Written by SportsDayDFW.com
HS coaches fight to protect players in 'ruthless' recruiting process
Recruiters can pay a price if they’re seen as unfair to kids
On Wednesday, high school football players will sign their letters of intent, marking a time for families, friends and coaches to celebrate. The rest of the recruiting process isn’t manufactured for a photo op.
“It’s just this business; it’s ruthless,” said former DeSoto coach Claude Mathis, who has accepted an assistant position with the University of Houston.
The transaction sours when lies get told, when promises get broken. Dallas-area high school coaches won’t stand for mistreatment of their players and will do what they can to punish those who they believe have breached the delicate balance.
“We expect you as college coaches to do what you say you’re going to do,” Rockwall-Heath 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 subhuman. And those coaches on that blacklist, they treat them subhuman.”Reaching out
To build trust, former Texas A&M coach Mike Sherman wrote a weekly letter in the regular season that he emailed and sent 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. 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 what is perceived as 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. In reality, Florence said, the player had suffered a knee injury while living on campus in an arrangement set up by the university that violated NCAA rules. He declined to discuss the player or coach on the record, saying only that the coach remains employed at a major Division I program.
Nearly every coach interviewed had a similar story involving one of his athletes. Coaches added that they would never tell a player where to go, only offer advice when asked.
In the spring of 2007, Richardson Berkner’s Justin Johnson had his scholarship pulled by 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.”
Ledford said he still doesn’t allow Morriss, now at Texas A&M-Commerce, on his campus. If a player inquires about certain programs, Ledford will tell him his opinion.
“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.”
Grant Teaff, executive director of the American Football Coaches Association and a former Baylor coach, said college coaches are expected to excel in a shorter amount of time than ever. Such pressures have led to a more businesslike culture in college football, but he still advocated the need for honesty and good relationships with high school players and coaches.
Teaff said there was a particular school that had backed out on several commitments this year after a coaching change. He believed that school would have a hard time in the future with recruiting.
“Put it this way,” Teaff said. “All buzzards come home to roost.”
Angered by Baylor
After Baylor rescinded its scholarship offer to 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. Repeated efforts to reach Morriss for comment were unsuccessful.
“Heck, we as Texas coaches, we’re going to stick together,” Ledford said. “I guarantee you we’re going to stick together.”
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 Dallas-Fort Worth 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 area for the Class of 2012 so far. Colorado signed three from the area over 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.”