MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — Dana Holgorsen presents a succinct description for the NCAA football rule prohibiting coach-player summertime contact.
About to enter his 20th season as a college coach, Holgorsen has never been hungrier to mingle with newcomers. With West Virginia bringing in 29 signees and transfers—at least 15 of whom could figure prominently in the season ahead—Holgorsen is chirping about the rules restricting him and his assistants from interacting with players during June and July.
He views summer as a period when all players, but especially new recruits, are at a heightened risk of poor grades and poor decisions. Granting coaches facetime with players, Holgorsen said, could help programs better prepare athletes for the structure required throughout the rest of the year.
“We spend so much time and money recruiting kids, and we’re so selfish—we want to get these kids on campus as soon as possible and get them acclimated and in position to play for us,” he said. “Whether that (reporting date) is May 21 or June 1 or June 10 or July 1, you’ve got guys added to your roster with whom you can have zero contact.”
“If they don’t want to go to (summer) classes or workouts, they’ve got a lot of time on their hands. And when 18- to 22-year-old kids have a lot of time on their hands, what’s going to happen?” — WVU coach Dana Holgorsen
For the newcomers who enrolled last December, at least coaches had the spring semester to begin practice instruction and convey off-the-field expectations. (“We do our best from January to May to develop structure and then we turn them loose for two-and-a-half months,” Holgorsen lamented.) But for the summer arrivals, the first sanctioned contact with on-field coaches won’t occur until fall camp opens Thursday.
“We’re talking about guys who come on campus for the very first time and they’re developing habits and a way of doing things that are not the way we want them to do it,” Holgorsen said. “It’s a big flaw in our system.
“If they don’t want to go to (summer) classes or workouts, they’ve got a lot of time on their hands. And when 18- to 22-year-old kids have a lot of time on their hands, what’s going to happen?”
That makes strength and conditioning coaches like WVU’s Mike Joseph the most important eyes on campus during the summer. It also shifts disciplinary responsibilities to upperclassmen.
“They force the older guys to be coaches, basically,” said Texas linebacker Jackson Jeffcoat, a senior now going through his fourth summer on the Austin campus. “We know the plays, so we get out there with the younger guys and help them.”
West Virginia defensive end Will Clarke said he remembers “the older guys did a real good job of showing me the ropes, teaching me what to do and what not do” when he arrived in Morgantown in 2009. He particularly recalled the summertime leadership of veterans like Chris Neild, Scooter Berry, Julian Miller, Larry Ford and Josh Taylor.
Now a senior, Clarke pressures himself to provide the same type of player-to-player guidance.
“It forces us to hold young guys accountable and ourselves accountable,” Clarke said. “If they’re doing what we’re doing and what we’re doing isn’t a good thing, it will show.
Of course, Clarke laughs so hard his dreadlocks shimmy at mention of the term “voluntary workout”—one utilized in the NCAA rule book and repeated by Holgorsen during recent criticisms of the summertime blackout.
“Voluntary workouts—it’s one of the best phrases in the world,” said Clarke, who remains astonished when incoming freshmen actually believe attendance is up to free will. Clarke recounted telling newcomers with staccato emphasis: “You. Need. To. Be. There. It’s good for you to be there.”
The NCAA last summer began allowing basketball coaches up to eight hours of instruction time per week, and Holgorsen is hardly alone in calling for football to adopt similar interaction.
“I’d like to be around the players in the summer,” said Baylor coach Art Briles. “I’d like to be able to go out there, shake their hand and watch them do some drills with our strength staff. Maybe go in the weight room and watch them lift, watch them work.”
With football being so grueling, however, don’t expect the NCAA to automatically soften its stance on summertime contact. There’s too much supposition coaches might use the time to coax extra practices, though Briles suggested that would be counterproductive.
“I’d never practice with them in the summer,” Briles said. “My gosh, you’ve got them from Aug. 1 to January and then you’ve go them for five or six weeks in the spring. I’m not one of those that thinks you need to practice them in the summer.”
But while Jeffcoat remains undecided on the benefits of such a rule change, the standout at the richest football program in America doesn’t buy the notion that increased coaches’ access would be spent discussing academics or conducting lifestyle check-ins.
“I bet if the coaches had contact with us it would become practice time,” Jeffcoat said. “Because that’s why we came to the university—to go to school and work on football.”