Twelve years ago, Ole Miss coach Hugh Freeze had a heck of a football prospect on his Briarcrest Christian football team in Memphis. A kid named Michael Oher – you might have seen his story in The Blind Side – took the recruiting world by storm.
Oher earned All-State honors in Tennessee and developed into a 5-star prospect. After his senior season, he earned a spot in the U.S. Army All-American Bowl and enrolled at Ole Miss. About a month later, Freeze joined Ed Orgeron’s staff at Ole Miss too as an assistant athletic director for football external affairs.
Of course, everyone knows how this story ended. Freeze was on staff for a few years before taking jobs at Lambuth and Arkansas State. In 2012, he took over as the head coach at Ole Miss. The rise was meteoric, but could not have happened if Ole Miss did not take a chance on him. NCAA issues notwithstanding, Freeze has been a heck of a coach.
Seeing coaches rise from hard-working high school grinders to SEC football coaches is the dream. After the passing of a new NCAA statute, stories like this will become tremendously more difficult.
Curtailing high school coaches
The NCAA passed a new stipulation that will curtail teams from hiring people who are close to recruits as coaches. It’s not without at least some merit. In recent years, giving benefits to relatives has become a loophole to get around NCAA rules.
The full text of the NCAA statement is below:
“It prevents Football Bowl Subdivision schools from hiring people close to a prospective student-athlete for a two-year period before and after the student’s anticipated and actual enrollment at the school. This provision was adopted in men’s basketball in 2010 (effective immediately, though schools may honor contracts signed before Jan. 18, 2017.)
There are many examples of these types of benefits. Ole Miss hired 5-star quarterback Shea Patterson’s brother, Sean, as an analyst last offseason. While this particular rule does not apply, LSU signed Leonard Fournette’s brother, Lanard, to a football scholarship. He received interest from other schools, but it’s unclear whether he would have received SEC attention if not for Leonard. This will not be addressed under the new statute.
This also happens with high school coaches, who often have relationships and sway with top prospects. Especially in recruiting hotbeds like Texas, it’s exceedingly common for major schools to sign former high school coaches to help recruiting in certain areas. In recent years, Texas added Gilmer HS coach Jeff Traylor, SMU added DeSoto coach Claude Mathis and Baylor added Cedar Hill coach Joey Maguire.
However, all three of the aforementioned assistants were also just exceptionally good coaches with state championships between them. Each provided plenty of benefit without tangible recruits to deliver. Instead, it penalizes good coaches who coach elite recruits at top high school programs.
This rule will affect coaches who produce top talent and believe they have earned a shot at major schools. Take IMG Academy coach Kevin Wright for example.
Wright took over IMG after a dynamic run coaching hyper-elite high school programs in Indiana, Kentucky and Oklahoma. With the success he has running a program, college might think he deserves a shot with the program.
Unfortunately, just look at IMG’s recruiting footprint. In 2017 alone, IMG saw players sign at Ohio State, Florida State, Alabama, Michigan, Miami, Texas A&M, LSU, Penn State and many more. Wright is barred from coaching at any of those programs for two years. That drastically impacts his ability to further his career. How does that make sense?
This isn’t the version iteration of this rule. In 2010, college basketball passed a similar rule to prevent perhaps the same issue. In fact, with AAU coaches and parents, the problem might be even more widespread.
But as the most recruiting class proved, it does nothing to actually address the root issue. Missouri basketball hired former Washington assistant coach Michael Porter Sr., to the same position this offseason. Within days, his son – Michael Porter Jr. – committed to the program.
The move seemingly fits within the confines of the rule because the senior Porter was hired before Porter Jr., joined the program. Both will be on campus next season. Younger brother Jontay Porter will almost certainly join Mizzou the year afterwards.
So ultimately, Porter got jobs at Washington and Missouri largely based off his son’s recruitment. The rule didn’t even have its intended effect.
The NCAA has its head in the right place when it comes to this rule, but the implementation is embarrassing and won’t even have its intended effect. ‘
“This rule will in essence be a death sentence to any high school coach wanting to coach college [football],” Auburn coach Gus Malzahn – a former high school coach – told USA Today. “It’s putting an end to it and it’s not fair.”