Alex Golesh will most likely sit down at some point tonight, relax and enjoy the satisfaction of having another recruiting class signed. Then the Illinois football recruiting coordinator will get back to work. On the 2015 and 2016 classes. The 29-year-old realizes much work remains for Illinois to meet all the goals Tim Beckman has for his program. Before fax machines all across the country started whirring with letters of intents coming in, Golesh sat down with beat writer MATT DANIELS and contributor COLE PRATT to talk recruiting, traveling and growing up in Russia.
How busy has these two months been recruiting-wise?
It’s been busy just because you’re on the road all week and you have the official visit weekends. This year they changed the rule where you end up losing about a week and a half. So you feel more compressed than you ever did before. Then you feel like you’ve got to get the head coach around faster. It feels sped up. I’ve been leaving on Sunday afternoon and getting back on Thursday night to help make sure the weekends set up on Friday and get rolling with it.
Do you keep track of how many miles you’ve logged since the end of the season, or do you even want to think about that?
Yeah, I wouldn’t want to think about that. Those first two weeks are kind of crazy. It gets crazy with the midyear kids because you feel like you’ve got to see them and make sure everything is set after they’re already here. These last two weeks feel a little bit calmer because half of your class is already here.
Does this class have an identity at all?
I think this is the first time in the three classes we signed that we feel like we addressed all of our needs. It’s a small class. It’s not going to be ranked high. It just isn’t because of the size but we address some big-time needs. It’s not just that we address needs with bodies but we address needs with big-time national players (at) defensive line, wideout and linebacker. I feel like more than we ever have that we evaluated really, really well, early and got some key spots to jump in early, and I think that really helped.
Do you see the trend of you recruiting earlier and earlier continuing in the future?
It’s crazy. I got a call from a high school coach (recently) and he said, “Coach you haven’t been in yet.” I said, “I am trying to get through 2014 and have a great feel for 2015.” The coach named the kid, I had already watched the kid, and I said, “Well, coach, he’s a freshman.” He said, “Yeah, but everybody’s been in.” I actually told my wife and said, “If I’m going to be recruiting freshmen (offensive linemen) then this process has really gotten jacked up.” You’re forced to eval earlier and earlier, which in my opinion is going to cause you to miss more and more.
Some of the recruits you’re getting don’t have the most stars next to their name. How confident do you feel about them contributing at Illinois?
I think every one of them has a different story, to be honest with you. It’s hard to generalize it together. We felt like Chayce Crouch was the second-best quarterback in Ohio through our evaluation. Some people had him anywhere from the third through the eighth-best quarterback in the state. I can honestly say we watched one through eight throw, and we said Chayce was the second-best one. Then you add character, success in high school, leadership and all those things. I feel like we evaluated a kid like Chayce better than Rivals, Scout, 247, anybody ever could. He was the heartbeat of that school for three years — from basketball playing for a state title to baseball winning a state title to football playing for a state title. That doesn’t happen by accident. Whether you can throw a field-side comeback or not, those kids are priceless. Mikey Dudek is a kid where you look at him and just say, “Ehhhhh.” But we had Mikey at camp two years in a row. Mikey is another kid who committed early. If Mikey would have gone through the fall he probably would have had 15-20 offers. He was another kid where we just truly evaluated that kid early, and we’ve said we were going to do that in the state and not miss on kids like that.
Do you feel you’re under pressure?
I’d say so, but pressure is all what you put on it though. I think if you go to work every day and work your tail off, then you’ll be fine. It’s assumed pressure when you take the job. It’s no more pressure than to make sure I take the trash out on Thursday nights because that’s my chore at the house. My wife does everything else. I’ve just got to take the trash out. If I screw that up, that’s pressure. When you believe in the plan and believe in the process, there is no pressure.
Does it make you mad when you hear people say, “There’s not enough four-star or five-star recruits.” Does that motivate you more?
No. This is a results-based business. People want results. The problem that I think you get into if you’re trying to win the press conference on signing day, you’re going to force yourself to take kids that maybe don’t fit or aren’t exactly what you want academically. We need those same fans to turn around and help us excite the 2015 class rather than worry about stars or rankings. If any recruiting service had all the answers, they’d be coaching. That’s not a knock on them. There’s a lot of them that work their tails off, but if they miss on a four-star recruit, they keep their job. If we miss on a four-star player, we’re out looking for a job.
