Georgia high school football coaches are upset about a new NCAA rule that severely curbs the incentive of college programs to hire them.
Former Georgia coaches such as Mickey Conn of Grayson, Dell McGee of Carver-Columbus and Olten Downs of Creekside in recent years have cashed in their high school successes to get jobs in college ball as support staff members and eventually as on-field assistant coaches.
Those kinds of hires are now discouraged under NCAA bylaw 11.4.3, passed last week. The new rule is designed to prevent college programs from hiring high school coaches, parents, trainers or handlers just to get a recruiting advantage.
Going forward, an FBS school can hire a high school coach as one its 10 on-field coaches, but cannot add one to its support staff - which is a critical professional stepping stone – unless the college has not recruited one of the high school coach’s players in the past two years. And if the college does hire the high school coach, the college then cannot recruit a player from the coach’s former high school for two years, making it essentially a four-year window, two years in each direction.
‘’It’s a travesty to our profession to take a guy who’s working his tail off and has a dream to move up and now doesn’t have the ability to do that,’’ said Ahmand Tinker, the executive director of the Minority Coaches Association of Georgia. ‘’In a nutshell, you’re limiting guys’ employment opportunities because of that rule. I’m telling you, it’s a hot topic among coaches right now.’’
The NCAA also passed a bylaw preventing FBS schools from hiring high school coaches as speakers or workers at their football camps. That also has drawn criticism.
This comes at a time when former high school coaches are noticeably thriving in college football. Head coaches Gus Malzahn of Auburn and Hugh Freeze of Ole Miss were hired into college football on their high school resumes. So were offensive coordinator Chip Lindsey of Auburn and defensive coordinator Jeremy Pruitt at Alabama.
‘’Jeremy Pruitt is probably the hottest assistant right now in college football, and you take him completely out of the mix if the rule had been passed seven years ago; he wouldn’t be living his dream,’’ said Colquitt County head coach Rush Propst, who hired Pruitt at Hoover in Alabama a decade ago. ‘’I’m speechless. I’ve been doing this for 36 years, and it’s the worst rule I’ve ever seen passed by the NCAA in any capacity.’’
Malzahn and several SEC coaches have spoken out about the new rule. “This rule will in essence be a death sentence to any high school coach wanting to coach college,” Malzahn told USA Today. “It’s putting an end to it, and it’s not fair.”
South Carolina coach Will Muschamp noted that his brother, Mike, is the head coach at Lovett in Atlanta and would love a college opportunity if the right one came along. ‘’And now, you’ve limited that,’’ Will said. ‘’I don’t think that’s right and I don’t think it’s fair.’’
Georgia head coach Kirby Smart, who now has McGee on his staff, objected to the rule when it was proposed. ‘’I have a hard time with that, as a son of a high school coach and a guy who has seen tons of high school coaches go on to greater success,’’ he said.
McGee was one of the state’s top young high school coaches while at Carver High in his native Columbus, where he led the program to a state title in 2007. In 2013, Auburn hired McGee as an analyst on its support staff. From there, McGee got an on-field coaching job at Georgia Southern, and in 2015 he was hired as running backs coach at Georgia.
Downs, who coached Creekside of Fulton County to its first-ever state title in 2013, was hired as quality control coordinator at Georgia in 2015 under Mark Richt, then became assistant director of player development. In January, Georgia Southern hired him as an assistant coach in the secondary.
Conn, who started Grayson’s program and won its first state title in 2011, joined Clemson’s staff under former Alabama college teammate Dabo Swinney as a defensive analyst in 2016. He was promoted this year to the on-field staff and now coaches Clemson's safeties.
Another rising young coach in Georgia that has been linked to college openings is Crisp County’s Shelton Felton, who led his alma mater to a 13-1 finish last season, the school’s best record ever. Defensive end Markaviest Bryant signed with Auburn this year, and linebacker Quay Walker is a four-star recruit for 2018.
‘’I don’t agree with it; I don’t like it,’’ Felton said of the rule. ‘’This is a basketball rule that doesn’t affect football. One basketball player can get you into the NCAA tournament, but in football? No way. Peyton Manning couldn’t do it by himself.’’
The NCAA adopted the rule originally for basketball in 2010. Felton says the new football rule unfairly targets high school coaches and cuts off career advancement.
‘’Some of these college coaches who come to your door are going to make it big somewhere, and they’re going to remember how you conduct yourself,’’ Felton said. “It’s our opportunity to show what we can do. ‘Wow, Felton has a track record of making great defensive linemen, and he does it the right way. Maybe he knows what he’s doing. Maybe I’ll give him a shot.’ Now, it limits our chances of getting out.’’
Felton believes the rule hurts minority coaches in particular. A higher percentage of African-Americans are high school coaches, especially in Georgia, than are on-field coaches for FBS college programs. Relationships between high school and college coaches have been a gateway to minority hiring, Felton believes.
‘’With this rule, you’re saying we’re going to recycle college coaches, and when they’re fired, we’re going to get old help and not going to give new blood a chance,’’ Felton said. “You’re penalizing the high school coaches with good programs and players.’’
Propst also criticized the pattern of hiring and re-hiring college coaches and said high school coaches deserve more opportunities, not less.
‘’When we get a chance on next level, it’s our one shot,’’ Propst said. “That’s why you see high school coaches doing so well. We know we have to do what we have to do to be successful. I see [college] coaches come into my office, and they’ve got one in the door and one foot out. You see college coaches getting fired four or five times and hired again. What job market does that?”
The rule restricting high school coaches from working college camps is also unpopular. It limits their professional development, Propst said. He also pointed out that coaches often are the ones taking their players to these camps. If coaches don’t have the extra incentive to get them there, who will fill the void?
South Carolina’s Muschamp worries that it would be agents.
‘’We’ve been trying to get these street agents out of the game,’’ Muschamp said. “Now, we’ve just invited them back in the game because who’s going to bring these guys (players) to camp? Legally you could pay a (high school) coach to come work your camp. By NCAA rules, you could do that. Now you can’t.’’