Having interviewed football coaches for more than 30 years, I can say with confidence these guys have an answer for everything.
It may not be much of an answer — one former Ohio State assistant was famous for answering pretty much every query, on any subject, with “He’s a helluva ballplayer.” — but they always have something to say.
(Caveat: Former Michigan coach Lloyd Carr often preferred the non-answer answer. When he did not like the question he would silently stare into space. Yes, it was odd.)
My takeaway is that coaches are not natural know-it-alls as much as they feel the need to know it all. The majority being control freaks, they figure they better have an answer — for their sake as much as ours.
In that way they are like politicians, always ready with an explanation, no matter how uncomfortable or ridiculous the question. Pols are not elected so they can say, “No comment.” Coaches are not paid millions to shrug.
Keeping that in mind, it became clear Wednesday afternoon that the topic of the college transfer portal is the Gordian knot of college football — unsolvable except by means that may be too drastic for the day.
I say this because Ohio State coach Ryan Day, who is articulate and transparent with his thoughts, initially offered only a two-word answer regarding his opinion on the transfer portal.
“It’s complicated,” Day said.
To reset, the transfer portal was instituted by the NCAA in October to a) allow athletes more freedom to transfer; and b) to legally help the NCAA cover its you-know-what.
Free agency is speeding toward college athletics faster than the hammer to Thor’s hand, and the NCAA — on the advice of lawyers, of course — is not about to stand in its way. It also is softening its stance on eligibility by allowing transfers to play immediately, based on hardship, instead of the old standard of having to sit out a year.
The transfer portal has quickly become the bane of coaches' existence. An athlete interested in testing the transfer waters enters his name in the portal database, then waits for a call from another school. Justin Fields didn’t wait long. Neither did Tate Martell or Matthew Baldwin. Fields entered the portal after his freshman season at Georgia and got snapped up by Ohio State. Martell and Baldwin entered the portal as Buckeyes and exited it at Miami (Martell) and Texas Christian (Baldwin).
The portal mostly is being used/exploited — depending how you choose to view it — by quarterbacks and coaches who need QBs. But just wait. Portal envy will spread.
What to do about it? It’s complicated.
“I can’t just give you a one-sentence type of answer,” Day said, following up on his two-word answer. “There are parts of it I completely understand. There are other parts that make me very, very nervous about where the future of college football is going with it.”
Day is in a tight spot. As someone who coached in the NFL, he can’t exactly dismiss the concept of free agency to high school recruits whose goal is to make a living in the league. But his responsibility is now to Gene Smith, not Roger Goodell.
“It’s forcing coaches to be very clear with their communication (with recruits and their parents) what the expectations are … so that if something doesn’t go well they’re not on the first train out of here,” Day said.
There is talk of possibly instituting a two-transfer-per-school rule, which might slow the revolving door pace of players entering-exiting. There also is this: A school can attempt to block an athlete gaining immediate eligibility by withholding its blessing. But any school that plays hardball risks gaining a negative reputation in recruiting.
“There’s a complexity to it,” Day said. “No easy answer.”
And he knows it.