Recruiting Profile: Coach Jim Cavanaugh
by Art Stevens
TSL Extra, Issue #4

On a cool December morning not long before Virginia Techís Hokies played in the Gator Bowl, a visitor strode into the Merryman Center. He reached the door about the same time as Tech assistant football coach Jim Cavanaugh.

"Morning Coach Cavanaugh," came the greeting.

"Good morning, sir," came the reply from a chipper-looking Cavanaugh.

No sooner was Cavanaugh out of sight and into his office than it dawned on the guest.

Cavanaugh was on the other side of the state just last night for an in-home recruiting visit.

On this night, Cavanaugh would be headed back in that direction for yet another visit.

Why was he back on campus? Wouldnít it have been easier just to stay the night?

Easier, perhaps.

But "easy" is never the way for Jim Cavanaugh when it comes to recruiting. "Thorough" is a better description and it still doesnít come close enough. If he needs to be on the road one night, heíll be there. If he needs to be in his office the next day, heíll be there. If he has to go back on the road right away, off he goes.

"Thereís definitely a lot of traveling. I know every bump on Interstate 64 and 81 now," Cavanaugh said. "You do get tired sometimes.

"Still, I enjoy it. I enjoy meeting the people, the players, the parents, the coaches, the evaluation process. When the day comes where I donít enjoy it, then it is time to move on. I get up in the morning now, Iím ready to go."

Cavanaugh, 52, just finished his 29th season as a recruiter on the collegiate level. He just finished his fifth season at Tech and his reputation as an excellent recruiter hasnít suffered during his days with the Hokies.

"Coach Cav" knows his business and knows it well.

"Heís proven that over time," said Bryan Stinespring, the Hokies assistant head coach and recruiting coordinator. "His reputation is earned. Heís more than capable of being able to lure the most attractive student-athletes into your program.

"Thereís no substitute for experience and Coach Cav brings a wealth of experience into the program. But thereís more to Jim Cavanaugh than just the fact that heís been doing it a long time. Heís highly organized. Heís a straight shooter and people realize that. I think he really understands the part about building peopleís trust and establishing relationships. He knows it goes beyond the young man to his family, his coaching staff. He knows everyone has to feel good about what heís trying to do."

Cavanaughís previous jobs were in the region (N.C. State, Virginia Military, Marshall, Virginia, Maryland, North Carolina) so he knows the area. For Tech, he covers Richmond, Hampton, Newport News, Williamsburg and Fork Union Military Academy in the state. He also covers part of Maryland and New Jersey.

His successes in recent years include Michael Vick, Nathaniel Adibi, Kevin Lewis and Ernest Wilford among others. This year, he was responsible for the recruitment of standout quarterback (and basketball player) Bryan Randall of Bruton High in Williamsburg.

It doesnít always come up roses. No recruiter gets them all and Cavanaugh is no exception. Among the notables who got away this year were defensive back Lionel Bolen of Mount Holly, N.J. (Notre Dame) and quarterback Michael Robinson of Richmond (Penn State). Bolen was particularly disappointing because he at one point said he was coming to Tech. The Hokies were very close to snaring Robinson, too. In fact, numerous sources say his mother was the one who preferred Penn State.

"Naturally, there are some big disappointments you have to deal with," Cavanaugh said. "And no two individuals are the same.

"I always evaluate what I could have done better on somebody that I may have lost. And I firmly believe this: Once it has been declared, you wish him luck and you go from there. I donít worry about the ones I donít get. It is more important to worry about the ones you do get. Theyíre the ones who are going to lead you to the promised land.

"Once they make up their mind, I donít try to talk them out of it. Michael Robinson announced his decision on a Friday at his school. The next day, I called him on his cell phone and wished him luck. Sure, youíre disappointed. Once he declares, I go on to the next one. The process moves on."

The process never really stops. Although signing day was Feb. 7, there is no real end to recruiting. Loose ends have to be tied up (and other players can still be signed). The next recruiting season has started.

"Recruiting takes up a great deal of your time," Cavanaugh said. "Obviously, there are particular periods of the recruiting calendar where it takes up all your time. When the season ends, until you start your bowl practices, all your time is with recruiting. Seven days a week. During the season and spring practice, youíre working on recruiting at night.

"It is a year-round proposition. Weíve already compiled our juniors list for next season. As youíre seeing games on Friday nights, youíre constantly evaluating not only the kids youíre recruiting but also the younger ones."

Cavanaugh will take all the players heís seen, heard about or read about and eventually come up with a list of 30-35 prospects. By June 1, heíll trim his list to 8-10 players and work from there.

A prospect must be approved by the position coach, the coordinator on his side of the ball and head coach Frank Beamer, as well as the recruiter, before he is seriously pursued.

To come up with his list, Cavanaugh relies on a variety of things.

Tape is good.

Talk is helpful.

But nothing beats plain old legwork. He likes to see the kids.

"I like to watch them play live to get a bead on guys," Cavanaugh said, "see how they handle the coaches and how the coaches handle them. Iíve actually seen a kid who was such a talented player but was such a pain in the neck on the sideline that I didnít recruit him for that.

"You get a lot of input, a lot of recommendations and then you go from there. Ultimately, that decision lies with you. Weíre paid to make good decisions. It is not a perfect business, no one bats 1.000. What you try to do is eliminate the margin of error so you can get close to that.

"Iím a better recruiter now than I was 20 years ago just because of experience. Iíve been in enough successful programs that I have a pretty good idea of what it takes."

Talent, as Cavanaugh noted, is not the only part of the equation.

"Speed and athleticism at their particular position are important," he said. "The next grouping is toughness and football sense. Thatís all I really need to know as far as on-field situations.

"Off the field, No. 1 is what type of person they are and, No. 2, what are their grades."

Just as no two players are the same, no two recruiters are the same. All kinds of people have been successful recruiters. Cavanaugh is proud that many group him in that class.

"I like to think Iím brutally honest," he said. "I like to think I can give a kid a summation of where his talents lie pretty quickly. I think the high school coaches know based on my past performance that what I tell the kids fits.

"Thereís so much coverage now and so much information out there. It is hard for these kids. Who can they trust? I like to think a kid can ask his high school coach and that coach will say, ĎCoach Cavanaugh will shoot you straight.í I donít recruit everybody. Some people are surprised at who I do and who I donít recruit. I think I have a good feel of who will fit with what we want at Virginia Tech."


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