It’s safe to say that Pat Fitzgerald isn’t a huge fan of super-early recruiting trends. However, the Northwestern Wildcats coach has learned to adapt to the new, faster-paced climate of today.
While speaking with the media Friday at Big Ten Media Days in Chicago, Fitzgerald offered a glimpse into his recruiting mindset–and being patient, not to mention being incredibly detailed, is a huge part of the way he operates.
It’s difficult to do so today, given the ways of the world, but ideally, Fitzgerald would like to see a kid grow a little before casting an instant judgment.
“I have a real hard time doing a character evaluation of a young man who doesn’t have a license yet,” he said. “My whole life changed when I got a car. The good news is there was no Twitter and Snapchat and cell phones. That’s a hard thing for kids today. And I’m not feeling sorry for them. It’s a life they live.”
Back in Fitzgerald’s day, the old adage of “boys will be boys” or “teens will be teens” probably applied when it came to questionable activity. With that said, today’s younger generation didn’t invent poor decision-making, it just has a way to broadcast its regrettable choices to a nearly unlimited audience.
But like Fitzgerald said, that’s the life they live.
As a coach, it’s his job to monitor prospects and take proper actions against inappropriate behavior, both on- and off-line. But he doesn’t seem to mind putting in extra time in order to make sure he’s courting quality people.
“We should–we control that and who were bring into our cultures and who we bring on to our campuses and who we bring to our programs,” Fitzgerald said. “But with the acceleration of recruiting and not having earlier access to those recruits, you’ve got to really be diligent and you’ve got to have your checks and balances.
Otherwise, you could set yourself up, especially at a place like ours, for really wasting your time on a prospect that maybe six months (from now) won’t fit your program.”
In a way, coaches do have earlier access to recruits. A simple search of a player on Twitter or a click on his Facebook page would offer a snapshot into his personality. Guys couldn’t do that 15 years ago. It’s not always a perfectly accurate gauge or a foolproof system, but it’d help identify potential red flags in advance, saving time and causing less headaches down the road.
Based on Fitzgerald’s comments, those with clean social-media pages–in addition to grades and ability–would be more appealing to Northwestern, which is one of the most prestigious academic institutions in America.
Other coaches–including former Wisconsin coach Bret Bielema, who is now at Arkansas–have recently taken firm public stances against, well, for the lack of a better term: on-line stupidity.
In 2013, Michigan State coach Mark Dantonio pulled an offer from Jay Harris, who decided to post a profanity-laced, marijuana-themed rap video on YouTube. “Dat Bull” missed “dat” opportunity of a lifetime.
A year earlier, Michigan cut ties with Yuri Wright, a New Jersey prep star who littered his Twitter with sexually explicit, racist and bigoted messages.
Simply put, academics and ability just aren’t enough these days. A player may have high grades and have the ability to run a 4.5-second 40-yard dash, but if he’s posting photos of himself getting high while holding a .45 caliber…well, Fitzgerald, like many others, will look onto the next one.
Sounds like he’s read a page from the Bielema Book of Recruiting, which should be handed out to high schoolers across the nation.
“If you have a social media nickname or something on your Twitter account that makes me sick, I’m not going to recruit you,” Bielema said (via ESPN) Wednesday at SEC Media Days. “I’ve turned down players based on their Twitter handles. I’ve turned down players based on Twitter pictures. … We have a social media background screening that you’ve got to go through.”