The Soft Sell

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The Soft Sell

“We get the kids that we want.”

Bo Pelini said that on Wednesday during his press conference officially announcing the haul of recruits at Nebraska in 2013. Bo Pelini has used that line before on numerous occasions. It’s something of a mantra and certainly a convenient point of view.

It’s not that much different than the approach of the most die-hard recruitniks, the people who live and die with each day in the build-up to National Signing Day. You’re either with us or against us.

That’s the black and white approach, which is the way Pelini pursued the 26 scholarship recruits and 15 walk-ons who officially became Huskers on Wednesday.

“We don’t go in there with a lot of bells and whistles,” Pelini said. “It’s pretty black-and-white — this is what we have to offer, this is what our university has to offer.”

That approach sticks out on a day that’s about little more than bells and whistles.

Here’s what I saw this morning watching ESPNU’s wall-to-wall signing day coverage while fax-chasing and fact-checking Nebraska’s recruiting class:

–Wide receiver Stacy Coley announced he was attending Miami by donning a green and orange hat that read “SWAG.” .

–Alex Collins, a running back from Miami, said he was attending Arkansas on Monday. On Wednesday, just as Collins was set to go through the whole high school signing ceremony rigmarole, his mother showed up “confiscated the documents and left.” As of this writing, he remained unsigned.

–Ole Miss, a good football program with a great tailgating tradition, raced up the recruiting rankings by signing Robert Nkemdiche, the top-ranked player in the country, and two other players ranked in the top-25 by ESPN. All of them announced their decision live on national television. Ole Miss hasn’t won a conference title in football since 1963.

How does Nebraska fit in that strange, strange world that unfolds every year around this time? It doesn’t.

And it doesn’t try.

The closest Nebraska got to national television on Wednesday was a bizarre but endearingly low-budget Ustream feed of Jacquille Veii’s announcement. (His coach said prior to signing day that Veii “wanted to do the hat thing.”) After a very long build-up to the actual hat thing, Veii chose Maryland because he wanted to win championships and bowl games. And this seemed more fitting — with the rest of the day, with the rest of the class — than if he had chosen Nebraska.

“I talk a lot more about things other than football than I do football when I sit down in front of these kids and their families,” Pelini said. “In my mind, that’s the most important. Football will take care of itself.

“Most of those kids you saw on TV, the reality is they won’t play in the NFL. There’s a lot more to this. It’s a lot more important than what’s going to happen on the field on Saturdays for these young men.”

That’s a soft sell – this is what we have, sign up if you’re interested — and it sticks out in the hard sell world of recruiting. I suspect that most of the teams that win big on signing day tend to avoid the “odds of you playing in the NFL are very small” approach.

Sure, some schools don’t sugarcoat it. Others may. Some teams, like Alabama, can afford to sell nothing more than an opportunity to come in and work. Winning does the rest. Some schools, like Ole Miss, need a better pitch.

Nebraska isn’t Alabama. Not right now. Nebraska probably could be Ole Miss. But that’s not Bo Pelini. So Nebraska remains somewhere in the middle, trying to get the best players possible while coveting the best fit possible above anything else.

The people who rank such things rank the 2013 Nebraska class among the best under Pelini. Anywhere from around 11th in the country to 23rd, or somewhere in the range of where the Huskers have finished in the final AP rankings each year under Pelini.

That’s the hard thing about the soft sell. It’s different than the way many of the signing day winners do it. Eventually it has to work. Pelini know this.

“I can’t look into a crystal ball, but we’re going to fire our guns next year,” Pelini said. “I told every kid that we were recruiting, ‘Get your butt ready to play.’”

Pelini admitted that’s a bit of a different message from that of the past. The subtext? It’s time to win now.

Recruiting at Nebraska will remain a soft sell under Pelini. He said so explicitly.  But winning is still the hard reality.

Everything else is just bells and whistles.

“It’s pretty special, what we have here,” Pelini said. “If you’re about the right things, I think its a place that sells itself.”

People can, and will, argue over whether or not that’s the best approach. If nothing else, after 12 hours of signing day absurdity, it is a palate cleanser.

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