Written by SportsDayDFW.com
Sneaky tactics, broken promises can lead to strained relations on the recruiting trail
Editor's note: This story originally ran on January 31, 2012.
Wednesday, National Signing Day, highlights the brightest aspects of recruiting. The rest of the process isn’t manufactured for a delightful photo op.
“It’s just this business; it’s ruthless,” says former DeSoto coach Claude Mathis, who has now accepted an assistant position with the University of Houston. “Recruiting is ruthless. Bottom line.”
At its essence, recruiting is a transaction. Colleges seek talent, and high schools provide it. The colleges will pay for it in the form of a scholarship, and high school coaches want their kids to receive those scholarships.
The transaction sours when lies get told, when promises get broken. High school coaches won’t stand for mistreatment of their players and will do what they can to punish those who they believe breach the delicate balance.
“We expect you as college coaches to do what you say you’re going to do,” Rockwall-Heath football coach Mickey Moss said. “Don’t come in here and put on this big, slick sales speech and sell your facilities and sell all this and then treat our kids horribly when you get them on campus, and treat them like they’re sub-human. And those coaches on that blacklist they treat them sub-human. They’re like a Kleenex (to them). I can blow my nose on it and then I can throw it in the trash can and hey, ‘bring me another one.’”
To build trust, former Texas A&M coach Mike Sherman wrote a weekly letter in the regular season that he e-mails and sends to every high school coach in the state. Oklahoma’s Bob Stoops sent half of his staff to the Texas High School Coaching School last July. Texas Tech’s Tommy Tuberville hosted two camps in the Dallas area last summer. Every practice, every huddle, is open to high school coaches at SMU.
“When I went to the first schools, it was not uncommon for a coach to look at me and say you’re the first SMU coach we’ve seen here in 15 years,” SMU coach June Jones said. “All of those things do matter.”
Stoops, Tuberville, Sherman and Jones provided detailed answers regarding relationship building. When asked if and how connections could be damaged they shared similar, vague responses, dancing around the question for the most part. They said they would never intentionally do anything to harm a relationship with a player or a high school coach, so they wouldn’t know how it was done.
For high school coaches, the causes of strained relationships are crystal clear.
“The one thing that’s scariest as a coach,” Wylie’s Bill Howard said, “is colleges aren’t always what they seem.”
Relationships go bad when trust is broken. Coaches say this happens when colleges renege on scholarship promises, such as when a college coaching staff offers a scholarship and then pulls it late in the recruiting period, when a college oversigns, or when a player gets released from a scholarship for an unjust reason.
“That’s when you see most of the high school coaches get angry,” Denton Ryan coach Joey Florence said. “And there’s really no recourse for the parent or the high school coach except I will not recommend my kids to your school or to you.”
One of Florence’s graduates at Denton Ryan was kicked off a college team for attitude problems when in reality, said Florence, the player had a knee injury that was sustained while he was living on campus in a way that violated NCAA rules in an arrangement set up by that university. He declined to discuss the player or coach on the record, only that he still coaches for a major Division I program. Nearly every coach interviewed had a similar story involving one of their athletes, adding that they would never tell a player where to go, only offering advice when asked.
In the spring of 2006, Richardson Berkner’s Justin Johnson had his scholarship pulled from Baylor coach Guy Morriss not long before signing day, infuriating Berkner coach Jim Ledford.
“Don’t say you’re going to make a commitment to a kid and a kid is coming and you jerk it out from under him,” Ledford said. “That’s the piece that was wrong. They make one and you jerk it out.”
Ledford said he still doesn’t let Morriss, now at Texas A&M Commerce, on his campus. If a player inquires about certain programs, Ledford will tell him his opinion. He named Alabama coach Nick Saban, Arkansas coach Bobby Petrino, Ed Orgeron and USC coach Lane Kiffin as those he would never recommend, identifying them as coaches who have spurned players through oversigning, lying or removing a player for unjust reasons.
“I guarantee every coach around here knows who those guys are,” Ledford said. “There’s no question about it because we all talk about it. When we go to regional meetings or coaches’ association meetings, that’s a topic of discussion.”
Moss said former Michigan and West Virginia coach Rich Rodriguez, who recently took the job at Arizona, and former Kansas State coach Ron Prince lost favor with some DFW coaches during their tenures for the same reasons.
The importance of being honest
After Baylor rescinded its scholarship offer to Justin Johnson, Ledford said he got calls from coaches all over the state sympathizing with his situation. He wrote an article about it in a THSCA newsletter. He wanted to get the word out about Morriss, who was not made available for comment.
“Heck, we as Texas coaches, we’re going to stick together,” Ledford said. “I guarantee you we’re going to stick together. I think in a roundabout way maybe that’s why he isn’t there. Let’s do things the right way and take care of these kids.”
Said Cedar Hill coach Joey McGuire: “I think if someone is doing it enough the coaching association in Texas is strong enough to where you could probably say, ‘look we need to keep these guys out of our schools.’
But one problem I have might not be a problem to you.”
Numbers back up the importance of connections. Several high school coaches interviewed said they had developed a good relationship with Fordham assistant coach Brian Volk. The school, located in the Bronx, had 13 players from the DFW area on its 2011 roster.
Bobby Kennedy, a well-respected recruiter formerly at Texas and now in his first year as an assistant at Colorado, has helped the Buffaloes gain three commitments from the DFW-area for the class of 2012 so far. Colorado signed three from the Metroplex the previous five years.
“If you have a good reputation that sticks with you,” Kennedy said. “And if you have a bad reputation that sticks with you.”
So high school coaches will continue to talk to each other at the clinics. They’ll continue to share stories. They’ll still try to get the word out.
“You start cutting off the high school coaches you’re going to cut off your nose despite your face,” Ledford said. “You better go to another state to recruit your kids because enough of us stick together and if we find out what you’re doing you won’t get kids out of here.”