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Posted: Tuesday April 29, 2008 11:34AM; Updated: Tuesday April 29, 2008 11:54AM
Andy Staples Andy Staples >

Head coaches forced to stay home (cont.)

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Carroll built USC's program in a similar fashion. Urban Meyer did the same thing when he replaced Zook at Florida, sometimes logging three flights and three rental cars in the same day visiting high schools, where he often questioned female faculty members to learn how the players he was evaluating treated women.

The coaches who hate the rule say they'll miss this kind of evaluation the most. The chance to ask face-to-face questions of teachers and guidance counselors helped them make more informed decisions about which players to take. They know they'll get blasted if a player they recruit gets arrested, and they'll get fired if they bring in too many thugs. By vetting those recruits they feel they can reduce the knucklehead quotient.

Now, excluding unofficial visits paid for by prospects' families, head coaches may have two face-to-face meetings with the players they recruit: at the on-campus official visit and once off-campus between November and Signing Day in February. By then, Saban said, it's too late to vet.

"That's recruiting," he said. "That's not evaluating."

Even the guy who should be thrilled about the rule hates it. Jimbo Fisher, the Florida State offensive coordinator slated to succeed Bobby Bowden, is allowed on the road this spring to evaluate players who will know him for most of their careers as their head coach.

Fisher will gladly take advantage of the loophole he's been offered, but he worries what will happen when he ascends to the throne in Tallahassee. He will have to trust his assistants to make most of the character and talent judgments about his players, but his job will be on the line if those players don't pan out. "When do I get to know him?" Fisher said. "When do I get to see him? I think they're making a huge mistake."

Naturally, the aggrieved coaches haven't spent the spring sharpening their golf games. They've looked for ways to keep recruiting in spite of the rule. Earlier this year, Carroll launched his own Facebook profile, essentially unfurling a USC recruiting poster in an area of cyberspace frequented by high-schoolers. Last week, Zook and several staff members conducted a free coaches' clinic at Chicago's Mt. Carmel High. Zook wasn't allowed to visit high school coaches, so he gave them a reason to come to him.

Meanwhile, Saban used his extra time in the office to have a completely legal face-to-face conversation with a recruit. Saban's face was aimed at a computer-mounted camera in his office, and so was the face of Athens (Ala.) High defensive end William Ming, who sat in front of a computer at his school's distance learning lab.

"You could see [Saban's] facial expressions and hand gestures just as if you were sitting across the desk from him," Athens coach Allen Creasy told the Birmingham News. "It's the next-best thing to being there in person."

According to the NCAA, a video conference counts as a phone call. And prospects are allowed to call coaches as many times as they please. So when Ming logged into the Web address left at the school by Alabama assistant Curt Cignetti, he may as well have been dialing Saban's cell number.

Expect the Carrolls, Zooks, and Sabans of the coaching world to keep devising ways to reach players in spite of their colleagues' attempts to stymie them. Because while the rule may prevent some coaches from being outworked, it won't keep them from getting outsmarted.

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