While Gavin Morris, Keary Colbert and Keynodo Hudson all share the distinction of being off-campus recruiters for USC, they arrived as support staff members differently.
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Colbert was a four-star All-American wide receiver at Hueneme High School in Oxnard (Calif.). Before there was a U.S. Army-All-American Bowl or an Under Armour All-America game, Colbert starred in the Cal-Texas Shrine game.
From there, he went on All-Pac-10 status at USC and a second round selection in the 2004 NFL Draft by the Carolina Panthers. When it comes to recruiting, Colbert is the quintessential inside guy.
“For me personally, having been recruited and had offers, you want to be as transparent and honest as possible,” said Colbert. “As a recruiter, I understand the process the kids are going through.
“You’re 17-years-old, and up until this point, this is the hardest decision of your life. I’ve been in their shoes and I’ve had to tell people no.
“I share my experiences, and obviously, it’s unique for me because I played at USC. I always talk to kids about what that decision meant for me. Looking back at it, how it helped me and set me up so many years later.”
If Colbert is the recruiting insider with empirical knowledge of the process as a former player, Gavin Morris is the ultimate outsider. Morris didn’t play college football nor has he ever coached football.
“Yes, that was always a hurdle getting hired,” said Morris. “I’m a confident person by nature, so I was never going to let it deter me, but I had close friends who would say, ‘Gav, you didn’t play college ball, you’ve never coached a college football game…’ but my background was with professional athletes.
“I started out as an intern for Major League Baseball with the Braves and I was in the marketing department for NASCAR as well, so I’ve always had a sports background. I never wanted to be a coach. My dream has always been to be a General Manager.”
While former players like Colbert still have an avenue toward becoming support staff members for power five football programs in the future, anyone with backgrounds similar to Morris and Hudson do not.
Last spring, the NCAA passed the “Individuals Associated With Prospective Student-Athletes” rule. The rule bars D-I schools from hiring any individual associated with a recruit for a support staff role.
The spirit of the rule prohibits the practice of colleges hiring high school coaches, trainers and family members in order to sign recruits.
But the word “association” remains vague and broad in the eyes of most university compliance departments. To compound matters, the NCAA also passed a rule prohibiting high school coaches from working D-I camps during the summer.
“It’s a bad deal for young coaches because you cannot network at all right now,” said Hudson. “Last year, I worked 10 camps — I volunteered to work 10 camps.
“I volunteered for camps to network and to coach. You have to have an opportunity to sharpen your craft and network. Coaches only want to hire guys they’ve already worked with. They hire guys they know and trust.
“With these new rules, young coaches don’t have an opportunity to build that trust and they don’t have the opportunity to catch the eye of a head coach they’ve never met before. From a high school coach’s perspective, you can’t get better at all. You get no intimate time with college coaches now.
“High school coaches can’t work camps, and it’s when you bring in good players for a camp that college coaches are going to take the time to meet with you. They’re going to take you to meet the offensive coaches and the defensive coaches.”
Hudson recalls his own experience as a high school coach trying to gain exposure with D-I colleges.
“I paid my own way to visit Southern California for their camp,” said Hudson. “We use to gas up a van and go on college tours when I was at Mainland.
“That was just to get better as a coach. I used my own stipend to get myself and three kids out to Southern California. They didn’t know anything about Leonard Williams at that time.
“For me, it was a chance to go out there and learn from some great coaches. Leonard went out there and dominated camp, but so did I. I worked that camp and coached those kids up. I happened to catch O’s (Ed Orgeron’s) eye, which is how I got a one-on-one session with Monte and Lane.”
Hudson not only speaks from the perspective of a former high school coach, but a former D-II coach as well.
“I was at the University of Charleston for six years,” said Hudson. “There’s no way you can work a power five conference school’s camp unless you know somebody.
“D-I schools aren’t going to a D-II school to recruit, so how am I going to know a coach at a D-I school if I don’t get that opportunity to meet him?
“He might remember my name for an hour after a clinic, but that’s not worth much. It sure isn’t the same as working side-by-side with them on the job at a camp. Now, the moment I became a high school coach at Mainland, it was easy access to D-I schools all over the country.
“They (the NCAA) just destroyed that. I’m just praying they give high school coaches a way to improve. We have to share the game.”
Having been at Alabama for two years as an offensive analyst, where the Crimson Tide spend more than $3 million a year on support staff salaries, Colbert sees such positions as a farm system for major college football programs.
“You’re trying to build a support staff that can eventually replace the guys on your regular staff when they leave,” said Colbert. “Things happen and coaches move on to other jobs, you want to be able to hire within because those guys already know your program — they know how you do things.
“That’s the mindset at Alabama and that’s the mindset here (at USC). It’s good for everybody because you as a support staff guy learn the inner workings of the program before taking on a full-time coaching role.”
While getting a job as a support staff member at a D-I school is much more difficult, current college football coaches are dealing with their own restrictions.
Recruiting is many things to many different people. For a college coach, it is an umbrella term that incorporates aspects of presentation, strategy and talent evaluation.
The NFL has full-time scouts, which travel the country and evaluate talent during the season. College coaches have to develop a strategy that maximizes small evaluation windows. Once coaches identify recruiting targets during these evaluation periods, a strategy for presenting the school's strengths is forged.
Morris is optimistic that in five years support staff members will be allowed to play a greater role in recruiting evaluations and coordination.
“I go to the NFL Combine every year now just to watch the NFL scouts and to talk to them about what they are looking for,” said Morris. “They weigh what players do off the field so heavily… so, so heavily.
“That’s stuff we have to weigh too. Now, when I’m not on the road, that’s info I can’t get from counselors and teachers. So we as a staff have to communicate what we know and don’t know about a player off the field. That’s also why we put so much emphasis on our camps.
“You get to see good on good, but you also get around a player and get to know what type of person he is. How do they deal with coaching?
“That’s why I think — at least from May to June — support staff should be able to go to some of these combines and camps nationally. Like The Opening or the Under Amour Camp. Maybe have something that the NCAA runs where the support staff can go evaluate kids. We don’t even need to have contact with the kids, we just need more opportunities to evaluate them.
“We don’t have the NFL Combine, or pro days or personal workouts for players. The NFL has a pretty good idea of who a player is when they bring him in. It’s tough for us because the opportunities to see the best versus the best are so limited.”
At one point, it appeared the NCAA was leaning toward allowing support staffs to become quasi-scouting departments for universities. Neither Morris nor Hudson see that happening.
“No because the relationship kids have off the field with a college football coach is so different,” said Hudson. “These are kids trying to become men, so you have to have a personal relationship in order to develop him.
“A scout is breaking down a player to a science, but there is no science in breaking down character. You have the numbers, but then you have mitigating circumstances that you have to deal with as college coach. Where does this kid come from and how does it impact what he needs? You’re dealing with grown men in the league. In college, you might recruit a kid who doesn’t even know what the word character means.”
Morris does see one new rule helping lighten the burden on assistant coaches recruiting during the season.
“I don’t think you’ll ever see assistant coaches give up recruiting,” said Morris. “That’s one of the things that makes college football unique — being able to recruit the players you’re going to coach.
“Bottomline is, the coaches are going to get fired if a player doesn’t work out. I do think with a tenth assistant coach being added to the full-time staff, some schools will use that position for recruiting.
“They may just use that position to recruit full time and not even coach. You have a lot of Friday night and Saturday games on the road where coaches can’t go to any high school games. Even if you’re playing on a Thursday, it puts a lot of wear and tear on a coach to hop on a plane after a game to go see a kid halfway across the country. I could see schools having that position for a person that doesn’t have the pressures of coaching and recruiting.”