On a wall outside of Ohio State's football meeting room, a pair of framed team photos celebrate the program's 2002 and 2012 undefeated seasons. The shots are virtually identical—100-plus players in scarlet uniforms spread among five rows of risers in an end zone of Ohio Stadium. But in the older photo, one row of staffers in white polo shirts—coaches, trainers, equipment managers, etc.—stands behind the players. In 2012, that group takes up two rows. Over 10 years, the program's support staff nearly doubled, and it now includes such formal-sounding positions as director of player development, high school relations director and director of player personnel. Head coach Urban Meyer stands apart from the pack in the bottom left corner of the frame. "My staff that I enjoyed the most was at Bowling Green [in '01]—nine assistant coaches, a couple of [graduate assistants], one strength coach, and that was it," he says. "Now, our staff meetings, we have all these chairs in our room." Not that he'd turn away the extra help. "We can't be put at a competitive disadvantage," he says.
Having spent the last decade perennially one-upping each other with $5 million head-coaching salaries, high-tech locker rooms and weight rooms the size of a city block, the latest college football arms race is playing out in programs' staff directories. While NCAA rules strictly define the number of coaches that can instruct players on the field (the head coach, nine assistants and four GAs), there are no limits on how many people can help behind the scenes. Over the past few years—and this off-season in particular—the nation's richest programs have loaded up on these largely invisible but invaluable figures, some with job titles lifted straight from the NFL and others known by the vague descriptor of analyst. Most deal primarily with recruiting. Although they can't call, write or visit prospects, they can field calls, contact high school coaches, maintain databases and set up visits and camps. "In the last year, you've heard more head coaches say, 'He's going to join our recruiting department,' " says Pete Roussel, publisher of the industry news site CoachingSearch.com. "Three years ago, there was no such thing as a recruiting department."
Other staffers break down game and practice tape and handle tedious but helpful special projects. (One such request from Meyer: "List in order our most efficient run [plays] last year against teams that run the 3--4 [defense].") Meanwhile, titles like player development coordinator might be cynically viewed as code for babysitter. "You've got 125 to 130 players a year, and coaches are gone so much," says Texas head coach Mack Brown. "You'd like to have people that have coached be around them on a daily basis."
Previously, a coach might have handed out a low-paying, entry-level office job to a former player trying to break into the business. Now, bolstered by revenue from the boom in conference television contracts, many athletic departments are ponying up for legitimate salaries. "We've seen a shift in the last two years to, Let's hire the best possible guy," says Roussel. Last winter, an NCAA proposal that would have lifted restrictions on noncoaches' contact with recruits likely accelerated the trend. Alabama coach Nick Saban hired his onetime defensive coordinator Kevin Steele—a former Baylor head coach—as player personnel director. Auburn head coach Gus Malzahn hired three veteran high school coaches from the region for off-field positions. Arizona State's Todd Graham hired longtime LSU aide Sherman Morris and gave him the title of assistant athletics director for recruiting. And though the proposal has been suspended, the hiring hasn't abated.
The off-season's most notable convert, however, is Texas's Brown. Despite working for the nation's richest athletic department ($163.3 million in revenue in 2011--12), Brown's staff had remained relatively lean. "When I would hire [assistants] from other schools, they would come in and say what those teams were doing," he says. "I realized our personnel support was not up to the same levels."
This spring Brown hired Patrick Suddes, formerly a Saban staffer with the Miami Dolphins and at Alabama, to be his first player personnel director. He also hired an assistant to Suddes (Justin Wright) and, as a "football analyst," longtime Texas high school coach Bob Shipley, father of former 'Horns receiver Jordan and current receiver Jaxon. Suddes, 31, is essentially an on-campus recruiting coordinator. Shipley's role is more football-centric, primarily self-scouting and evaluating the 'Horns defense, but his connections to Texas high school coaches don't hurt. "We're more organized," says Brown. "We're getting out a lot more information. We're generating more enthusiasm about our program."
It's no accident that Brown plucked Suddes from Alabama, the program that Brown said in February is "ahead of all of us with the number of personnel they've hired." After Saban's program won three national championships in four years, the entire sport is chasing it. That starts with copying a model inspired by Saban's tenure as Bill Belichick's defensive coordinator with the Cleveland Browns from 1991 to '94. Belichick had a farm system of bright, young and usually low-paid grunts that helped the organization run more efficiently. They included future NFL G.M.s Phil Savage and Scott Pioli and future head coaches Jim Schwartz and Eric Mangini. "Bill's philosophy was, Get the right young guys and try to grow them in the organization," says Saban, who did the same at LSU and has expanded the program at Bama.
According to the Tuscaloosa News, last year Alabama employed 24 noncoaching individuals devoted solely to football (not including graduate assistants) and pays them a combined $1.6 million. Some handle off-field issues such as discipline, while others deal with the minutiae of down-and-distance. As recently as 2009 there was no one on Saban's staff with the title of analyst; last year there were nine.
Many analysts have moved back and forth between off-field and on-field duties, including receivers coach Billy Napier, a former Clemson offensive coordinator who in 2011 took an analyst job at Alabama. One current analyst, Joe Palcic, was formerly Indiana's co--defensive coordinator. Some of these coaches are simply between jobs or looking to get off the field and cash in on their recruiting prowess.
Russ Callaway, now Murray State's receivers coach, took an analyst job at Alabama in 2011 following his playing career at Valdosta State. He says that in Saban's organization every coach was unofficially paired with his own analyst or grad assistant. Callaway, the son of former UAB head coach Neil Callaway, worked primarily with defensive coordinator Kirby Smart. While Callaway's main duty was game prep—marathon days spent breaking down opponents' tape, in and out of season—he was also a researcher on recruits. If, for example, Smart heard about a promising 10th-grader, Callaway would seek out video of the player on YouTube, write a report and pass it along to the player personnel people (who themselves employ student assistants to cut up the highlights). Says Callaway, "It was so machinelike, how we had it set up."