Football coach talks failure and recruiting

Being in this business, I tend to peruse and read a lot of things.

That includes many things I know I won’t necessarily agree with. But, that’s how you learn and get varying opinions.

You can’t always ready only stuff you know you will agree with and use in your daily life.

I do read a lot of articles about coaches and those written by coaches to see their perspective inside the athletic arenas.

I came across two articles on coachingsearch.com written by Chris Vanni on Northwestern football coach Pat Fitzgerald talking about kids and recruiting.

Fitzgerald gets it.

He was a linebacker for the Wildcats and led the team to a 10-1 record in 1995 and a berth in the Rose Bowl, at the time, its first bowl appearance since 1949. He was named head coach in 2006 after the unexpected death of then-head coach Randy Walker.

Fitzgerald was named the Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year and consensus All-American in 1995 and 1996. He also won the Branko Nagurski Trophy and Chuck Bednarik Award those years, being the first two-time winner of both awards.

He was selected as the head coach at age 31 and is 70-56 after 10 seasons.

Fitzgerald talked at the American Football Coaches Association Convention earlier in the year.

“We define that as who you are when no one’s watching. I failed at that miserably when I was a kid,” Fitzgerald said in the article by Vanni. “I was awesome around mom and dad, I was spectacular around my girlfriend’s mom and dad – now my wife – I knew how to play the game around coaches, but I was (a jerk). The minute you turned your back, you’d better look out.”

Those days, according to Fitzgerald, are gone with athletes now because of social media.

He also said high school kids are afraid to make mistakes, afraid to fail because of the immediate criticism.

“Kids can’t do that today. It’s gone. Society has taken it away from them,” he said. “Phones, Internet, blog sites. You can’t make a mistake as a kid anymore. You can’t learn. You can’t grow.

“You can’t make mistakes. It makes it incredibly challenging for us as teachers to help kids learn from failure. That’s a great lesson to learn. Especially not to be afraid of it.

“I think it’s pretty debilitating to watch kids who won’t cut it loose because they’re afraid of failure, because they’re afraid they’ll make a mistake and not get another opportunity.”

The coach also knows part of the problems may well lie within the household.

“How many of your kids want instant gratification? ‘Coach, I was on time. Where’s a sticker for my helmet?'” Fitzgerald said. “How about the parents? ‘Joey’s a good player.’ Kids don’t understand it takes time. It’s a process.

“I was a two-time All-American, and I have the pain of regret because I should have been a three-time All-American. It was my fault. I wasn’t mature enough to know it at that age, but I didn’t know what consistent hard work looked like day-in and day-out, choice after choice. If you couple that with a great attitude, you’ve got a chance. But it’s not easy.”

On national signing day, not long after his visit to the convention, Fitzgerald talked, in another Vanni article, about recruiting and the role the parents play.

“An increasingly larger part of the evaluation of the prospect, for us, is evaluating the parents. It’s a big part of the evaluation,” Fitzgerald said. “We have and probably will more so, and it’s a private deal – I’m not going to share who and where – but when we talk about our fit, we’re evaluating the parents, too. And if the parents don’t fit, then we might punt on the player and not end up offering him a scholarship. That has changed during a decade. Ten years ago, that wasn’t as big of a role. Now it’s a big part of it.

“On the other side, it’s big when it’s a good fit. It’s terrific. Everybody’s a little bit different there, but that’s the way we’ve seen in not only holding commitments, but having very little attrition when guys come into our program.”

Fitzgerald admitted that recruiting has changed in the past 10 years and will continue to evolve with character of, not only the player, but of the family being a high priority.

“We’re signing 20 new families, and if any indication of their future success is at home, when you look at these families, it’s awesome,” Fitzgerald said. “We had 18 of the young men on campus together, and the parents had a better time than the players. This group has built relationships for a long time. The 19 guys and our 20th, they’ve had a chat group together. They’ve been in constant communication as a group of young men. The parents created a Facebook group for each other. It’s nuts. It’s cool. It’s really neat to see.

“When I got recruited, you got dropped off, and it was the death march to reality. You’d huddle with your family. Now, you show up for an official visit, and the families’ parents are partying, and the guys have great comfort together. That’s really changed a lot.”

There are also increasing stories about how colleges stop recruiting high school athletes because of what they post on social media.

College coaches daily stop recruiting high school athletes because of what is posted on social media and that shouldn’t surprise anybody.

You represent a lot of people when something is posted.

I represent my family, the newspapers, radio station, myself and, most of all, God.

When a high school athlete posts something, believe it or not, that athlete represents the family, the coaches, the school and the future.

I know it seems somewhat hard to believe, but it’s true.

One comment that says, “Coach is killing my love for the game” will do nothing but get you in trouble with the coach and any future coaches.

Your mom and dad may behind you 100 percent, but that also means your parents are the parents Fitzgerald will not recruit.

Also not sure you want to post an Instagram pic with a few brews in the background.

Not a good look at all.

Like it or not, this is our society.

People get involved with social media wars, back-and-forths, whatever you want to call them, and it can escalate to a place that no one expected.

Yet, when it reaches that point, no one really cares why, just that it has and will read what was posted.

Do you want that look associated with you?

When you walk through the mall or go to the movies, you are representing more than just yourself, especially when you are wearing your letterman’s jacket.

No one is trying to deny the way you want to express yourself, just understand that means you very well may stand solo with the expression.

(Mathison, a Weirton resident, is the sports editor of the Herald-Star and The Weirton Daily Times and can be contacted at mmathison@heraldstaronline.com or followed on Twitter at @MathisonMike).


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