CLEMSON — Mike Reed drops everything — coaching, lunch, family obligations, etc. — at the buzz of a palm-sized box.
Bzzzzzzz. Bzzzzzzzzz. Reed presses a button to stall the vibration, raises his iPhone to his ear and spends all of a few seconds indulging a potential future client.
“Yeah, hold on, man. I’ll hit you back in 20 minutes,” Reed says, listening for a couple beats before thanking the mystery man on the other end.
Clemson’s defensive backs coach taps the screen, sets down the phone and shakes his head.
It’s July 15. “Recruits, man. It seriously is non-stop.”
So goes the life of a college football assistant coach, a job short on time off and sanity, and made more difficult with advances in phone technology and social media applications.
“My phone (recently) was broke for four days,” Reed said, “and those were the greatest four days ever.”
Do college coaches have it tougher than NFL assistants?
Kirby Smart evidently thinks so. The architect of Alabama’s perennially powerful defense and Nick Saban’s right-hand went on an Atlanta radio show and decried the changing times.
“The smartphones are the death of college coaches,” Smart said July 2, according to FootballScoop.com. “Every college coach I talk to won’t say it on record but everyone’s thinking, ‘Should I go to the (National Football) league?’ Because you don’t have the same requirements; the hours are different. Recruiting is non-stop.”
The contrast makes for quite a debate: College assistant coaches must deal with recruiting and teen whims; NFL assistants coach grown-ups — and strong wills that come with agents — while working almost round-the-clock during a longer season.
The notion NFL coaches don’t work as hard as college coaches isn’t unanimous, even among college coaches. New South Carolina defensive coordinator Jon Hoke, who spent the past 13 years with the Texans and Bears, doesn’t see much difference in his approach months after joining the Gamecocks.
“I’ve taught (Bears cornerback) Charles Tillman the same way I would teach (USC cornerback) Chris Lammons,” Hoke said. “I coached Lito Sheppard at Florida the same way I coached Aaron Glenn with the Houston Texans.”
Hoke’s not the only coach who’s gone back to school. Co-defensive coordinator Lorenzo Ward (Raiders) and wide receivers coach Steve Spurrier Jr. (Redskins, under his father) have previously coached in the pros before landing at South Carolina.
Meanwhile, Marion Hobby left Clemson after one year coaching defensive linemen to take the same job with the New Orleans Saints. But then he went to Duke in 2008, and in 2011 returned to Clemson, which has bagged five straight top-15 Rivals.com recruiting classes (and the No. 4 bunch last February.)
“Boy, this phone, you can’t ever let it die,” Hobby said. “As coaches, it’s hard for us to put them down because there’s always some communication with the social media and the texts, keeping up with your rivals and where your top prospects are visiting.”
The problem is, recruits have an appreciable amount of leverage over their suitors. Without great players, coaches can’t win.
“Guys call you last-minute, saying ‘hey, coach, I’m passing through Clemson, can you show me the building?’ You’ve got to respond to that,” Hobby said. “It becomes a little trying at times.”
South Carolina recently added four “quality control” coaches. Schools are adding support staffers dedicated soley to recruiting, such as Clemson’s Thad Turnipseed, but all he can do is organize recruiting trips and other administrative duties. NCAA violations prohibit Turnipseed from reviewing game tape or contacting recruits.
Graduate assistants chip in as much as they can, though their time and impact are also limited.
“It’s gotten crazy. Because if you’re not in contact with these kids, they say you don’t love them,” Reed said. “I don’t equate tweeting and texting and stuff like that to love. But that’s what we’re dealing with now.”
Now comes the real tough question: what happens if Johnny Five-Star calls during a family dinner or deep conversation with the wife?
“You hide the phone,” Hobby said with a laugh, while slyly tucking his phone under the table for emphasis. “You keep it real low and don’t let your wife know you’re looking at it, especially when she’s trying to talk to you.”
Scott had a similarly humorous answer: “Depends on who it is.” He recalls a recent evening with his wife when he chose his phone over supper.
“I came back and said, ‘I apologize, but that recruit’s going to help pay for a lot of these meals someday.’ ”
Reed, the father to two young children, struck a deal with his wife: for one hour each night, the phone takes over and he attends to recruiting matters. After that, he’s done.
“I found out that you’ve basically got to budget your time,” Reed said. “I refuse to let (my phone) control me.”
There are varying attitudes. Defensive coordinator Brent Venables, who has four kids, takes no issue with the endless hours spent building relationships with potential future Clemson football players. He didn’t particularly agree with Smart’s stance on the radio.
“I love what I do,” Venables said. “I know that people make a big difference in my success, so that’s a willingness to continue to fight for. I personally can sustain that fight. It’s a challenge, but it’s not a problem for me.”