The job of managing a college football program has increasingly become more complicated over the years. The duties of coaches — not to mention athletic directors and conference commissioners — have changed significantly.
Now more than ever, the stewardship of the game is in their hands. They can’t screw it up.
Going through 15-plus months of COVID-19 reflects only a sliver of the change college football is facing. Hey, life has become more complicated.
In one sense, it’s hard to have sympathy for FBS coaches who earn an average of $2.7 million per year. Plenty of us feel like we have extra duties heaped on us annually no matter our occupation. For $2.7 million? Bring it on!
These complications are a bit more … complicated than that.
If you haven’t noticed, the delicate balance of college athletes is at stake. Name, image and likeness (NIL) rights will allow athletes to become brands unto themselves. The transfer portal has become speed dating with shoulder pads. A social injustice reckoning is upon us, an awakening the likes of which we not seen since the 1960s.
“How far do you get pulled from sitting in meetings watching film, game planning?” Memphis coach Ryan Silverfield asked. “As you cut your teeth in this profession as a grinder who watches film, who loves the Xs and Os and that’s how you got the job, you have to find the fine balance. That’s where you’ll see successful coaches whether they’re 30 years old or 60 years old find that fine balance.”
CBS Sports spoke with a handful of head football coaches and athletic directors about how their jobs have changed over the past year.
Beyond that, they were asked whether the extra pressure would potentially force them out of the college game earlier than expected.
Keeping a united locker room
“Between all this and NIL, you forget what the world is going through with social injustice, even political ramifications. So many other things have become polarized to the age group and guys that we deal with. It’s added a lot more to the plate, more than academics and college football. I don’t know if it’s ’empowerment’. It’s really difficult to kind of navigate. Most of us have all different walks of life [on our team]. … The locker room is filled with all those types of things. In good locker rooms, it’s never really mattered. But I’ve never seen it this polarized. In society in general, that can trickle into the locker room if you’re not careful.” — Cincinnati coach Luke Fickell
“[The locker room now] is no different than when it’s time to get drafted. I’ve always believed in ‘you get what you earn’. If you’re a guy that’s able to make plays and be marketable [with NIL], you’ve got a chance. You create your value.” — Maryland coach Mike Locksley
“Our [athletic director], Bubba Cunningham, came over and talked to our team about NIL a year ago. … In the end, he said, ‘Do you have any questions?’ Sam Howell stood up and said, ‘I don’t like it because I’m going to make more money than anybody else in here being a quarterback. That’s not good for our locker room.'” — North Carolina coach Mack Brown
Re-recruiting and roster management
The term “re-recruiting” has emerged lately as a way of ensuring players already on college rosters remain with their programs in the age of one-time transfers and the transfer portal.
“I don’t know if it has ever been harder to manage a roster, manage player development. You’re talking about things that are outside of our control as far as transfer portal and COVID. Nobody has ever had to deal with the social media phenomena with recruiting the way it is. But you know what? That’s what they pay us for. That’s the job. It’s still the greatest job on Earth.” — Missouri coach Eli Drinkwitz
“It’s going to be constant recruiting. You’re going to be recruiting your own team to try to get them to stay.” — New Mexico State coach Doug Martin
“You’re going to have to reconnect with some of those relationships that you think were solid, but because of the portal, have opened up a whole ‘nother viewpoint for people 18-21. You have to re-educate yourself to those relationships. I plan to bring in coaches who are retired — the Ol’ Ball Coach [Steve Spurrier]. The whole concept of the Ol’ Ball Coach is, ‘You’re here and you’re going to do it my way.’ That’s changed over time. The only way to get really away from that is to win all the time and people just love you.” — Northern Illinois athletic director Frazier (who also plans to bring in Bill Curry and Barry Alvarez)
