You've mentioned several times that the offensive line is a top priority for you and your staff. What other positions are a priority?
"Wide receiver is critical. We would like to have two to three big-time receivers who can come in here and play immediately. We would like to have a big, physical running back; one about 5-11, 225 pounds who it takes two to three people to bring down. We are always looking for defensive linemen, particularly defensive ends who pass-rush like Willie Evans. There are not many positions where guys won't have the opportunity to come in and help us next year. If a player decides he wants to come here, it is very, very unlikely that he will get redshirted next year. We are not going to turn anybody down. If there is a good player on our scholarship list, first-come, first-serve. That means we will be a very young team next year, also, but I would rather have young, talented players than no talent at all."
"Surprisedly, with some of the commitments that we already have and others that we are recruiting that have told us that they want to come, one of the areas that you are always concerned about, the cornerback position, may end up being one of our strengths. But, with that said, we won't ever turn down a good cover guy, because we would like to have as many corner type guys as we can. We want all four of our guys in the secondary to be good cover guys."
Based on what you are saying, it sounds like if a player signs with Mississippi State, he has an excellent chance to come in and play immediately.
"I hope we can recruit the kind that are smart enough to see it themselves, but you are right, and this is the only year we want it to be that way. Any of the guys that we are recruiting - and I have seen everyone of them that we have offered scholarships to - the way we recruit is every guy in his area has to bring film back, show it to the position coach, show it to the coordinator, then they bring it to me and we all look at it as a staff before I put the final approval on it that we will offer a scholarship. I will then personally send him a letter explaining to him that he is offered a scholarship and the terms of that agreement and how we are going about doing that. That is so there will be no discrepancy as to whether a young man has been offered a scholarship."
You obviously place a high value on recruiting. When did you realize how important recruiting is in the college game, when you were coaching at Alabama or since you have gotten back into it at Mississippi State?
"It's a little different than when I was coaching at Alabama even though I worked at it hard even back then. But, after you get used to coaching guys like E.J. Junior - a guy I didn't recruit - then you realize it is a heck of a lot better to be a good coach with guys like that. He was my first All-American and started for me as a freshman. I thought then that I needed to have guys like him all the time.
"The thing that I learned is when you don't have talent, that is when you have to coach. When you have talent, coaching is easy. The one year I had Cornelius Bennett and Derrick Thomas, I just made sure they got to the bus on time. It is easy to coach those guys. When I was at Detroit, I had to coach. You work a lot harder when you don't have talent. When you have talented players, you can go home at 7 o'clock because you don't really care what the other team does. You just go out there and do what you are going to do.
"I'm not looking to be a scheme genius, I want to get as many good players as I can so that I can line up in one play on defense the whole game. That is what I would love to do. Offensively, I would like to go into the game with ten plays and that be all we run.
"Look at Coach Robinson when he was at Southern Cal, they ran that sweep every week. It didn't make any difference. Every team that Marcus Allen was on had one goal line play, Marcus Allen right up the right guard. That was it because he was going to get the first down or touchdown."
If all the players that you are recruiting were in this building, what would you say to them?
"The guys that we are recruiting, we expect them to come in and play. We expect them to come in and play immediately next year, particularly at wide receiver and offensive line. We need immediate help in those two areas. Due to the quality of the guys that we are recruiting - their character, their physical ability, their academics - they will be one of the finest classes in the country. If we get the guys that we think we are going to get, they will have an excellent chance of winning a national championship before they graduate."
What would you tell the players you are recruiting what is expected of them, not just on the field but off the field also?
"We expect the same things that have been expected of them at home. I am going to treat them just like they are my own sons. I expect them to conduct themselves with pride, follow the rules of our program and this university, I expect them to do things in a class way, to treat the other players and other people with respect. I expect them to not only be in class everyday but be there on time. I expect them to honor their word. I don't expect them to be perfect - because none of us are perfect - but I do expect them to try to do their best everyday. If they make a mistake, we will deal with it when that time comes, put it behind us and move on from there. My goal with my players is for them to be winners in life, in the classroom and on the football field."
Since the mothers and dads are, basically, handing their sons over to you for the next four to five years when they sign with Mississippi State, what would you say to them to make sure they are comfortable sending their sons to you?
"Very simply, I will treat them just like they are my own sons. I will tell them not what they want to hear but the truth. Sometimes people paint me as a tough, strict disciplinarian, but I understand young men will be young men. I want them to enjoy college life because I think it is four of the best years of your life. The football that you play in college is four of the best years of your life. But the way you enjoy that and still get your degree is to do things the right way, be where you are supposed to be when you are supposed to be there, take pride in doing things the right way, and have a good time."
Players, just like everybody else, make mistakes, how does that affect your relationship with them?
"My daughter made mistakes. That doesn't change my feelings about her. I love her. I love these kids. I really do. I wouldn't have come back to college if I didn't feel that way about them. My feelings about them is not going to change just because they made a mistake. I am here to help him. That is the whole objective. If disciplining them is part of helping them, then I am going to do what is best for them. But I'm still going to love them and still be there for them. Whenever they need me, I am going to be there for them."
Gene Swindoll is the publisher of Dawgs' Bite, Powered by GenesPage.com (http://mississippistate.theinsiders.com), the source for Mississippi State sports on TheInsiders sports network. You can contact him by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.