When Mark Stoops announced the hire of Vince Marrow back in December of 2012, his credentials didn’t immediately jump off the page. Or ever, for that matter.
Marrow had been a graduate assistant with Nebraska under head coach Bo Pelini, where he looked over the tight ends unit and eventually helped recruit when associate head coach Barney Cotton was unable to travel while recovering from surgery.
Before that, he served as a tight ends coordinator for two NFL Europe teams, the University of Toledo, and the Omaha Night Hawks, and was also a head coach for Springfield High School in Holland, OH. He played in the NFL from 1992-1995, and then overseas until 1998. He even played in the lone season of the XFL begun by WWE’s Vince McMahon in 2001.
Stoops and Marrow had known each other since before they were 10 years old, and played together at Cardinal Mooney High School in Youngstown, Ohio. At first glance, it looked like the newly-hired Kentucky head coach was handing out a favor for a longtime family friend.
Five years later, Vince Marrow is the most valuable element of the Kentucky football program.
“Our logo right now probably the last three years has been the second-most dominant logo recruiting in Ohio,” Marrow said on National Signing Day last Wednesday.
He and the Kentucky Wildcats had just earned a signature from four-star linebacker Chris Oats over Ohio State, the fifth UK signee from the state of Ohio.
Bill Greene, an Ohio recruiting insider for 247 Sports, said despite a hard late push from the Buckeyes, Oats’ relationship with Marrow ultimately won out in the end.
“I always felt they were in good shape when Oats described his relationship with Marrow as a father/son relationship,” Greene said. “I never heard him talk that way about any other head coach or any other assistant coach at any other school. Even when I thought Ohio State might be able to win this one, that always stuck with me.”
Ohio recruiting analyst Andrew Lind reported similar information when the tide started turning blue for Oats, saying Kentucky flat out won the recruiting battle with OSU, with Marrow being one the key reason.
“While questions about his grades will surely be tossed around as a reason why he didn’t end up at Ohio State, Oats’ decision will be more so about his relationship with Marrow and the rest of Kentucky’s staff,” he said.
This is a sentiment we have heard time and time again from talented recruits, specifically from the state of Ohio.
Five of the top 35 prospects from the state of Ohio signed with Kentucky in the 2018 recruiting class. Six of the top 30 prospects from Ohio signed with Kentucky in 2017. In 2016, 10 of Ohio’s top 56 recruits ended up in Lexington.
Since arriving at Kentucky back in 2012, Marrow has been the lead recruiter on 37 Kentucky signees from the state of Ohio, with 16 of those prospects being listed as a four-star by at least one recruiting service.
When Kentucky’s 2014 recruiting class finished as a consensus top-25 group, and easily the highest rated in school history, attention turned toward UK’s lead recruiter. In 2015, Jim Harbaugh and the Michigan Wolverines did their best to steal the talented recruiting coordinator away from Kentucky, but a hefty raise and promotion kept him in blue and white.
When whispers of other schools laying the groundwork to make another run at him spread last March, Kentucky signed Marrow to a three-year contract extension to keep him at UK as the recruiting coordinator through 2020, including another pay raise worth roughly $500,000 a year.
And even that may be an underpay.
You see, what Vince Marrow does at Kentucky on the surface is appreciated, but that’s not where he holds his incredible value with the program. What he does behind the scenes, however, is where he has become a truly special talent.
He has looked every elite program in the eye while crossing paths on the recruiting trail without flinching and has won at an unprecedented rate. He backs down to no one. Like we’ve seen with Oats, Lynn Bowden, Josh Paschal, CJ Conrad, and plenty others, Marrow competed with the big dogs and won out on National Signing Day. And when those same elite programs come knocking on the door in the weeks leading up to Signing Day, he almost always manages to hold them off.
Even if he loses a recruiting battle initially, he doesn’t give up there. Just this past year, Kentucky signee Nick Lewis committed to Washington State early in the recruiting process, and Marrow called him immediately afterward to tell him he’d end up in blue and white regardless. After constantly prying and digging, he got the 6-foot-9, 348-pound lineman to visit Lexington, and he flipped his commitment almost immediately after.
If Marrow gets his foot in the door with a four or five-star talent, that player will not commit to any school without thinking twice about the Wildcats. It’s a fact. The mutual respect gained is something that never fades, and it has paid off in the end on several occasions. According to multiple sources, Marrow also keeps tabs on former top recruits in case a potential transfer comes to fruition (keep an eye on a former four-star receiver that had Kentucky in his final two from several years back.)
Family. Community. Priority.
When Marrow gets involved with a recruit, he’s all in. When you see some of the other top programs in the nation recruit, they place players on the backburner as second or third options in case other situations arise. They’ll “offer” a scholarship, and then tell them to their face to hold off on visiting or making a commitment until closer to Signing Day. With Kentucky’s top recruiter, every player is a priority, and they are treated as such. Recruits and their families respect that.
“He makes every recruit feel like they are the No. 1 prospect on Kentucky’s board,” said one former top prospect and Kentucky signee. “Once they’re committed, Coach Marrow just takes it to the next level. He creates a family atmosphere that you don’t see anywhere else.”
Even still, everyone knows Vince Marrow is an extraordinary recruiter. He has made raking in four-star talent the norm, and Kentucky fans expect a solid number of them each recruiting class as a result. But what else does he do for the school to separate himself from the pack?
One source close to a Kentucky player that made an NFL decision this offseason said Marrow was easily the difference maker.
“You don’t understand what it’s like to be recruited by Coach Marrow, you really don’t,” they said. “(When he was making his decision), it felt like you could trust him with every aspect of the situation wholeheartedly. He laid everything out, pros and cons, and (the player) was able to make the best decision for him. It truly felt like he was being recruited to Kentucky all over again. (He) felt special.”
Marrow gave his pitch, and made him feel wanted at Kentucky, but didn’t force the issue. He didn’t do what was in the school’s best interest or his own, it was entirely on what was best for the player, and his family appreciated that.
It was a decision that was done the right way, with the right resources to help.
Following Kentucky’s loss in the TaxSlayer Bowl back in 2016, Boom Williams announced his decision to enter the NFL Draft, one that shocked no one. Williams had always loved the spotlight and had dreams of playing in the NFL, and it was no secret he wanted to get there as soon as possible. In the decision making process in the weeks leading up to the bowl game, Vince Marrow put in countless hours of work talking to NFL scouts and teams about Williams’ draft stock, knowing full well he had all but decided he was going pro. Still though, like he had promised to do with every other Wildcat since he got to Kentucky, he went the extra mile.
After receiving draft grades of anywhere from the fifth round to undrafted, Marrow approached Williams’ family about the numbers and strongly advised him to reevaluate his decision. Williams’ family talked to their own people and came to the conclusion that Boom would be selected in the “first or second round,” and went forward with the draft preparation process.
Williams went undrafted and has yet to play a down in the NFL.
If tensions rise in the locker room, Marrow is the one to neutralize the problem. If a player is upset with his current status on the team and threatens to transfer, Marrow talks them back from the ledge. When Kentucky needs to seal the deal with a recruit on the fence, Marrow delivers the knockout blow.
In all aspects of the game, Vince Marrow has been Kentucky football’s most valuable element since he arrived on campus back in 2012. He has taken recruiting to unforeseen heights, developed an inseparable bond with both recruits and current players, and overall, helped build excitement and expectation of success around the program we haven’t seen in years.
In five short years, Marrow has gone from being thought of as nothing more than Mark Stoops’ close friend to becoming a Kentucky football icon.