Recruiting John Virgil – life lessons learned


Yesterday in America the phenomenon known as “March Madness” began. At 6PM Eastern Time on Sunday March 16, 2014 CBS Sports announced what 68 Division 1 NCAA Men’s Basketball Teams will play for the National Championship. They pointed out that the National Championship Game will be played in Dallas, TX on Monday April 7, 2014.

I believe that the team that wins in three weeks will be one that has recruited exceptionally well. I spent 23 years as a college coach and recruiting is such an important component to a team’s success. When I look back on the recruiting efforts I was involved with over that time period I can reflect on what worked for me and what was not important. My first year taught me to know what the player I was recruiting wanted. I learned you really had to care about their goals, dreams, and aspirations. How could you help them get what they wanted? I have to confess when I first started I wanted them to know about what I wanted.

I have been asked to describe college recruiting and my best answer is “relationships”. If you can do relationships you can recruit. The catch is you have to work very hard at RDOP –RECRUIT DAILY OR PERISH.

My opinion on how to successfully do relationships is to live your life in perfect harmony to the phrase “People do not care how much you know until they know how much you care”.  You have to reach people hearts before you can ask them for a helping hand or to join your team.

Some programs/business/products have advantages in that they have created “Brand Loyalists” and those consumers, recruits, or customers already know how much that institution or company cares about them. In college coaching every coach has run into a young person who dreamed about playing for a particular university and maybe one day in the NBA. That is often tough to overcome no matter how hard you try. I learned that lesson in my first year of college coaching. In 1975-76 NCAA recruiting rules were without limits on watching player perform or practice.

I went to watch a young man practice every Saturday by the name of John Virgil. I also watched every one of his games during his senior year. I was twenty-two years old and serving as an Assistant Coach at East Carolina University. John was a 6’5” forward who could really play basketball and he attended Elm City HS outside of Wilson, NC. The recruiting competition for him was between East Carolina and  Davidson College. Davidson was at nearly every game and some of the practices but they hadn’t put in the work I had. Davidson’s Assistant Coach was older than me and knew something I didn’t know as a rookie coach. Davidson knew that young man we both were recruiting dreamed of playing at UNC Chapel Hill and was convinced being at UNC was a ticket to the NBA. He was a “Brand Loyalist”.  I was naïve and trustworthy that only hard work was important in recruiting (insert sales if you like).  I didn’t take the time to know what John Virgil wanted-I knew what I wanted him to do and that was to attend ECU.

My lesson became complete the last game of the season at Elm City HS. The game started with the Davidson Coach and I sitting in the top row of bleachers watching our coveted prize shine. When the game was four minute old the crowd stood up, the players stopped playing, and the principal escorted UNC Head Coach Dean Smith to a seat in a packed gymnasium.

Coach Smith got seated and the assistant coach from Davidson grabbed his coat and told me good night. I grabbed his arm and said where you going? He said “I’m going home it’s over”. I said “over the game is in the middle of the 1st quarter”. He said “The recruiting battle is over and John Virgil is going to UNC. Dean Smith doesn’t shows up unless it is a done deal”. The next day as was part of my Saturday morning recruiting ritual I went to watch Elm City to watch John practice. Before practice started Elm City’s legendary Coach Harvey Reid Jr. told me that “John is going to UNC. He really likes you but he always wanted to be a Tar Heel and play in the NBA and believes Coach Smith will get him there”.

I learned two lessons thru that first year recruiting experience; one that hard work is important but it doesn’t always guarantee success and two relationships are powerful in getting someone to reach a decision. When you start a relationship the first thing is to learn what the other person really wants. When that takes place you will never be surprised and it lets you devote your energies to helping them get what they want. Dean Smith knew that John Virgil wanted to be a Tar Heel and play in the NBA. He helped him get both. John Virgil got drafted in 1980 by the Golden State Warriors and he taught me about the importance of relationships.


  1. […] When I first started my blog Coach4day in 2014 not many of my posts got read. One did that I wrote on March 17, 2014 and it was about the Lesson Learned Recruiting John Virgil. […]

  2. […] college coaching a player I was recruiting for East Carolina Basketball was John Virgil. I wrote a post about that back in 2014. John Virgil taught me a valuable “Life Lesson” that I want to […]

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