How Tony Hull engineered a Louisiana recruiting pipeline at Kansas

What Tony Hull is pulling off at Kansas Jayhawks is not rocket science. The man knows rocket science. Recruiting is much easier than rocket science.

The shock over what he and David Beaty have pulled off so far is understandable. A staff that’s 2-22 in two seasons is not supposed to land commitments from elite recruits, but that’s what Kansas is doing. The Jayhawks already have seven pledges for 2018, two from ESPN Junior 300 standouts.

That’s right, Kansas has the (extremely) early No. 1 recruiting class in the Big 12. Hull, a second-year assistant Beaty hired straight out of the Louisiana high school ranks, brought in five of those pledges. He’s enjoying any outrage or suspicion those gets have evoked.

“You’ve got all these conspiracy theories and all this craziness,” Hull said. “It’s like, man, do people realize I was a high school coach a year ago?

“It’s spending hours on the phone with kids late at night when they come home from practice. Instead of going home and watching TV, I’m in the office on the phone with parents and kids trying to develop relationships.”

The long rebuild in progress at Kansas isn’t at all daunting to an assistant who built New Orleans’ Warren Easton Charter High School football from the bottom up. He restarted their program in 2007, two years after the devastation of Hurricane Katrina, with a team of 45 resilient kids. Only three had ever played high school football. He started off with a staff of seven. Only two had ever coached high school football.

“So all the athletes had already gone to other schools,” Hull said. “We started from scratch. We had to develop as coaches while we were developing kids.”

This immense challenge felt like a calling to Hull, so much so that he’d walked away from his previous career as an industrial engineer. He was making good money at a subsidiary of NASA, working for three years on the massive orange external fuel tanks that provide the backbone of space shuttles during launch.

Somehow, Hull pulled it all off. By 2014, Warren Easton was playing in the 4A state championship game in the Superdome. Warren Easton produced 45 future Division I players during his tenure, including ESPN’s No. 1 recruit in Louisiana for 2015 (Oklahoma State WR Tyron Johnson) and eight Power 5 signees in his last two years.

“If you told an average person their story, it would be very, very hard for most folks to not get emotional when they hear it,” Beaty said. “It’s that cool of a story and a rebuild. He always just did what was best for his kids.”

When college job offers rolled in after the 2015 season, Hull said working for Beaty as Kansas’ running backs coach just felt right. He found a head coach who matched his passion for raising young men on and off the field. Leaving Warren Easton was one of the hardest things he’s ever done, but this job provides another way to give back to New Orleans.

“I’m able to give kids an opportunity they might not have if I wasn’t at a Big 12 school,” Hull said.

He’d never visited Lawrence, Kansas, prior to his job interview. He was wowed by the warm embrace of a supportive college community. He says that’s the No. 1 reason why Louisiana kids should make the nearly 700 mile move north. The people of Kansas make his sell so much easier.

So does the success of players like Mike Lee. The New Orleans native was supposed to be a four-star safety in the 2017 recruiting class. He instead made the rare move to enroll at Kansas a year early. He became one of the Big 12’s most productive freshmen in a year when he should’ve been a high school senior.

“You couldn’t get him to say two words before he got to KU. He never talked,” Hull said. “Now he’s outspoken and articulate and he’s great in the community. Parents of New Orleans see that and love that.”

It will take a few more Louisiana kids shining for Hull to maintain this pipeline he’s building. The Jayhawks already have Lee, Alabama transfer WR Daylon Charlot and backup QB Tyriek Starks (a Warren Easton grad), plus incoming freshmen Travis Jordan and Takulve Williams. Hull hopes they help more kids realize they can leave SEC country and still thrive.

What the staff pulled off at their Feb. 4 junior day was a stunning sign of progress. Kansas landed pledges from ESPN 300 prospects WR Devonta Jason and DB Corione Harris, teammates at Landry Walker High in New Orleans. They landed RB Anthony Williams, DB Aaron Brule and DT Nelson Jenkins out of Louisiana soon after.

Beaty recently rewarded Hull for all his hard work with a promotion to associate head coach and a $250,000 raise. Hull is quick to praise Beaty and the rest of Kansas’ coaching staff at every turn for the early recruiting success.

Yes, there’s still a long, long road to signing day. Hull knows he’s going to have to fight all year long to hold on to his kids. One ESPN 300 Louisiana recruit who committed at KU’s junior day, JaMarr Chase, reopened his recruitment on Sunday, citing a need to get everybody in his family “on the same page.” Keeping the rest will be challenging, no doubt.

“I love the thrill of competition,” Hull said. “I got this job by competing. We were able to survive the natural disasters that hit the state of Louisiana by surviving and competing. So I’m thrilled to be able to compete with other schools and other recruiters in Louisiana to get kids to come to KU.”