UCLA's secret weapon

LOS ANGELES -- One of the Pac-12's most intense recruiting battles actually didn't take place in a high school.

After UCLA offensive line coach Adrian Klemm returned from a recruiting trip in December, he received a call from new USC coach Steve Sarkisian with an offer that all but included the opportunity to use the Trojans' famed white horse, Traveler, any time he wanted to avoid traffic on the 405. But UCLA coach Jim Mora wasn't about to lose one of his top assistants to the school across town, so he did what any good coach would do. He made an in-home visit and left with a commitment.

"I was out of town recruiting, and I landed and drove right to his house at about 10 at night," Mora said. "I think I stayed until or 1 or 2, until I was sure USC wasn't going to come by. ... Until he signed that contract, I wasn't leaving. I wasn't going to lose him."

Klemm was ground zero of a recruiting battle between heated rivals USC and UCLA that is usually reserved only for the top high school football players in the country.

"I was being recruited," Klemm said. "The shoe was definitely on the other foot."

After winning three Super Bowl rings as an offensive lineman with the New England Patriots and Green Bay Packers, Klemm has quickly risen through the coaching ranks and has built a reputation as one of the best recruiters in the game.

His former coach at Hawaii, June Jones, gave him his start, offering him a job as a volunteer assistant at SMU in 2008. Klemm quickly earned a full-time position and established himself as one of the top recruiters in the country, especially among those in non-BCS programs. He left for UCLA in December 2011 and within weeks reeled in nine players in the 2012 class, including Simon Goines, a freshman All-American this past season. He also signed nine players in the 2013 class. Four of the Bruins' five starting offensive linemen in 2013 were recruited by Klemm, and he's been wildly successful in Atlanta, Dallas, Houston, Los Angeles and other national hotbeds.

That put him in the crosshairs of Sarkisian, who is tasked with turning around the USC program and helping the Trojans regain their recruiting mojo.

"It was a difficult decision," said Klemm, who is now also UCLA's associate head coach and earned a raise to $650,000 annually. "I'm not going to lie. It wasn't that I wanted to leave here or anything like that, but they made an offer that was very generous in a lot of ways, whether it was titles or a monetary offer. When it came down to it, I just didn't feel like it was the right time.

"I already think a lot about some of the pressures some of these kids face, but going through what I went through made me appreciate even more everything they have to endure. These guys aren't enjoying their proms. You see some of these guys, and they sign with a school on signing day, and it looks like they're going to cry. Or you see the parent's reaction to the kid, and you wonder what their relationship is going to be like once they get home. I can empathize because I lived through a recruiting process, too."

It's that type of emotional attachment to people that wins people over.

"Coach Klemm was one of the biggest reasons why I committed early," said Alize Jones, the No. 1-ranked tight end in the 2015 class. "I love Coach Klemm. He's always looking out for what's best for me. Every time I visit with him, I feel like he's personally invested in me. I didn't get that feeling, that connection, with any of the other coaches I talked with."

Those qualities led to an unexpected career in coaching. When Klemm retired from the NFL, he almost took a job in business but wanted more of a challenge. So he decided to finish up his degree at Hawaii, where he reached out to Jones about helping out the program. That led to Jones' offer, which forever changed Klemm's life.

"Coaching didn't click right away for me," Klemm said. "I was intrigued by it. I got some of the similar rushes that I did when I was playing. It was fun seeing guys getting a little bit better. As the season progressed, it wasn't easy, but in terms of understanding how to approach kids, how to do certain things and how to teach, all became easier. I started figuring it out, and I was like 'Man, I really want to do this.'"

He read Bruce Feldman's recruiting book "Meat Market" from cover to cover and marveled at the way then-USC assistant Ed Orgeron hustled harder than everybody else on the recruiting trail. He used what he learned from his former line coaches, Dante Scarnecchia with the New England Patriots and Mike Cavanaugh at Hawaii. Klemm combined Scarnecchia's approach of "brutal honesty" and respect when dealing with his players with Cavanaugh's ability to develop relationships.

The end result is a coach who is not only one of the best recruiters in the country, but also what another Pac-12 assistant called "one of the best coaches in the country, period."

"I would like be recognized, not so much with awards or different things, but I would like people to recognize that I take just as much, if not more, pride in my ability to coach," Klemm said. "This is something I do battle with, because I do want to be a head coach sometime in the near future."

Mora believes Klemm will get that opportunity sooner rather than later.

"Adrian has a reputation of being a great recruiter, and I think that overshadows what a great coach he is," Mora said. "He's going to make an outstanding head coach. I don't think Adrian is going to have to go be a coordinator to be a head coach, because I think his background as a player in the NFL and the people he's been able to be around, the Belichicks and the people like that, makes him extremely inviting for people. The guy's something.

"I'm just glad I convinced him to stick around here that night at his house."