During the national title game in January, Florida State staffers held up white towels in the second half to shield their offensive signals from Auburn’s coaches. When Auburn played Kansas State on Sept. 18, Wildcats coach Bill Snyder spiced up his halftime interview by mentioning Auburn had figured out K-State’s signals.
Those two incidents in Auburn’s last two high-profile games have put the Tigers at the forefront of a growing conversation in college football about the cloak-and-dagger world of stealing signals. The Inside Read interviewed a dozen current and former coaches about the prevalence of stealing signals, and a majority consider the espionage a high-stakes game within the game. Most programs have staffers with binoculars in the press box peering at the signals being sent in on the opposing sideline. This has left coaches rife with paranoia. While the extent of some teams’ sign-stealing operations can raise ethical questions, the practice is so common it may soon prompt rule changes to curtail it.
“It’s a delicate balance,” Memphis coach Justin Fuente said. “I know that it happens a lot. If your signals are out there and people want to look at them, it’s hard to fault them.”
It’s important to note that no one accused Auburn of doing anything illegal. Tigers coach Gus Malzahn denied stealing Kansas State’s signals. The only mention of stealing signs in the NCAA rulebook comes from a Spygate-inspired rule that prevents recording signals with audio or video. If anything, the public accusations of Auburn’s sign stealing may simply be an acknowledgement that the Tigers are really good at it.
Florida State coach Jimbo Fisher conceded at the time that stealing signals is “part of the game” and said he had “no problem” with what Auburn did. One SEC assistant told The Inside Read that his team will change their signals and use wristbands before playing Auburn this season. Another SEC assistant said the bigger the staff of the school, the more he’s concerned. “I worry about Alabama more than Auburn to be honest,” he said.
Auburn co-offensive coordinator Dameyune Craig, a former FSU assistant, stood next to the Tigers' defensive coaches during the first half of the title game. Seminoles receiver Kelvin Benjamin, visibly annoyed as FSU’s offense sputtered during the first half, was caught during a timeout on the television broadcast saying, “Dameyune calling all the plays.” Auburn led 21-3 in the second quarter and 21-10 at halftime. FSU adjusted and outscored Auburn 24-10 in the second half to win 34-31.
“[Craig] was giving him everything that he thought he knew,” said a person familiar with Florida State’s game plan against Auburn. “They were right in a lot of instances in the first half. In the second half, Florida State covered the signals and kicked their ass.”
Simply glance over at the sideline during any college football game and you’ll see how prevalent sign stealing has become. Mississippi State uses four signalers to throw off opponents, leaving them looking like they’re street mimes signaling for tips. Then there are the big boards with pictures of everyone from Scott Van Pelt to the Caddyshack gopher that have become as much a part of sideline scenery as Gatorade cups and ankle tape.
Terry McAulay, the American Athletic Conference coordinator of officials, said a point of emphasis this offseason was to enforce a rule for players and coaches to stay out of the six-foot “white area” on the sideline came because of the proliferation of signalers.
When does gamesmanship veer into an ethical gray area? Gerry DiNardo, the former coach at Indiana, Vanderbilt and LSU, admitted he had a graduate assistant on his staff dedicated to stealing signals. He recalled a 41-10 Vanderbilt win at Army in 1991 where his team had stolen Army’s signs so thoroughly that the tight end stood up and raised his arms in exasperation when a Vanderbilt assistant called out a tight end pass before the snap.
“It’s expected,” he said of opponents stealing signals. “If you don’t have a good signal system, you are going to get read.”
DiNardo said video taping the signalers -- as opposed to relying on picking them up off the game film -- is where he draws the line.
Memphis’ Fuente referenced a 1964 Supreme Court ruling on obscenity when asked what is unethical in the world of signal stealing. “I’m not sure how to define it,” he said, “but I’d know it when I see it.”
Ohio State offensive coordinator Tom Herman said the Buckeyes don’t have a specific staff member assigned to trying to break the code of the opposition’s signals. He did say that he’d pass on tendencies of signals to his players if he picks up, for example, the MIKE linebacker’s signals on film. Ohio State attempts to prevent others from stealing signs by having three Buckeyes staffers signal in plays. Herman always reminds his starting center before the game to tell him immediately if the MIKE linebacker says something like, “Watch for the screen,” and that’s the play OSU has called. That hasn’t happened, but the vigilance persists. “I think it happens all the time,” Herman said of opponents stealing signals. “I don’t have a problem with it.”
One defensive coach told The Inside Read that in the no-huddle era, the stealing of defensive signs has become more commonplace. He said in a recent game against a perennial Top 25 team that the offense wouldn’t call a play until the defensive coordinator signaled. The defensive coordinator waited so long a few times he could hear the quarterback yell to the sideline, “Guys, I need a play! I need a play!”
“I wanted to turn around to the press box and hold up my middle finger,” the assistant coach said.
