BATON ROUGE, La. -- Filling Frank Wilson’s vacated position has not been high on LSU coach Les Miles’ priority list lately -- not with national signing day only a week away -- but replacing Wilson means much more than hiring a new running backs coach or recruiting coordinator.
Yes, adding a new assistant coach will obviously be important for Miles once the dust settles on the recruiting trail. Finding someone to wear all of the hats that Wilson -- who on Jan. 15 accepted the head coach position at the University of Texas San Antonio -- wore at LSU will be more difficult.
“He actually became part of my family -- always there for my family, always there for my mom and dad. Anything they needed, just a family guy,” said linebacker Kendell Beckwith, one of the many high-profile prospects whom Wilson convinced to attend LSU as their lead recruiter. “I say he just became a part of us and I wish him the best. I wish he can go there and really bring that program up.”
As the second coach in UTSA’s history, Wilson takes over a fledgling program that enjoyed early success under Larry Coker, but slipped to 4-8 in 2014 and 3-9 in 2015 -- the Roadrunners’ fourth and fifth seasons in existence. If he is to lead the program to contender status in Conference USA and to its first bowl game, Wilson must leverage the charisma that helped him earn a reputation as one of the nation’s top recruiters.
An old recruiting cliché is that it’s a relationship business, but that one is completely true. Convincing prospects in a talent-rich state to join the UTSA program will require Wilson and his staff to develop relationships early and cultivate them well after they sign their letters of intent.
He is a pro in that department, however, if LSU players’ emotional responses to his departure are any indication.
“You build a bond, you build a friendship with someone for the past three years, when they leave it’s kind of a missing piece,” Beckwith said.
The sentiment was mutual.
“As for the players that I’ve recruited over the years and most recently in Baton Rouge, yeah, they’re near and dear to me because there’s that kinship piece that we talked about, that it’s bigger than football the sport, that we sincerely nurture them to be better men, that we model for them what it is to be a good husband, what it is to be a good father,” Wilson said at his introductory press conference at UTSA.
“And when you have that type of impact in a young man’s life, they cling to you and it becomes more than just football. It’s a tangible that they can’t just let loose easily. They were super excited for me. It was an emotional time, but yet tears of joy because they all supported me coming here.”
Wilson said he learned from Miles how to approach his new job with a long-term view. And he has already hired several coaches who shared that experience in Baton Rouge.
UTSA announced on Monday that LSU associate strength and conditioning director Ryan Filo and intern Spencer Ross will lead the Roadrunners’ football strength program. Wilson had previously hired LSU graduate assistant Ryan Pugh and offensive analyst Jeff Kastl as his new offensive line and wide receivers coaches.
As for the position he left behind, Miles said last Friday that he knew it was only a matter of time before Wilson landed the head coaching opportunity he desired. His departure arrived at an inconvenient time, but Miles’ former recruiting coordinator had still put the Tigers in great position to lock down the nation’s top signing class next week.
“Frank did a great job positioning us in this recruiting class and he was always one of my best assistants,” Miles said. “He was going to be a head coach, there wasn’t any question, and I can’t be happier for him only other than I miss him.”
Miles said he has not decided whether the new assistant will also claim the recruiting coordinator title, noting that “there are ways to go and very positive ones” among current staffers.
Miles’ staff is stocked with coaches who are widely recognized as dynamic recruiters, after all. But Wilson is now enjoying the opportunity to run a program of his own for a reason, and replacing all that he brought to the LSU program will not be easy.
“He gets involved not only in the guys that he’s recruiting, but guys that other people are recruiting,” Miles said. “He’s got a great perspective. That perspective is now trained toward UT San Antonio.”