Annie Hanson driving the OU recruiting bus
The early signing period was a huge success for Oklahoma. The Sooners officially signed 18 recruits, and Bradenton (Fla.) IMG Academy five-star cornerback Brendan Radley-Hiles enrolled with the Sooners.
What might have been even better than the signing period itself was the social media presentation by OU’s recruiting staff on the initial day of the early signing period.
You might remember this?
OU had former players like Adrian Peterson and Kenny Stills being excited about the Sooners signees as well as some current players, staff and Baker Mayfield telling fans why they should be excited for the 2018 group.
The idea – exceptional. The execution – perfect. You’re beginning to hear that on a routine basis in the last couple of years for OU’s recruiting efforts.
There’s no doubt head coach Lincoln Riley understands the power of recruiting, the power of social media. And there’s no doubt he couldn’t have picked a better ringleader of the group than when he hired Annie Hanson the week of OU’s first game of the 2017 season as the director of recruiting.
“She’s brought a lot. You can tell she’s been running her own recruiting program before,” said Riley during the season. “She’s grown a lot, I think, in her years away from here. She’s always had a ton of energy and a great people person. We knew that.
“She’s experienced. She’s bringing fresh new ideas and helping us push the envelope recruiting-wise. She brings a lot of organization. With the way we have things structured now, it fits her and helps fit our other people in recruiting where people are doing what they are best at more often.”
It was a homecoming for Hanson and a spot she is perfect for at OU. Who would understand better about recruiting than someone who has gone through the process and was also a Sooner?
Her name back then was Annie Martin, and she was a track and field captain at OU. Prior to returning to Norman, she had been at North Carolina during the 2015 and 2016 seasons. The same type of creativity and production was shown back then that ultimately led Hanson back to OU and led to Riley making the call.
“So my life's mission is to help others understand the importance of the student-athlete experience,” said Hanson during the season. “I'm all about inspiring others to take advantage of the opportunities that come with competing at the Division I level and earning a world-class education and ultimately becoming a part of a network that inspires others to achieve greatness.”
Hanson was involved in Sooner Club and fundraising and football operations following graduating from OU in 2012. She didn’t know too much about the ins and outs of OU’s recruiting. But she knew what she wanted to cement as part of her goals now that she’s coordinating the show.
You hear it said often in recruiting that a prospect felt like part of the family. It can’t just be a tagline, though. It has to be genuine. It didn’t start with Hanson or her team, but it has been taken to another level here in recent months.
A well-organized team with a strategic plan, and the Sooners continue to hit it out the park with recruits on official visits.
“And I'm all about just creating moments of happiness and moments of wow,” Hanson said. “And I really do feel like we've found a way to do that in a number of ways.”
The seamless transition is pretty amazing when you think about it. Hanson left UNC the week of OU’s first game. She wasn’t just leaving behind a program. She was leaving behind her husband. Back then, Zach Hanson was a graduate assistant for the Tar Heels.
The long distance remains, but it’s considerably shorter now that Zach Hanson was hired by Kansas State as an assistant coach last month.
There were excuses as to why things shouldn’t have gone so smoothly. But under Hanson’s direction, they just always have.
“She's 100 percent going all day long,” said Cale Gundy on early signing day. “A lot of energy. A lot of enthusiasm. She is tremendous with the family and with the parents. She just does a tremendous job. She's got great knowledge.
“She is somebody who has reached out and worked in other programs and found out what is going on. She is somebody who is looking to do things different. That's what you got to do in this. It's all about impressing these young men and families as well as having a good product on the field.”
The good product on the field has never been a question. Eleven Big 12 championships, including entering 2018 as back-to-back-to-back champions. Two appearances in the college football playoff in the last three seasons. It’s hard to ask for more.
Impressing the recruits and their families? You can now confidently check that off every time. Hanson’s background of not being a football person brought a different perspective.
You look at what OU has done for the 2018 class. You see the start the Sooners are producing for the 2019 group. Safe to say, it’s working. And here’s her reasons why.
“I mean there's so many things that when you look at companies that do well, give you Disney is a great example,” Hanson said. “Disney is a company that has embraced a lot of different values as it relates to really optimizing their opportunity to work for the people and serving the people.
“Quality service is a big part of that. What's common sense to you and I isn't always put into common practice and you know I really utilize that in a lot of different ways. Specifically, in ways that I'm hoping to bring to the table here in terms of creating moments of happiness, moments of wow. Being assertively friendly. Going up to people, not waiting for them to come to you but actually going to them to initiate conversation – doing things that people do not expect.
“Recruiting is very psychological. And the more you can get in the hearts and the minds and in the ears of these guys, I mean there's different ways of doing that. And for me quality service is at the forefront of that and that involves a lot of different things. And so as we continue and move forward that's part of this big picture philosophy that we got to work to continue to just get that much better and continue to exceed people's expectations.”
Hard to argue with the results so far.