Before we even start, I don’t know enough about football to lead a junior high team. At no point in my life did I think being the head football coach at a Power Five conference university would be a great career path for me, so this notion that I don’t want that job did not just dawn on me.
Today is National Signing Day – the day that coaches wait for faxes from young men they have recruited to play for them. Teenagers and their families are solidifying their decisions today by signing a binding letter of intent to become student-athletes at schools all across the country.
Until coaches get that LOI, they are hoping and trusting that the kid and his family keep the promise they made when they committed because the recruiting only intensifies when a player pledges to attend and play for a school. As the late college basketball coach Lefty Driessel always said, “When a kid commits, that just means now I know who I gotta beat to get the kid.”
National Signing Day can make or break a coach, and so the thought of how thrilling or stressful a day like this can be for a coach is top of mind.
Even beyond my obvious limitations in football, and despite the cash, there are so many reasons to look at the job as football coach as a meat-grinder that I simply would refuse on principle to participate in that vocation.
Here are the top 10 of many, many reasons for me to pass on an offer that will never come:
10 – Meet and greets. It’s exceptionally important to the health of a football program that the coach be socially adept with boosters and alums. Preparing a team for a Big Ten season, recruiting, ensuring NCAA compliance, and mandating academic progress toward a meaningful degree is not enough. Coaches also have to glad hand those who write giant checks to the university. Sounds as joyless and monotonous as being a politician. Yikes!
9 – Being myself only on foreign soil. Because coaches are often the most recognizable faces on campus, they are tracked. A visit to a bar with friends would result in a torrent of social media exposure that might make me look a little less chaste than my athletic director, president, or boosters might like. Every once in a while, the opportunity to relax and act ridiculous is necessary for any human being. Needing to leave the country to do it is not a circumstance I would welcome.
8 – Dealing with the media. In a lot of places, the media is good-natured and unlikely to provoke a coach into a rage-filled diatribe. The process of answering questions from an ill-prepared group trying to fill column inches rather than gain insight would be worse for me because it would be tedious. I don’t tolerate tedium well. Asking questions that I’m curious about is a lot more fun than answering boring ones. The media is the right place for me.
7 – Compliance. I would never cheat, and not because of some high-minded morality. I’m just too arrogant to believe I can’t win while adhering to both the letter and spirit of the NCAA rules governing recruiting and rewarding student-athletes. Losing to cheaters would gnaw at the very core of my being, and I wouldn’t be able to take it for very long without exploding.
6 – Managing up to a busybody AD is a mostly unnecessary distraction. Unless I completely trusted and respected my athletic director, I would have a problem. Needing to manage up to placate a professional administrator would be galling as it would subtract minutes from my day that can be devoted toward building my program. Indiana’s Kevin Wilson has it good because his AD can be trusted and understands the best managers help his/her staff rather than waste their time.
5 – Academics. Teaching young men to play football, and demanding from them the work ethic required to achieve their physical and mental potential isn’t the entire gig. No, because this is college football, the athletes are students too, and they need to make grades to retain their eligibility. Plus, because college football is not a professional endeavor with compensation every other employee in America enjoys, the players – at least those not headed to the NFL – must get their degrees in order to make the system balance. That’s my indulgence into the realm of high-minded morality, and it would make winning tougher.
4 – Being hired or fired based on my ability to sell teens and their mothers gives me flop sweats. Walking into a family’s home to impress them with both my demeanor and school’s assets would make me feel icky. I like presenting, not selling, and being treated like yet another slick huckster during my time with a family would ruin my enthusiasm for the process.
3 – Keeping track of 85 student-athletes aged 18-23 would be a cat-herding nightmare. Makes me nervous just thinking about what I saw football players do when I was a student at Indiana. With basketball, coaches have a chance because 13 players is almost manageable. Delegating the monitoring responsibility to position coaches seems to be the right tack, but trusting them to forego family time for bed checks or spot checks of area bars isn’t fair either. The alternative is recruiting saints. Recruiting nothing but virtuous young men might work for Brigham Young, but the Big Ten is a little different.
2 – Intense and ill-informed scrutiny. No play in football is a 100% lock to cause it’s desired result. When 11 guys don’t operate as one, bad stuff happens. People who believe they know football are always eager to offer advice that likely lacks any real understanding of the problem. Explaining the tactical nuances of football to those who believe they know what they are talking about but don’t, would quickly wear me out.
1 – Family stability. If Indiana had not beaten Maryland and Purdue on consecutive Saturdays a couple of months ago to earn bowl eligibility, he might have been fired rather than have his contract extended. That would have meant getting a coaching gig somewhere else, which would have necessitated a move from Bloomington for his family. A 20-year-old misses a tackle, drops a pass, makes the wrong read, or trips over a seam in the field turf, and my family has to move? That’s a ton to think about.