“If we have a transfer who has proven himself a little bit and has three years of eligibility, you’d rather take him than a high school kid. You’re protected against the transfer rule right now; they can’t transfer. Unless they come up with a college football commissioner and get this under control, I don’t know how we’re going to get this back.” — Anonymous FBS head coach
“Instead of at night spending three hours calling recruits, maybe there is two hours calling recruits and an hour watching film on transfers.” — Memphis coach Ryan Silverfield
“It’s not the same game. It’s harder to develop players. At our level, you’re going to get the finished product. We had a defensive lineman who transferred to Arizona. He got taken in the sixth round. We’ll become a feeder system for other people.” — Martin
“Kids are getting real bad advice. We had a third-team all-conference running back who was getting the ball 13-14 times game. He didn’t get to touch the ball enough, so he went in the portal. He’s got three FCS offers.” — Tulane AD Troy Dannen
“If a player … on my team and does something wrong, and I say, ‘That’s not right. I’m going to suspend you.’ Before I have a chance, he pushes a button [to transfer]. It’s on social media before it even gets to my phone. I’ve known a lot of coaches who have thrown players off, suspended players or kids have gotten in legal trouble. A lot of it is not known because they’re in the portal. Their fans are getting on them for losing players. Aren’t they supposed to hold kids accountable?” — Silverfield
Impact of name, image and likeness
“I’ve been working behind the scenes on this NIL thing just having things in place at our place. I’ve talked to [Under Armour CEO] Kevin Plank. He’s a branding expert. I’ve picked his brain. … I have a guy who is a huge, huge brand expert who is a Maryland grad who runs one of the best architecture firms in the country. He said, ‘Coach, it’s billboards, it’s busses, it’s everything. Kids don’t understand. They think it’s just being an influencer on social media.'” — Locksley
“We all hope and believe NIL will be more of a Trevor Lawrence way. You’re a great player. You’ve got influence because you’re a Heisman Trophy candidate. The other ones are maybe those guys who create a persona for themselves and they don’t even play. Maybe it’s stunts. Maybe it’s [imitating] ‘Jackass’. If I had to market myself at 18, 19, 20, God help me what I would have maybe been willing to try.” — Fickell
“We’ve told our guys, ‘In NIL, we’re working really hard to brand all of you. We want the backup right guard to have the same opportunity as the starting right guard. NIL may affect three guys on your whole team, it may affect five, but it’s not going to affect most of you. What we’re trying to do is build a brand where you learn to brand yourself.'” — Brown
“NIL is probably the most complicated issue because of the uncertainty of the rules. … How about just tell us what the rules are and what are the parameters and how do we come up with the best plan. Hard to come up with the best plan when you don’t know the rules of the game.” — Louisiana coach Billy Napier
Is the job overall just becoming too much?
“To be a head coach, you’ve got to be a guy who can handle multitasking anyway. I remember coach Vince Dooley, when I asked him as a very young coach how to be successful. He says, ‘You’ve got to take crises and turn them into positives. It’s not for the weak of heart right now.’ There’s something every minute of every day. But it’s what it is.” — Brown
“My son is one of my assistant coaches. I tell the assistants, ‘Guys, I’m coming to the end of my career. I don’t know how you guys are going to do it because it’s going to be a mess.'” — Martin
“If you don’t have a guy who is thinking about retirement, this will probably be the time to start looking at it. The job has always been complex. Now you’ve got NCAA vs. Alston, NIL, one-time transfer, COVID, post-COVID issues, racial reckoning, 1,000 things coming at you. You’ve got to be up on all of that all the time. There’s no such thing as, ‘I’m good in this area.'” — Frazier
“It’s becoming more and more challenging. People in that 65-70 [age] range, maybe we’re going to go another five years saying … ‘I may be looking for a quicker path to retirement.’ You’ve got to continue to evolve and educate. For what we’ve dealt with the last 15 months, there is no Coaching 101 or Athletic Administrator 101. It’s all a fluid situation.” — Utah State AD John Hartwell
“It’s the next wave of change. Be prepared to adjust. The job in general requires some fluidity. Those that adjust well and adapt over time are the ones that can sustain.” — Napier