‘De-recruiting' part of coaching at UF


Florida coach Will Muschamp talks with player Marcus Maye during the Orange and Blue Debut at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium on April 6.

Doug Finger/The Gainesville Sun
Published: Monday, April 22, 2013 at 4:13 p.m.
Last Modified: Monday, April 22, 2013 at 4:13 p.m.

He was like so many before him and who have come after his career ended. He was a big-time recruit who had all kinds of stars and power ratings next to his name. He was recruited with pats on the back and warm smiles.

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Florida coach Will Muschamp talks with player Marcus Maye during the Orange and Blue Debut at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium on April 6.

Doug Finger/The Gainesville Sun

And then he showed up.

“The love affair definitely ends when you step on campus.”

That is Kevin Carter, the former All-American at Florida, speaking about the culture shock that so many athletes face when they go from recruited star to one of the pack. High school athletes are wooed and romanced by college coaches in all sports, some to obscene levels.

But then comes the reality of being coached hard and not being far and away the best player on the field or court.

“Everybody goes through it,” former Duke star and ESPN analyst Jay Bilas said. “You have to be able to take criticism. It comes faster and it can be harsh. You're held accountable for things that you weren't held accountable for in high school.

“In high school, you don't have to play every possession.”

College coaches refer to it as ”de-recruiting.” After spending years building an athlete up in an effort to bring him to your school, you almost have to break him or her down once practices begin.

It doesn't always work, which is one reason why there are so many transfers in college athletics these days.

The voice that was soft and sweet becomes one that is loud and sometimes angry.

“It was all glamorous when I was being recruited,” Carter said. “But then I was getting yelled at because I didn't finish the 12-minute run.”

It's something that coaches deal with every year, the de-recruitment of big-time high school stars. Some of them make the adjustment right away. Some of them take some time. Some just leave.

“It's an issue but you have to have a plan,” Ohio State coach Urban Meyer said. “We try to de-recruit immediately. We give them videos of our practices so they know what to expect.

“The ones who come from bad high school programs have the most difficult time adjusting. They might not play for two years. They might transfer. There's a complete culture shock.

“That part of it has been around for as long as I've been a coach. But in the last five or six years, the internet and the dot-coms have taken over our sport. I'll see a 17-year-old kid talking about his NFL career on ESPN.

In football and basketball at the major college levels, many high school seniors have their decisions broadcast live on television. They put on a hat and are hugged and celebrated. It's a great time in their lives, but once they get to school there are plenty of athletes on campus with the same skill sets.

And coaches aren't afraid to let them know when they make a mistake. What used to pass for acceptable in high school puts them on the bench in college.

“It's a shock for most kids,” North Carolina football coach Larry Fedora said. “Everybody's building them up in high school, but when they get to college they're starting all over again.

“Some of them haven't been coached hard in their lives. Some of them have looked at me like I have three heads. But the ones who are mature enough are the ones who play early.”

That's a lesson Billy Donovan tries to instill to incoming freshmen at Florida. Some of his freshmen have been immediate stars, like Brad Beal and Mike Miller. Some take a year or two. Some can't handle it.

Donovan has seen his share of players who transfer to other schools.

“Absolutely it is one of the reasons,” he said. “I try to address it with them when they get to campus. They have expectations, but there are a lot of people around them who also have expectations. When they get to college, their families aren't at practice every day. They're only evaluated on their games, whether or not they are playing.

“In our society, everyone wants quick results. We've moved away from the fact that there are struggles.”

Donovan tells his freshmen that there are three things that will keep them off the court — 1. Can you compete every day? 2. Can you physically compete? 3. Do you know what we're doing?

“I always think that when a player transfers to another school he's taking his problems with him,” Donovan said.

Bilas, for one, thinks college coaches aren't as tough on players as they used to be.

“I don't think they're as harsh,” he said. “Coaches are easier on players. The landscape has changed. But you're not going to keep a kid from transferring by saying, ‘Please.' “

With so many coaches in football and basketball closing practices, only the coaches and players and support staff know what is happening behind closed doors. And certainly, few players have to go through the physical abuse heaped on the Rutgers basketball players by fired coach Mike Rice.

But they still have to deal with coaches who have expectations and don't mind getting their points over with tough language and criticism. That's De-Recruiting 101.

“You have to be able to adjust,” Carter said. “That's the only way you're going to get better.”

Another factor is how a player is recruited. Some coaches go overboard in their wooing of a high school kid, giving players a sense of entitlement before they arrive at school.

“A lot of it goes back to the recruiting process,” Florida coach Will Muschamp said. “We are a brutally-honest staff. We tell them they are going to have a chance to compete for a job. But I've had kids who didn't work with the first team all through practices and then come in before the first game and are shocked they aren't starting.

“The recruiting services and social media make it tough. But I think it's important that a player comes to our camps. We coach the same way there that we do in practice.”

Freshmen have a lot to adjust to even if they aren't playing a sport. It's a new world filled with responsibility and anonymity. For an athlete, it's a jump from being the big fish to a minnow in the Atlantic.

Only the mentally strong survive the early days of a new life.

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