He's recognized as one of the top football talent evaluators in the country. But just how did John McCallister – publisher and editor of the McCallister Scouting Report – get his start in the business?
"I was a head football coach in high school for a long time," McCallister told Bucknuts.com. "My first head coaching job was at Crestview over by Van Wert when I was 24. Then I was at West Holmes High School. Then I coached at the College of Wooster for a year as an assistant, then I went to Morral Ridgedale above Columbus for a few years, and then I was at Kansas Lakota up in Northwest Ohio.
"After about 20 years, I got out of coaching. But I was always impressed with Tom Lemming and Allen Wallace at Super Prep, reading about kids and where they're going to school and everything. Pretty soon, the more I read that, I said, ‘Hey, I could do something like this.' You know, just Ohio kids.
"So, I started doing that – putting out about four magazines 15 years ago – but you can't make much money at it. So, some college guys were saying, ‘Hey John, you're pretty good at evaluating talent, if you do this and this and this, you can make some money.' So, I started doing that and evaluating players and going to camps and watching high school games and things like that. And then, probably 10 years ago, a guy asked me how much tape I watched. I said, ‘Not very much.' And he goes, ‘Well, how can you evaluate talent then?' So, therefore, then I got into the tape business and I started making highlight tapes."
Each year, McCallister focuses on the top 100 players in Ohio. He doesn't rank them 1-100. He has a unique way of breaking them up into three categories.
"I have over 100 kids on tape now and I've got it broken into three sections: Super 30, Second Super 30, and Final 40," McCallister said. "For the Super 30, I don't just put ‘name guys' on there. So, it's got to be pretty credible. So, I started doing that and it has just escalated now. I put out a directory in February with home addresses and phone numbers and evaluations – I rate them. Not like (Duane) Long does. I rate each player a I, II, or III, meaning Division I-A on down. I rate them that way for the colleges. That's what the colleges buy. They buy that, and then I put out a supplement here -- I got back to it last year -- called the McCallister Senior Update. I send that to colleges and they also buy the tapes."
There are days when McCallister misses coaching.
"A little bit," he said. "But I love doing this, so it's kind of a feeding thing for me. It feeds my desire to coach. But like I tell the high school coaches, I can go home and drink coffee on Friday nights and go to sleep at about 12:30, or 12:00, things like that. So, yes, I miss it, but I'm so involved now with evaluating. You know, you go to the 7-on-7's, and I go all over, especially during the summer. And I watch basketball games.
"Say like a player like (Clark) Crum over at Dublin Scioto in Columbus, I go watch him play basketball. And I remember watching (Sirjo) Welch from Beechcroft, he's a defensive back now for Ohio State. I was the first guy that put Sirjo on tape and got him exposed, because he always thought he was a basketball player. He played football, but he didn't concentrate on it. I think he's going to be a good player."
Just how much do college coaches respect and value McCallister's opinion? Well, 65 universities subscribe to his service. McCallister has an eye for finding talent, but he's also one of the hardest workers in the business. He's earned his strong reputation.
"If you do it right -- and I have quite a few colleges that subscribe to my service -- if you do it right, you have to do everything you can," McCallister said. "I watch tapes. My boys played high school football, so I didn't get to go to as many games for a few years, but now I'm back to watching Friday night and Saturday games. Tape is important, but I spend so much time in the summer evaluating the players in person.
"I think it's good, like next week at Ohio State, to go down and watch the kids workout at the camp. But I also talk to them. I don't give a rat's tail where they are going to college. That doesn't bother me. I might joke with them, I might ask them questions. I like to see how they respond, because I want to know if I would recruit that guy. So then when Wisconsin says, ‘John, what do know about Crum? Or what do you know about the (Keith) Massey kid from Brookhaven last year?' So, it's important for me to tell them what I think personally. You know, he's got a great attitude, or he's lazy. He doesn't run through drills. I watched him play basketball and he doesn't look at the coach when he's talking to him. So, all those things I take into consideration.
"So, I try to do a little bit of both. Tapes don't lie, but everybody watches tape. But not everybody meets these kids and watches them perform. When you're down at the Ohio State camp and it's 90 degrees out, what's this kid doing? Is he over there sucking water? Is he standing in the back of the line? See, I think that stuff is really important."
Publishing his scouting service is a full-time job for McCallister, 56. He doesn't have any other employment on the side, at least not anymore.
