Relationships are the lifeblood of college football recruiting.
Who college coaching staffs should build those relationships with, however, raises some questions.
In a story last week, ESPN’s Sam Kahn Jr. broached this subject with prominent college coaches like Texas’ Tom Herman, Baylor’s Matt Rhule and Houston’s Major Applewhite. He also talked to high school coaches, trainers, 7-on-7 coaches and prospects’ family members.
In speaking with ESPN, Rhule said he believed that high school head coaches are the best gate keepers for potential recruits. Herman, however, was more diplomatic in his response.
“There is an element of ‘we’ve got to do business the way business is done,’ ” Herman told Kahn Jr. “It’s not our job to change the way things are; it’s our job to find out who the influential people are in a young man’s life and make sure that we build relationships with them.”
So, how do a few prominent coaches from the DFW area feel about the topic?
“I am of the belief that we know these kids as well as anybody else does, and if a college coach wants information about a kid, the best avenue is to talk to their high school football coach and not deal with the middle-men that are out there,” said Aledo head coach Steve Wood.
Arlington Martin head coach Bob Wager, who coached former No. 1 NFL draft pick Myles Garrett, is well aware that recruiting is a 365-day-a-year job. He’s found what he believes is the best way to make sure the dialogue and interactions between high school coaches and recruiters is as smooth as possible.
“Our objective is to make it so convenient for them with profile sheets, with weekly communications to every football-playing school in the country,” Wager said. “We want to be like McDonald’s. You go through the drive-through in two minutes and you know exactly what you’re going to get.”
Every year, more and more 13 and 14-year-olds are receiving verbal scholarship offers from big time college programs too.
“It’s hard for a kid to tell a grown man no,” Wood said. “It’s hard for me to tell people no sometimes. I wish there were more limits on that, but that’s out of my control, so we try to deal with what we can control.”
Of course the ever-expanding rise of 7-on-7 camps and organizations, as well as personal trainers and coaches, have become major points of contention.
“There’s good trainers and good 7-on-7 coaches that have provided some of these young men with some really, really good mentorship,” Herman told ESPN. “And so ... to lump them all into shady-character category, I think, is unfair to them as well.
“As long as we’re following the rules, unless we’ve been specifically told that a guy has been sanctioned by the NCAA – which we have a list of – as long as we go about our business in compliance, who we’re dealing with is irrelevant. Just follow the rules and you’ll be OK.”
For high school coaches, though, it’s a much more difficult arena to navigate.
“I’m not really in favor of them going off and and playing with another group or team,” Wood said. “The reality is we train them and I have confidence in what we do training-wise.
“I think that if you don’t watch out, you’ve got a lot of people trying to get their hand in the cookie jar. And before you know it, you’ve got people advising people and telling them things that sometimes aren’t true because they are trying to make money.”
So, is there any upside to these outside influences?
“If there’s collaboration it can work,” he said. “We have can eight-hour limitation with our student-athletes throughout the course of the week. Thankfully, we are in a place where kids want to get better and want to do everything they can to improve.”
While Wager concurred, he was a little bit less conciliatory.
“I think what’s changed though is, all I can remember as a kid is going out and throwing and catching a ball with a group of guys after school, and I didn’t need anyone to tell me how to do it,” he said.
In the ESPN story, former Cedar Hill High School head coach Joey McGuire, who is now an assistant coach at Baylor, relayed that Rhule is not a big fan of social media, particularly when it comes to recruiting.
It’s a sentiment Wood seemed to share.
“Social media has gotten out of control as far as I am concerned,” he said. “Newspapers used to report what everybody did, but now everybody self-reports everything they do. I am an old fossil and I am probably getting behind because of it, but we try to monitor our kids on it as best we can, but they’re kids.”
Wood also said that while the vast majority of the newer college coaches in the state have worked hard to build relationships with high school coaches, he remembers a time when some took a different approach to recruiting.
“When Mac Brown recruited kids, he would walk the campus and talk to students about the kids, what kind of kid is this guy? Did he treat you right? Does he walk around with his nose stuck up in the air? Is he humble?” he said. “He would go meet every teacher that the kid had. I think it’s doing your due diligence, but everybody is different.”
As for how things move forward, Wood said that while he doesn’t hold anything directly against all of these competing external recruiting factors, he wants the powers that be (in this case, the Texas High School Coaches Association) to make sure all those involved are on the same page and have the players’ best interests at heart.
Wager once again took a bit of a tougher stance.
“The feedback that I’ve gotten from coaches is that they want to know the source, [that] the height and weight are going to be correct, and film doesn’t lie,” Wager said. “I believe we [high school coaches] are a reliable source. We don’t charge kids a dime, we do it because we love them, and that’s the difference.”
Peter Dawson, @PeterDawsonFWST