Berry: 'You have to have players'
It's a theme Illinois football's director of player personnel Marcus Berry harps on when it comes to recruiting, his main responsibility in his new position with the Illini.
Relationships is what got Berry, a former coach at Friendly (Md.) High School, into the college ranks.
Berry developed a close relationship with former North Carolina assistant, Tommy Thigpen, who is now the linebackers coach at Tennessee.
“He was the guy that recruited my area in Maryland ... and he always told me, ‘Man, you’d be great at this recruiting stuff,’” Berry said. “He would always come in town, and he’s from northern Virginia, so he’d stay at a hotel in northern Virginia and call me and say, ‘Hey, come on man, let’s go get some ribs or wings.’ I’d meet him wherever and then he would always grill me on who the top players in the area were, so I helped him to know where to go to see the guys,”
When the director of player personnel resigned at North Carolina, Thigpen was on the phone with Berry shortly after.
An interview with former North Carolina coach Butch Davis soon followed.
“He called me and said, ‘I want you to email me your resume right now,’” Berry said. “I was one of seven people to interview, and they said when I left the room, Coach Davis looked at the whole staff and said, ‘That’s our guy.’ He called me back two days later and offered me the job.”
Now Berry has a chance to fill a similar role at Illinois.
Along with developing contacts and staying in touch with high school coaches and players, he is in charge of on-campus visits once recruits come to Champaign-Urbana.
“When a kid gets on campus, it’s my job to make sure he has a great experience,” Berry said. “We set an itinerary and try to make sure he can see everything from the campus, the facilities, meet with his position coach and meet with academics. If they have a specific interest in a major, we try to get them over to that school, and if it’s a kid we really like who’s got a specific major, we try to set up a meeting with one of the professors over there so they can see what the curriculum is going to be like.”
Berry said Illinois coach Tim Beckman came after him strong this offseason.
The two had built a relationship more than a decade ago after three former Friendly players went to Bowling Green, where Beckman was the defensive coordinator.
Those ties, plus a $40,000 raise, were enticement enough for Berry to head north despite the shaky start to the Beckman era.
“He’s always won wherever he’s been, so I really believe in him,” Berry said. “I think it’s a lot easier for me (to relate with high school coaches) because I was one of them. I understand what the deal is. It took me probably a year when I was at North Carolina where I really felt comfortable and they felt comfortable with me and knew who I was. Once I get that down, I’ll be able to get the guys.”
Getting those players to Illinois, however, is the challenge.
It’s also the task Berry is entrusted with, and the West Virginia graduate understands it.
“I don’t care how good of a coach you are — and we have a really good coaching staff — you have to have players. You have to have players,” Berry said. “If you don’t have players, I don’t care how good of a coach you are. You aren’t going to win games.”