In recruiting we look for smart guys, ones who are athletically intelligent. We do not necessarily look for guys who can ace a standardized written test, but we look for players who can read and respond to situations quickly and effectively. We also look for poise and maturity.
We want a kid that we and his teammates can trust. A player has to be able to trust that his teammate is going to do what he is supposed to do in the clutch. It is a character trait that you have to see in kids and try to pull out of them. One thing that bothers me about recruiting these days is that the head coach is allowed to visit a kid only once. It’s hard to get a feel for what kind of character a player has in one visit.
When we have a prospect visit campus, I try to sense what he’s looking for. Does he want a career? Does he want to make something out of his life? Does he have ambition? Does he have pride? His success on the football field suggests that he’s got a work ethic.
A coach can have a positive impact on a kid’s pride. We can make him feel good, put him in situations where he will have some success. Conversely, tossing a player into the meat grinder unprepared will only do harm.
One of the biggest mistakes we made at Penn State was an ill-fated attempt to establish toughness in a player. The kid was a big freshman, a highly sought-after prospect from a small school in upstate New York. We all were anxious to see how tough he was, so we put him in a drill against Dave Robinson, who was one of the best players we’ve ever had at Penn State and who went on to be a first-round draft pick and a great player for the Green Bay Packers.
Dave beat the devil out of the kid, and that kid never showed up for another practice. That was just stupid on my part, and it taught me a lesson. Now we put that kind of kid in situations where he can experience some success and build on that. That’s one way to develop pride and to get players to feel good about themselves.
A coach can have an impact on many aspects of a player’s character and development. If you can push the right buttons and put players in the right environment, you can help bring about some amazing positive changes.