CHAMPAIGN – Ron Turner's done more courting and wooing this weekend than a thousand Old World princes.
His pursuit: hundreds of prep football coaches. The Illinois High School Football Coaches Association Clinic is in town, and the University of Illinois coach seeks to foster a cozy relationship with the men who whisper in the ears of Illinois' talent.
"Where else is he going to get to see 1,500 football coaches in one weekend?," Murphysboro coach Jim Woodward said.
It's Turner's first chance to build a strong bond with a critical group of constituents.
"It's a tremendous opportunity, (particularly) if the coaches in the state are going to support him and the university like we have in the past," said former Glenbrook North coach Harold "Sam" Samorian. "We've been very influential in the past in getting our homegrown players to come here."
Lou Tepper certainly knew that. The former Illini boss was known for his warm feelings for the state's prep coaches, and vice versa.
"I can remember last year with Tepper's group, (they'd say), 'Here's what we see all the time. How would you defend this?' " Woodward said.
He thinks Turner's off to a similar start.
"They've been outstanding. This is Coach's first year here, and he's been very responsive to what we're doing, and he wants to continue what we've done here," Woodward said.
"We've got some of the best players in the nation here in Illinois. This is a great recruiting tool for him, to have all these coaches here to see what he's doing and what he's all about."
Turner seems keenly aware. He spoke with the group – more than 1,400 have registered – on Thursday night and again briefly on Friday at the Chancellor Hotel. Coaches were invited to watch Illinois' spring practices.
Turner stressed his belief that all coaches in the state have a responsibility to promote the sport in Illinois. And he repeatedly spoke of his commitment to keeping Illinois prep players in their native state for four more years.
"I really believe we've got an obligation to one another," Turner said. "We've got an obligation on our end to recruit and do the best job we can do to keep the players in the state. You guys have an obligation to promote the University of Illinois. I don't mean you have to push your players here or anything like that.
"I go around to recruit players in various states, and you hear, 'Yeah, he's a great player, but you're going to have a hard time getting him to leave the state to go to school.' That's something we're going to strive extremely hard to get that same thing to happen in Illinois.
"There's no reason for them to leave the state of Illinois. We're going to do everything in our power to make sure that nobody ... leaves this state. We've got all the resources necessary here.
"It's gonna take us earning the respect of you guys and you guys feeling good enough about our program to help us in that area. We don't expect you to push players this way, but we do expect you to make them aware of us, make them aware of what you see when you come down here, of the way we conduct business, the way we treat players and everything you see here."
Said Samorian: "I think the university has an opportunity to really get in with the coaches in the state, and we'll support the state university if the university goes along with us."