UWRF football looks to improve recruiting
May 7, 2010
In what is traditionally a program prided on winning and excellence, the UWRF men’s football team has not had a winning season since 2000.
The Falcons have been under the command of Head Coach John O’Grady since 1989. O’Grady has led the Falcons to a career record of 101-75 since the start of his coaching reign. Recent slips in the winning department are attributed to a select number of major factors, according to O’Grady.
“The bottom line in athletics, the most important thing, is recruiting,” O’Grady said. “You can’t maintain dominance in any athletic program or sport without having great players across the board.”
Recruiting has become more of an issue recently than it has been in the past. High school athletes looking to move on to the next level are looking for winning programs. With this in mind, recruiting top athletes from the surrounding area has become increasingly difficult.
“We’ve changed our philosophy a little bit in the past few years,” O’Grady said. “We’re trying to recruit the Twin Cities area, the larger schools, more than we ever have.”
A major issue in the recruiting department has been drawing student-athletes, specifically Wisconsin residents, all the way to River Falls.
“It’s very difficult to get kids to come this far, especially when they have to literally drive past Eau Claire, Stout, Point and obviously, Whitewater; every other school in the conference is closer,” O’Grady said.
In order to draw more student athletes from the eastern portion of Wisconsin, as well as from larger schools in the Twin Cities, O’Grady has assigned two members of his three man staff to heavily recruit in specific areas.
“There’s no question in my mind that we need more players from big high school programs in order to compete in our conference,” O’Grady said.
With the Falcons slipping into a losing pattern that has nearly become a trademark of the program, O’Grady and his staff are determined to get the team back on track. O’Grady insists that programs and conferences alike go through phases.
“If you go back and look at our record, there was a period of six years from 1995 to 2001 where we went 5-1 against Whitewater,” he said. “So things do evolve and change in our conference. Right now, they are on top.”
Scheduled upgrades to Ramer Field will bear a clear impact on the program. Much like any new facility, fields and academic buildings are a recruiting tool. Understanding this, O’Grady says he believes the future will only get better.
“Buildings like the UC [University Center] are great, he said. “It gives the kids something to look forward to. It’s new, it’s fresh and it’s clean.”
Division I athletic programs are represented through the numerous individuals that comprise the staff of a team. The Falcons, a Division III program, simply do not have the staff power to muster a competitive team on a yearly basis.
UW-Whitewater is one of the elite Division III football programs in the country. According to the athletics page on the Whitewater Web site, 14 members staff the football program. This staff includes a head coach, a defensive and offensive coordinator, six assistant coaches, a director of football operations, as well as four student assistants.
“With a three-man full time staff, two of those guys are our offensive and defensive coordinators,” O’Grady said, “and a lot of the time they are the ones recruiting our big schools.”
Admission at UWRF has increased in the past years. However, when asked, students said that they believe the success of an athletic team on campus does have an impact on attendance choice.
“I think that kids will look at a sports team, especially football, and base part of their decision on attending a school on the success of that team,” freshman Kelly Elledge said. “I don’t think it will be the whole choice, but it has to play some sort of role.”
Football players around campus say they believe the coaching and collegiate atmosphere is what draws players to the program and to the University.
“I came here and met a group of good guys and a good coaching staff,” said sophomore running back Taylor Edwards.
Recruiting, a short staff, and facilities in desperate need of improvement, have contributed to the recent slip-up of the Falcon football program. Coach O’Grady boils down all of these factors by simply blaming himself.
“We have got to coach better,” O’Grady said. “You can lay the blame on so many things but when it comes down to it, we as a staff have to coach better.”