What interested you to get so heavily involved in recruiting?
I enjoy sales. I enjoy talking to people. I enjoy kids. I enjoy parents. I enjoy meeting new people. I really do. I genuinely enjoy the coaching. I started out as a high school coach. I’ve been pretty blessed to have some opportunities. The recruiting part comes with it. When I was at Northern Illinois and at Oklahoma State as a graduate assistant, it seemed, for whatever reason, I always got most of the recruiting responsibilities. I don’t know if they trusted me with the kids or personality-wise. When we got to Toledo, Coach (Beckman) literally looked around the room and said, “Al, you take it.” I was talking to Coach Beckman in the car when we were out recruiting recently, and we were talking about the first kid that we ever had commit at Toledo, which was his first kid that he ever got as a head coach, was a kid out of Newark Catholic. That’s the same high school as Chayce Crouch. It was our first commit as a staff. I got the commitment, so we were just talking about how neat that was. We look at Chayce as being the future of what we’re building. I think recruiting is easy if you’re organized, thorough and genuinely enjoy meeting people. That’s all it is. It’s relationships. Parents want to send their kids where their kids are comfortable, and kids want to play somewhere where it’s cool to play.
What was it like growing up in Russia?
I was seven when we moved over to the United States. I didn’t live in Siberia. We grew up in Moscow. The most vivid memories I have are they opened up a McDonald’s, which was right down the street from my grandparents’ house. It was the first McDonald’s right in downtown. I remember standing in line for about three hours waiting to get in. It was like the biggest McDonald’s you’ve ever seen. I remember playing soccer with my brother and ice skating with my brother. Everybody played hockey. I never started first grade there. I went to preschool and went to kindergarten. You start first grade in Russia when you’re 7. We moved to America on Sept. 22, 1991, so I started second grade when we moved here.
Did you know any English?
Not really. Just a little bit. My mom was taking some English classes, so I learned Itsy Bitsy Spider right away. I was in the ESL classes for maybe a year or two, but you catch on quick. When we lived in Brooklyn, we lived in Bay Ridge, which was a very diverse area. There was a large Italian population and a large Russian population, so I wasn’t the only kid from Russia in class. I was there through elementary school and half of middle school, but we were pretty fortunate to be able to move to Columbus, Ohio.
You were in Russia during a very tumultuous time in its history. What do you remember?
I remember the government being taken down. Both of my grandpas were career officers in the Russian army. I remember them taking us down to some protests in May or June of 1991, and there was a memorial where some people had been killed. I just remember seeing that and my parents telling me, “This is why we’re leaving.” I was pretty blessed to get away from that. Don’t get me wrong, we didn’t grow up in poverty over there. My parents had jobs, and we grew up OK. It was when we moved to Brooklyn that was tough. I always say it really is the American dream. When we moved over, you were allowed to bring $100 per person, so we moved over with $400. My aunt, who was already over here, helped us get an apartment. My dad drove a truck. They got him a job working for a Russian trucking company. My mom was working, and she went back to get her degree. We struggled for a long time in New York. We struggled for a while when we first moved to Ohio, too.
Obviously you hate losing as much as the next football coach, but does your upbringing give you some perspective?
I try to be pretty positive. I feel like the luckiest guy in the world most days when it hasn’t been that long ago that I was thinking, “Man, if I can just get a Division I job.” We really are blessed with being able to be here and the support we’ve got and the support my wife has got. It’s a great place to raise our daughter here, and we’re having another one, a boy. My wife made it Facebook official (recently). My parents did an unbelievable job when I was growing up. We were never wanting for anything. I shared a room with my brother growing up in Brooklyn, but I just thought that’s how it was.
When did you get interested in football?
When we moved to Columbus. In New York, the high school football at the public schools is so erratic. I knew if I wanted to play football, it wasn’t going to happen there. It was probably in seventh or eighth grade, and I had never played, so that was always fun.
Did you know how to put on a helmet?
No, I really didn’t. I remember that a couple of guys, who I’m still really, really close with, had to teach me how to put the pads on and the pants on. That’s what got me was the girdle and the pants. I figured the rest of it out.