Each off-season, a beat writer should ask to be a fly-on-the-wall at any football meetings when things are a bit more relaxed.
Typical coaches’ response, “Hmm, there’s not much to see or hear.”
But one person’s garbage is someone else's treasure, as is often said, especially when the room forgets you’re there and they can’t help but be themselves.
For the sports nerd, one can learn much when you’re just curious of the innards of a sport or anything, really.
Embedded into meetings, interviews and hallway discussions - a reporter might want to think the everyday people there need to be on their best behavior, or risk some negative exposure or potential nightmare being let out by an over eager writer.
It would be kind of cool to break out some scintillating tidbits.
But nah, it’s the same since I’ve been covering SJSU football for the last six years – just a passionate family enjoying what they’re doing and all the ebbs and flows that comes along with it.
Director of Operations, Ben Thienes, is my first stop to check in and he happens to be in an interview. I quickly get by the uneasiness of interrupting, when Thienes asks what kind of story I was thinking of.
I had no idea, really, but I knew something would materialize by just hanging out.
“Yeah, a lot of people wonder what the heck we do all day and why we have such long, long days,” said Thienes. “Even in the off-season.”
Case in point, Thiene’s interview had been going on for a while and I end up talking shop with the interviewee, while Thienes leaves to tend to other business.
Head coach Brent Brennan sneaks up to welcome himself. Tobruk Blaine, Beyond Football director, strolls by and offers a quick hello, while others stroll the hallways (thoughts of the 1990s “Saved by the Bell” sitcom did come to mind for some reason).
Where does all the time go?
A whole lot of time goes into evaluations on recruits, players, administrative personnel (let alone game preparations during the season). It’s still surprising that the off-season can be just as busy or even so hectic.
You come to realize just as we might work for a company, the business of football works like a full-time public entity but for any and all to see and critique (imagine anyone at your cubicle or home challenging your work).
Thiene’s interviewee was happy to shed some light on how much time coaches can spend just in evaluations. From hitting the road to scanning videos, a ton of time can supposedly be bought back with PFF.
PFF (Pro Football Focus) is a sports analytics company that started in 2009 owned by former NFLer and sports newscaster, Chris Collinsworth. PFF is a paid service that covers all stats for all NFL and D1 level players and teams.
PFF’s value is on a play-by-play level of every player.
It became clear the levels of evaluation and planning is a huge time suck. Imagine how much more time it would take to gather and breakdown such game and personnel information without PFF.
That’s the world we’re in where such deep information can be available and more information is needed just to be level-set to the competition.
But like anything, how all the ingredients get mixed or even added depends on how the staff cooks it.
Decoding the group think
Getting to Brennan’s office very briefly, Thienes comes in to point me to a recruiting evaluation going on. I eagerly get up and leave realizing I might have left Brennan in mid-sentence.
Into the darkened classroom, I find a seat, do a quick fist bump with DC Derrick Odum and let my eyes adjust to the big screen.
Making out the outline of D-line coach Joe Seumalo, LB coach Rob Christoff and others, I start to take in their evaluations of a defensive end from Arizona – keeping in mind they likely already established some PFF baseline.
“Looks good, but seems heavy-footed,” said someone in a far corner of the dimly lit room. ”Looks like he’s laboring a bit.”
While it all might look good to a layman’s eyes, things are always relative with regards to talent assessment.
The eval meeting went on with fascination. Hearing “out of our price range,” “freakish,” “P5er,” “That’s strange,” etc. was probably the only thing everyday folks can start to make sense of.
With head tilted and trying to matchup what the staff was seeing or disagreeing, I realize it’s all such a small, but important part of the cycle that leads to the actual “chase.”
Nonetheless, it’s all a balancing act of who you can get and how or if a recruit can acclimate to a program - and the staff effectively expressing the belief and commitment to a recruit.
What the Spartans are now known to have is spades is a strong culture of work ethic and personal development - a culture based off a long-standing coaching core that recruits find and hear as truth among their peers.
“We’re best when we do us”
The larger staff meeting with all the coaches was most interesting to say the least.
Receiver coach and co-offensive coordinator Eric Scott is the newest ball of high energy. As his passion and purpose shone through, Scott reflected what all the coaches have expressed for years.
The room of coaches reviewed potential recruits and the discussion on the chances of landing them was the question and debate.
Except Scott was far more emphatic about how to rep San Jose State – with unabashed pride and fervor. It’s the same intensity that Scott has brought from his days at Nevada and his reputation as a no-nonsense recruiter and leader.
“We’re D1 like any D1 program in the country,” exclaimed Scott to the room. “I don’t give a (expletive) if we had no facilities, a beat up field or nothing!”
Scott made it clear the kids that come to San Jose State will come because they’ll be with them every step of the way on and off the field. And in the end, the kids will validate it among themselves.
“Vic, you’re getting some real good stuff today, man!” echoed Brennan from across the room to poke a hole in the intensity.
The new meat market
The advent of the transfer portal has brought more work, more friction and more opportunities.
From schools literally offering money to some recruits and spraying out offers, it was interesting to hear the Spartans don’t care about it.
They’ll tell recruits, “Take it!” And to take the offer soon after a school offers it to see how they actually respond.
The schools who cast a wide net of offers supposedly aren’t expecting quick responses as much as they use it as a tactic.
A tactic that can leave recruits high and dry when they’re holding out for the best situation.
On the other end, JUCO coaches are finding themselves sometimes lost in the wash in between high school prospects and the transfer portal, where the portal may be acting as a more proven pseudo JUCO.
The expectation is for the NCAA to create regulations on the transfer portal, which is something they should have done in the first place, especially when the NCAA anticipated it.
For San Jose State, the worry of such a wild west is an opportunity, since the Spartans have a foundation built to weather the ups and downs.