Things I Learned on The Recruiting Trail

With just a few days left until National Signing Day for college football recruiting it highlights one of the most demanding and competitive aspects of college coaching. There are coaches who will do anything and say anything (within the rules or otherwise) to get certain players to come to their schools.

In over two decades of recruiting there were great days and tough days and days when you just wanted to get home safely. There were nights white knuckle driving after midnight through snowstorms on I-80, route 322 or route 22 to get home. There were nights when the snow covered landscape amid the mountains of Northwestern Pennsylvania was draped in the blue light of a cloudless full moon sky.

Among all the travels and the time spent recruiting there were lessons we learned on the road. Among the many great players and coaches I met along the way these are two of the lessons that still stick with me.

In the early 2000s I was sitting in Shaker Heights High School with Coach Dave Sedmak. Dave had built successful teams in what was then a pretty diverse school both racially and socio-economically.

We were discussing the lack of leadership skills among many of the players in college and high school and he gave me a lesson in youth sports that I will never forget. Just as a note I am quoting as best I can from memory.

“The problem is these players never develop leadership because of youth sports. When you and I were young if we wanted to get a game of basketball going someone had to take charge, round up friends split up teams, get a basketball and start playing. Now kids are put on teams in leagues run by adults with equipment brought to the practice by adults and the practices and games are all run by adults. They show up and just do what the adults tell them to do. They never think for themselves. I understand why parents are scared to death to let their kids leave the house and go to a park with no adults around all day so these guys are never learning how to take charge and lead. So we have to try and create those things.”

It was a great lesson.

The second lesson I learned was about ego and what was really important to one particular high school coach. Ted Ginn, the coach at Glenville High School, has sent kids to colleges at all levels. Yet for all the talent he had there were those who criticized him for never having won a state championship. One day he addressed that subject with me.

“Look if I send ten or eleven kids from the city to college who would never have a chance to go to college why do I have to win a state championship? My job is to put the best team together but also to help these kids get an education beyond here.”

It was another way to look at his role, a perspective on what he felt he was there to get done for the young men who came to his school with dreams beyond their neighborhoods.

Even when you’re out hustling to recruit, if you shut up for a minute and really listen to the people you meet you will come home across the highways with something that ultimately makes you a better coach, mentor or even father to your own children.

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© 2014 Jay Paterno