Later this week the NCAA will put to vote a rule that could change employment practices in football coaching more than any in recent memory — a rule that would extend staffs from nine to 10 full-time assistants.
But there is another rule on the docket that could also have a drastic effect on the lives of thousands of coaches. It’s a rule that could severely limit high school coaches’ ability to move into college football.
Bylaw 11.4.3 reads: “In bowl subdivision football, during a two-year period before a prospective student-athlete’s anticipated enrollment and a two-year period after the prospective student-athlete’s actual enrollment, an institution shall not employ (or enter into a contract for future employment with) an individual associated with the prospective student-athlete in any athletics department noncoaching staff position or in a strength and conditioning staff position.”
In plain English: if a college program is to hire a high school coach it must immediately hire him to an on-field position, or it can not have recruited a player from that high school for two years prior to hiring the coach and must also refrain from recruiting players from said high school for another two years after his employment. That’s an entire cycle of high school players a college program would have to bar itself from in order to hire a single coach.
The intent is clear and admirable — to curb basketball-style package deals wherein commitments from highly-recruited players are contingent upon schools finding jobs for coaches or family members. It was referenced in the Michael Johnson saga, where Jim Harbaugh hired an offensive analyst who happened to be a California high school coach and the father of a top-rated quarterback in the class of 2019. (Johnson also happened to be a former NFL offensive coordinator and never actually joined the Michigan staff, accepting the wide receivers job at Oregon just days after the Michigan news broke.)
But the unintended consequence of Bylaw 11.4.3 could essentially choke off one of the major pipelines for college coaching talent in the NCAA. Arizona State’s Todd Graham, Auburn’s Gus Malzahn, Ole Miss’s Hugh Freeze, SMU’s Chad Morris, Tulsa’s Philip Montgomery, UAB’s Bill Clark and UNLV’s Tony Sanchez famously launched head college coaching careers from high school football. All moved into directly into on-field roles, moves that would have been permissible under the new bylaw. But as staffs have grown, programs have moved to hiring high school coaches into off-field roles, where they then move on the field at that program or elsewhere. For instance, Malzahn hired Chip Lindsey from Spain Park (Ala.) High School to become an offensive analyst at Auburn during the Tigers’ eventual SEC championship of 2013; Lindsey is now Auburn’s offensive coordinator. Nick Saban plucked Jeremy Pruitt from his defensive coordinator job at Hoover (Ala.) High School to become the director of player development on his original Alabama staff in 2007; Pruitt is now Saban’s defensive coordinator.
Neither Lindsey or Pruitt would have been hired had Bylaw 11.4.3 gone into effect a decade earlier.
Furthermore, the rule also bans college programs from even hiring high school coaches from working camps unless they plan on abandoning recruiting that high school for the foreseeable future.
Reads Bylaw 126.96.36.199.5: “In football, an institution or staff member shall not employ (either on a volunteer or paid basis) an individual associated with a recruited prospective student-athlete at the institution’s camp or clinic (including a coaches clinic or a camp or clinic involving non-prospects), unless at least two years (24 months) have elapsed since the prospective student-athlete’s initial full-time enrollment at the institution.”
In the NCAA’s attempt to prevent adults from attaching themselves like leeches to their best players’ recruiting processes, it has essentially banned coaches from talent-producing high schools from ever working in college football. If these rules are approved as written, coaches at powerhouse high schools could kiss any college coaching dreams goodbye.
“I have been told over and over again that the best way to start is make good relations with local colleges and to work their camps,” a high school coach told FootballScoop. “This is terrible. Local schools will want to recruit and take local kids so now on there is no way I have any chance. More importantly, it’s not like I would ever want to ruin any chance of an opportunity for one my kids. So it seems like there really becomes very little chance if any of advancing without potentially screwing over a kid, which I refuse to do. This legislation seems to be a lose-lose that will screw over high school kids and high school coaches.”
“We had a high school coach here the other day, I’m not going to mention any names, and his son’s a prospect and he used to be a college coach,” Saban told TideSports. “So now he can never go work at a college, can never work a camp, we can’t come speak at clinics. We just had over a thousand coaches here at a clinic and had a great camp, which is the way that I feel we serve the high school coaches and have a chance to give back to them for all that they do in terms of the hard work that they do in developing players, helping us be able to evaluate players, giving us information about their players. Guess we can’t do anything. I really, I don’t get it, and I don’t understand it.”
The bylaw will go before committee later this week, where any voting member can offer an amendment on the spot. With Lord Saban’s thoughts on the matter now in the open, perhaps some tweaking will be in order before this new bylaw becomes NCAA law.