There’s an old football chestnut that goes, “It’s not about the X’s and O’s. It’s about the Jimmys and Joes.”
Coaching matters, but nobody wins without talent. In professional sports, teams draft, sign, and trade for players. But in college football, there’s only one way to acquire talent: Recruiting.
Recruiting is the lifeblood of every single program. Good recruiting can build feeble programs into winners (Boise State), or return dormant powerhouses to glory (Alabama). Conversely, poor recruiting can erode perennial superpowers (Miami), or cause floundering programs to shutter entirely (UAB).
As college football has morphed into a multi-billion-dollar enterprise, the arms race for scarce resources has intensified. Setting aside the illegal enticements used to lure blue-chip players, the legal enticements are exhaustive.
The timetable to recruit a player has moved from a few months, to a calendar year, to multiple years. Nowadays, if you’re not on an elite player during his freshman year, you’re behind the curve.
Colleges have resorted to offering scholarships to middle-school kids. Such offers are only ceremonial, but many of the top players have come to expect this type of “love.”
The recruiting meat-market forces coaches to call and text players with the same fervor of a smitten teenage girl. It induces coaches – in their 60’s – to learn slang terms like “on fleek” or educate themselves on the music stylings of current artists such as Gucci Mane and Kodak Black.
Gray-haired coaches who have been forged with drill-sergeant severity reminiscent of “Full Metal Jacket” must now debase themselves and send emoji-laden tweets to 16-year-olds.
To complicate matters, if coaches over-contact players, they run the risk of turning off potential recruits and their families. But they can also lose ground if they don’t show enough “love” either.
Coaches must use any and every avenue possible to get into a player’s inner-circle. They’ll sweet-talk moms, dads, grandmas, uncles, best friends, girlfriends, coaches, and even barbers. Gary Patterson of TCU stays up late at night to tweet at the exact minute the “dead period” (the period of the recruiting calendar when coaches are not allowed to contact prospects) ends.
And coaches continue to up the ante…or antics. Jim Harbaugh had a sleepover at a recruit’s house. Some assistant coaches have been tasked with essentially moving to a blue-chip recruit’s town to seal the deal.
Nick Saban flew in a helicopter and landed on a recruit’s field. Saban stubbornly refuses to smile after his team wins a big game, but there he is, grinning ear to ear when taking a selfie with some random prospect.
Coaches shamelessly fawning over teenagers is the new normal. Livelihoods depend on it. The only hope is the twisted beauty pageant known as recruiting doesn’t morph into something truly grotesque, like some Bachelor-esque reality television show where desperate coaches and their letters of intent are dismissed each week.
No. Please, no.