"Well, I retired as a teacher two years ago," he said. "So, I had 31 years of teaching in. I was an English teacher. An English head football coach. How ‘bout that? (St. Ignatius') Chuck Kyle and I are the only guys."
McCallister has witnessed a lot of talent pass through Ohio in the last 15 years. But he declined to give a top five, or top 10 players that he's scouted since 1990.
"I'm not smart enough to figure that stuff out," he said with a laugh. "I don't really want to do an all-time top five, or top 10. I'll leave that to Duane and you guys."
McCallister takes more pride in finding the hidden gems.
"The biggest thing for me is to find the kids that nobody really knows about yet," he said. "For example, Kirk Barton down at Ohio State. No one really knew about him coming out of high school. But I did. In fact, I thought he would be a great player, and I think he will be. It's those kind of guys that… you know, Ohio State used to get those big, fat linemen that couldn't move. And now they're finally getting guys that are thin that are going to put on 35 pounds and be really successful, I think.
"The other thing is, I always use this analogy when it comes to recruiting: It's you and me and two other guys watching a woman walk down the street. I like long legs, and she's got short legs. And you like blondes and she's got brown hair. And the other two guys, they just think she's a knockout.
"So, everybody has a little different opinion on kids, but I'm very honest with the coaches. You know, I think there are some kids that are highly overrated that are going to Ohio State and other places and then they go there and have a rough time. But for me, it's getting those guys that really come on strong. For example, no one really liked (Rob) Sims coming out of high school. I had him rated No. 1 and I think he's turned into a pretty good player down in Columbus."
McCallister was asked to name a few sleepers among the current crop of rising seniors.
"Well, I think one that I've always liked is the quarterback up at Glenville (Arvell Nelson)," he said. "I think he's going to be a good player. There's also a lineman down at Fairborn right now (Jarrod Smith) and he's really coming on strong. I'm not saying they are Ohio State guys; I'm saying that they've done a good job and have come on strong recently. There's also a boy named Peris Edwards up at Toledo Rogers that's a good player. He's a running back and I think he's starting to be highly recruited now. It's guys like that have come on."
McCallister never thought he would have over 60 colleges counting on him to help with recruiting. But it has become a reality and he loves doing it. He's even considered expanding his "coverage area" but later thought better of it.
"There's national guys out there that do more than I do, but what I do is just do Ohio kids," McCallister said. "Every once in a while the college guys say, ‘Boy John, you could do Western Pa., or do Michigan, or do this.' So, I started thinking, ‘OK, maybe I will.' But I do everything by myself. My son helps me a little bit, but everything goes through my eyes. But other college coaches will say, ‘Don't spread yourself too thin; we're counting on you in Ohio.' So, I think focusing on Ohio and all the talent in this state is the way to go."
McCallister helps out the college coaches any way he can. It's not as simple as saying: I like these five players. It goes much deeper than that.
"I talk quite a bit with the college coaches from out of state that come in," McCallister said. "Let's take Syracuse for example. Syracuse says, ‘Hey John, I'm going to be in Cleveland for three days. Who do I have to see?' I'm not the ultimate answer here, but I just give them my opinion. They just can't hit every place, so I'll say, ‘Well, maybe you better stop here, because they've got a really good kid that's going to be a junior. And for PR reasons, you better stop there. So, I help the college guys. And I get calls from those guys all the time about, ‘Who do you like? What do you know about this kid?' And stuff like that."
McCallister has a longstanding relationship with Ohio State head coach Jim Tressel. But he's also friendly with many of Tressel's rival coaches.
"Well, I've known Jimmy since he's been an assistant coach at Ohio State," McCallister said. "I guess I'm not supposed to call him Jimmy anymore. I call him Tress, I call him Jimmy, because I'm older than he is. But I've known Coach Tressel since he worked with Earle (Bruce). We've had this friendship. I think it's, within reason, it's as good as it can be. I have a relationship with Lloyd Carr. In this business, I just can't say, ‘Hey, I'm an Ohio State guy.' That's why you don't see my name in print very much. Because I don't want to be – and I'm not – I don't give Ohio State any more deep secrets than I give anybody else. Like John L. Smith from Michigan State is a good friend of mine. But Coach Tressel is a great guy. He's great for Ohio State football and Ohio high school football."