The transfer portal has altered the college football landscape immeasurably this year. For fans, that alteration is mostly a positive. For the coaches, however, it has created another spinning plate for them to worry about.
Ohio State head coach Ryan Day has decided to attack it head on, beginning with the recruitment of a player. That’s the job of a head coach — to prepare for any and every unknown. If they can eliminate some of those future unknowns during the recruiting process, then they are ahead of the game — or at least not likely to be devastated by the unforeseen a year later.
For the assistant coaches, however, they are in the unenviable position of having to push their players, but knowing that with it being easier than ever for players to transfer, the more the coaches push, the more some players may decide to move on. Especially if they aren’t playing as much as they think they should be.
Ohio State offensive coordinator Kevin Wilson has experienced the personnel problems as both a head coach at Indiana and as an assistant coach at several other places. Times are obviously different now, however.
“I don’t get consumed with it,” he said recently. “It’s no different in the basketball world where there are one and dones. I think as coaches, you always have to adapt. I experienced it a few years back at the previous school where I had three really good quarterbacks in a good competition and two transferred out, even before the portal, because everyone wants to play.”
Over the last 10 years or so, recruiting has begun moving at an uncomfortable rate for both head coaches and families. Urban Meyer talked about it for his last three or four years with the Buckeyes. He hated how quickly the recruiting calendar was moving.
Parents and families may get immersed early on in the recruiting game, which can be overwhelming in its own right. Those who aren’t getting the attention early on begin to wonder what is taking so long. They may eliminate in-state schools because they feel disrespected or ignored.
Things are moving faster than ever and recruits are feeling more important than ever. The impatience can be seen all over the nation, regardless of region, position, or class.
Kevin Wilson sees that speed and impatience as one of the reasons players are so quick to transfer.
“A part of this is with all the early recruitment and kids commit before they get comfortable with situations,” he said. “I really appreciate what Joe Burrow did and sit here and fought and fought and fought and tried to beat the guy, and along the way, he developed. And when he did transfer out as he graduated, he had a chance to be a successful player because you have to develop. It’s kind of a right now society. It is the way it is. I am all for player rights. Years ago, I think the scholarship still says this, you sign with the school, not the coach. You’re bound to the school. But the way it’s gotten, you always want to do what’s best for the kid. That’s not going to change.
“We’re going to continue, from the top in the NCAA through the leadership of institutions to head coaches, you always have to do what’s best for the kid. Sometimes as a parent, sometimes you just wish and give it a chance to develop a little bit. It’ll be interesting. A lot of guys want to go out to the draft early, but how many people are getting drafted? You watch these portal guys, how many of them are having success? I think it goes back to recruiting. There should be a way to slow recruiting down. Give a chance for kids to really get to know locker rooms and coaches and make a good decision and go ride it out a couple three years.”
Wilson sees the impatience as a societal issue. If you are looking for evidence of that impatience in action, think back to the last time you were reading something online and you had to click to the next page to continue reading a story. It may have cost three seconds of your time, but there will be many of you who weren’t happy about having to do it.
And that’s just something as menial as reading.
But it goes beyond just impatience according to Wilson. There are high school players who simply aren’t prepared for how hard life can be as a college football player.
“I go through a period of six years as a head coach,” Wilson explained. “You don’t really get to watch a lot of (high school) practice in the spring while recruiting. By the time your season ends it’s December, so typically the only ones you can see practice are maybe a few playoff teams. I don’t really know how many practices I would see. Now in spring recruiting, I see a lot more practices than I did in six years (as a head coach).
“Now it’s an eight to 10-year period of what I thought practices looked like in high school and what I see now. High school coaches have a difficult job keeping those kids engaged and making it fun, and kids have a lot of choices. You see numbers of our sport going down, so you go watch practices and sometimes you’ll see a good practice, but sometimes you’ll see some athletic environments in high school where kids aren’t being pushed. And when you come here, you’re going to be pushed in the weight room, academically.”
Wilson is speaking as a coach when he talks about the transfer mindset of players today, but he also holds the perspective of a parent of an athlete. He has seen the good that comes from being patient.
“I’m a parent of several athletes and I’ve never made a comment to a coach,” he said. “I never get mad. I never told them what to play. I never asked what the coach said. I just asked if they played hard and had fun. You picked the spot, go bust your tail. Sometimes you make the wrong decisions, but I really wish the kids had more patience. Working hard. Patience is a virtue. Those are the values in greatness.”