Coach Finishes The Indy 311

By Staff

Coaching Management, 12.4, April 2004,

Having coaches from NCAA Division I programs visit was nothing new for Bill Sharpe, Head Football Coach and Athletic Director at Jimtown High School in northern Indiana. Jimtown has regularly produced top prospects, the usual draw for collegiate coaches. Some in-state programs, including Purdue, Ball State, and Indiana State, have a member of the staff drop by just about every year. So when Gerry DiNardo, Head Coach at Indiana University, came last May, the attraction wasn’t the novelty of welcoming a Big 10 head coach to the office.

What was new was the reason behind the visit. DiNardo was at Jimtown not to woo a hot prospect, but to fulfill a pledge he had made when taking the job in January 2002 that he would visit all 311 football-playing high schools in Indiana. Sharpe was impressed—not only that DiNardo was taking his pledge seriously, but that he took the visit seriously.

"We talked about special teams," says Sharpe. "He showed us some stuff they do on kicks and kick-returns. To do what he did shows that he really wants to gain the trust of the football coaches in the state."

It took DiNardo a couple of years to complete the mission. According to coaches he visited, he would head to a region of Indiana, map out schools in the area, and drive. Much of the travel was in May, during a recruiting down time but one when high school coaches would be on their campuses.

DiNardo estimated he put more than 13,000 miles on his school vehicle, according to the Indianapolis Star. "I think this was an important step," DiNardo told the paper. "When you look to the future, I feel like we have now begun the process of developing strong relationships with every high school, and I think that’s a good thing."

DiNardo’s investment in gas, oil, and tires seems to be paying off in goodwill among high school coaches. That certainly is the case with Jim Koester, Athletic Director at Leo High School in the state’s northeastern corner. Koester kept a clipping of a newspaper story about DiNardo’s hiring in 2002 highlighting a quotation in which DiNardo says he’ll visit every football school whether it has a prospect or not. When DiNardo came, Koester pulled the clipping from his desk. DiNardo signed and dated the margin next to the quote.

"You always hear coaches make promises," Koester says. "They promise you the sun, the moon, the stars. And then they never fulfill all the promises. I understand—coaches have to go after the prize recruits. So when somebody says that they’re going to go to every school in your state to visit, it’s unbelievable. And then he did. It’s just absolutely, positively unbelievable. It’s electrifying."

Adding to the good impression was DiNardo’s manner during the visits, Koester adds. "He wasn’t in a rush. It wasn’t a cameo. It wasn’t a walk-through. And it wasn’t a photo session. He made some jokes and we talked. There are a lot of high school coaches in the area rooting for IU, and the reason is Coach DiNardo took the time to visit that school.

"You always talk to your players about commitment, about dedication, about giving time to your sport," continues Koester, "and now you have a head coach at a college who is saying the same thing—who is doing the same thing."

DiNardo’s efforts will pay off for IU well beyond the next recruiting year, predicts Sharpe. "High school coaches will sometimes say, ‘I really don’t want my kids to go to a certain school,’ but I don’t think that’s ever going to be the case at IU. Instead, coaches will be saying, ‘If my kid goes there, I know they’ve got good people who care about kids. He won’t be there just to be an athlete.’ I think Coach DiNardo is very sincere in his belief that college is part of a growing process and athletics is just a part of that process.

"He resurrected the Hoosier fan base for football," Sharpe adds. "A lot of head high school coaches are now rooting for IU."