Will college football coaches be forced to change their approaches in the era of transfer reform?


In Gary Patterson’s 38 years as a college football coach, there hasn’t been a freshman recruiting class that didn’t — at some point — want to transfer. And not just some of the players …

“All of them,” Patterson said.

TCU’s coach is used to it by now. Not that he has accepted why the grass always seems to be greener.

“There’s a simple reason,” Patterson said. “College is harder as far as workouts. They think anyplace else is going to be easier, and it’s not.”

That about summarizes an almost unmentioned recruiting approach in this new transfer era. It can’t be ranked with stars or broken down by a 40-yard dash time. Urban Meyer used to refer to the approach as reeducation of his blue-chippers.

In both college life and in college football, that mean starting over — sometimes from the bottom. Boot camp before fall camp. A reminder, Meyer would say, that they haven’t achieved anything yet.

Call it humility, reality.

Now call it 2020. Times have changed. If coaches’ approach have not yet, they might have to soon. Even with the one-time transfer rule probably being put off until 2021, the thought has crossed the mind of more than one coach.

“Am I going to have to change the way I coach?” Nick Saban asked a couple of years ago when transfer reform was bubbling up.

To keep players from running a go route to the transfer portal, perhaps the answer is, “Yes.” 

The prospect of having to change their style to keep players in the fold bothers coaches to no end. If they aren’t rooted in Meyer’s reeducation ethic, they don’t want to have to alter their approach to coddle their players.

“One of our staff members asked me last year, ‘How can we coach and not have guys leave?'” shared North Carolina‘s Mack Brown.

There is no simple answer. These days, players have more leverage. Social media, friends and just plain hype have filled their heads with fantastical possibilities.

They can leave a program after appearing in four games and retain that year of eligibility. Dana Holgorsen lost a star quarterback that way trying to manipulate the rule at Houston last season.

The transfer portal that was implemented in 2018 made it easier to transfer. Notify the school and you’re an American (football) Idol for all to see. Allowing a one-time transfer for the five “revenue” sports — football, hockey, baseball and men’s and women’s basketball — would make the process even smoother for the departed.

But the NCAA Board of Governors last month recommended against athletes in those five sports getting a one-time transfer waiver without sitting out a year in residence. For the moment.

The issue could be voted on next week by the NCAA Council but most likely will become formal legislation considered (then implemented) before the 2021-22 academic year.

So coaches have even more time to think how — and whether — they’re going to treat their players differently. In 2019, Brown was taking over the Tar Heels following the firing of Larry Fedora.

“it’s very different when you’re the new coach and someone else recruited all those players,” Brown said. “What I’ve told [the staff is to] recruit players that fit your school, then show them dignity by the way you coach them. We’re not going to grab them. We’re not going to cuss them. We’re going to be hard on them.”

But “hard” is a moving target. College athletics have worshipped the likes Frank Kush, Bobby Knight and Woody Hayes, all known to be bullies in their time. (Brown does not fit this billing; he’s one of the most respected and conscientious coaches around.)

Over the years, abuses contributed to transfer reform. So did petty, spiteful vindictiveness. So when coaches complained about having to face “free agency” in the new transfer world, it just didn’t ring true.

“How are we supposed to get people to do what they’re supposed to do?” Saban once wondered.

To keep them from transferring, maybe coaches should think twice before even asking that question. Do what they’re supposed to do?

“I think it’s a fine line,” Arkansas coach Sam Pittman said.

“I tell our recruits all the time, ‘You’re going to get treated the way you’re recruited,'” said Ohio State coach Ryan Day.

“The key is to recruit guys who want to be at your place,” Patterson said. “Kids need to choose places where they think they can be there for four years.”

Attorney Tom Mars, a former advocate for college athletes, is out of the game. His caseload was too burdensome. Now with more transfer reform likely coming, what’s the point? He will go down at a flash point in history on the subject helping win immediate eligibility for Michigan‘s Shea Patterson and Ohio State’s Justin Fields.

“Every rationale for making transferring players sit out a year has been thoroughly discredited,” Mars said, “leaving only a few millionaire head coaches to whine about roster management.”

Roster size will have to be addressed, especially if — as Penn State coach James Franklin believes could happen — “30 guys decided to transfer out right before the season.”

247Sports national recruiting expert Bud Elliott says he has heard some pushback on Meyer’s reeducation approach.

“Coaches who really feel good about their programs will tell you they don’t need to derecruit players because they aren’t selling them false hope,” Elliott said.

“The biggest thing I have heard from coaches is they will be trying to get playing time for more players. One way this might be accomplished is perhaps pulling starters a bit earlier when blowout games get into garbage time.”

Ah, the currency of college football: playing time. It could probably begin and end every story attached to a name in the transfer portal.

Just ask Patterson. He has four decades worth of stories.

“[Transfers] think anyplace is going to be easier, and it’s not. I understand the well-being of student-athletes and giving them a say, but at the end of the day, they’re still only 18 years old. They don’t know what it’s like.” 





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