiting has not been followed during Meyer’s tenure.
According to the Rivals.com database, Tressel averaged 12.3 in-state signees per class during his 10 full recruiting cycles at Ohio State. In-state players accounted for 60 percent of Tressel’s total number of signees in those 10 classes, and he signed at least nine players from Ohio in all 10 of those years.
Only once during the Tressel era did in-state signees make up less than 50 percent of an OSU recruiting class.
Marrow looked around the field and rapidly named off five players expected to be among UK’s best this season: Jordan Jones, Benny Snell, Dorian Baker, C.J. Conrad and Mike Edwards, all from Ohio.
“If Tressel was still there, they wouldn’t be here,” he said.
That brings us to Meyer, who won two national championships at Florida but brought a long list of Buckeye State bona fides with him to Columbus.
Born in Toledo and raised in Ashtabula, Meyer played collegiately for the Cincinnati Bearcats, earned a master’s degree at OSU — where he was a graduate assistant — and started his head coaching career at Bowling Green.
He’s well known in the state and has been for some time.
“I really admire Urban Meyer, what he does,” Marrow said. “He’s a good coach. They recruit at a high level.”
The UK assistant coach acknowledged that Meyer still largely gets his “pick of the litter” of in-state recruits, but … “Urban Meyer is recruiting nationally,” Marrow said.
According to the same Rivals.com records that had Tressel’s share of in-state signees at 60 percent, Meyer’s in-state commitments have accounted for only 35 percent of the Buckeyes’ signees since his first full recruiting cycle in 2013.
And those numbers continue to slide.
Meyer signed 12 in-state players in 2015, nine such players in 2016 and six Ohio natives earlier this year. The Buckeyes have 16 commitments so far during the 2018 cycle. Only two of them are from Ohio.
Meyer signed the state’s top two recruits in 2017, three of the top four in 2016, the top two in 2015 and the top three in both 2014 and 2013.
As Marrow says, OSU’s head coach gets the pick of the litter in the Buckeye State, but he’s leaving so much more for others than Tressel ever did, and Kentucky is benefiting more than any other program.
UK signed more than 30 players from Ohio from 2014 to 2017, and seven of the Cats’ 16 commitments for next year are from the state. Rivals.com recently named UK as the No. 1 program from outside the Midwest that is having the most recruiting success in the region: 43 percent of the Cats’ recent four-star talent has come from Ohio.
As Meyer continues to bolster the Buckeyes’ program with nationally known recruits, Marrow will continue to raid Ohio for talent, even as the Cats continue to broaden their recruiting efforts in Florida, Georgia and Michigan.
“Make no mistake about it, we will always take a vast number from Ohio,” Marrow said. “We’re settled in there strong, and we’d be crazy to give that up.
“We’re going to stay there. We’re going to keep our foot in there. And we ain’t slowing down there.”
He also doesn’t want his praise for Meyer’s national strategy to be taken as UK shying away from any battles on the recruiting trail.
A reporter asked Marrow what a recruiting victory over Ohio State for a hotly contested in-state kid would mean for UK. “Well, we got a little situation coming up,” he said. “I think you know what we’re talking about.”
College coaches aren’t allowed to specifically talk about unsigned recruits, so Marrow simply smiled at the question, clearly related to the recruitment of four-star wide receiver L’Christian “Blue” Smith, the No. 2 prospect in Ohio.
Smith is a top priority for both UK and OSU and is expected to commit to one of those schools in August. The recruitment, right now, is considered a toss-up.
Marrow knows what kind of message landing Smith would send to Ohio State and other traditional powers in the region, including Michigan and Michigan State.
He seems to be relishing the fight.
“I love battling top-tier guys,” Marrow said. “It shows where we’re at. And where we want to go. We ain’t never gonna take a back seat to none of them guys. Never.”
Ohio State’s in-state recruiting numbers under Tressel and Meyer
Signees from Ohio
Source: Rivals.com signee lists