The coach argues that an offense intercepting a defensive signal is more useful, comparing it to a poker player knowing who has pocket aces. He said it’s much more difficult to communicate a stolen offensive signal to 11 defensive players as opposed to sending in an audible to the quarterback. If an offensive coach gets tipped on a signal for a corner blitz or Cover 2, he can easily call a counter play. “It’s literally how we’re calling the game,” the defensive coach said. “There’s a lot of guys running around we’re calling [offensive] gurus, and that’s really what they’re doing.”
An SEC assistant added that one of the nuances of halftime adjustments is that it gives coaches a chance to take a breath and discuss which signals may or may not being intercepted. He said, essentially, one of the unspoken tenants of halftime coaching acumen -- such a hot topic among commentators -- comes down to figuring out what’s been stolen.
There’s an easy way to curtail the culture of signal stealing in college football. McAulay, who has refereed three Super Bowls, is a vocal advocate of sideline-to-helmet wireless communication. The NFL has used the technology with quarterbacks since 1994 and added it for a defensive player in 2008. “A lot of us believe right now that college is ready for that,” McAulay said. “The technology exists, and the money is there. Why don’t we allow that type of communication?”
That wouldn’t eliminate all the sign stealing, as Herman noted that if he called in a play to his quarterback, there would still need to be on-field signals to the receivers in OSU’s no-huddle offense. But every coach interviewed agreed that the wireless communication would reduce the culture of sign stealing and accompanying sideline nonsense.
Rogers Redding, the secretary-rules editor of the NCAA football rules committee, said that the committee has not formally discussed sideline-to-helmet wireless devices. But he acknowledged there is an appetite for it. “I would be surprised if the NCAA rules committee didn’t consider it,” he said.
Until then, the cat-and-mouse game of spying from the press box and elaborate games of signaling charades will continue. When is a team stealing signals? You’ll know it when you see it.
1. Devonte Fields resurfaces at Texas junior college
Devonte Fields began this season as the preseason Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year, a fearsome lineman expected to be the linchpin of TCU’s defense. But after an arrest in July for allegedly punching his ex-girlfriend in the face, Fields was found at a remote field in the rural town of Santa Fe, Texas, outside Houston on Saturday playing half-heartedly in front of less than 200 people.
Fields is now at Trinity Valley Community College in Athens, Texas, where he’s attempting to revive his career and repair his reputation in this post-Ray Rice football landscape. As he toils anonymously, Fields has emerged as one of the test cases for how college football and the NFL will view talented athletes accused of domestic abuse.
“It’s not the best place to be,” Fields told The Inside Read after the game, shaking his head, “but you’ve got to make the best out of it.”
Fields was arrested and charged with assault causing bodily injury to a family member, a misdemeanor, after his ex-girlfriend was found with a swollen right cheek and a small cut under her eye. The woman told police that Fields appeared to have a gun in one of his hands that he pointed at her and threatened, “I should blast you!” That was after he allegedly punched out a bedroom window of a house where she had been talking to a mutual male friend and Fields began yelling at her.
Asked about the allegations, Fields said, “I’ll leave it as it is. It’s a mistake. It’s a lesson learned. That’s all it is.”
Fields, a 6-foot-4, 250-pound defensive end, registered 18.5 tackles for loss in 2012 as a freshman at TCU. He once generated buzz as a potential first-round pick, but now his path back to playing football at a high level is uncertain. “My [stock] is probably down since the Ray Rice situation,” Fields said. “It probably dropped me a little bit.”
He later added, “Of course I want a chance. I wouldn’t be here.”
On Saturday, Fields hardly looked like a potential first-rounder, let alone a college star. He jogged on many plays, stood and watched passes downfield, and even got pancaked by an undersized left tackle. Fields spent most of halftime standing outside the locker room, briefly killing ants climbing on his cleats. He stood a few feet away from a tented concession stand in the stadium’s south end zone where conies, sausage-on-a-stick and Frito pies were in high demand.
Fields’ play didn’t get any better after halftime and he admitted it was “somewhat” hard to remain motivated. “That’s not really an excuse,” Fields said. “Just being lazy.”
After the game, Fields huddled with his mother and uncle. Monica Fields wore a T-shirt with a back that read “FIELDS 18 MOM.” She described her son’s play as “terrible” compared to his previous games this season.
Nearby, Arkansas State defensive backs coach Trooper Taylor, decked out in his trademark backwards cap, kept an eye on the trio as he talked with Trinity Valley coach Brad Smiley.
Smiley said Trinity Valley wouldn’t have been able to take Fields if he faced a domestic-related assault charge and accused the media of liking to “run with the sexy stuff,” which he called “untrue.” Smiley provided a differing account of the incident between Fields and his ex-girlfriend.
“It’s against a guy,” Smiley said of Fields’ assault misdemeanor. “It didn’t have anything to do with a girl. She tried to break up the fight and she got …”
Online court records, however, indicate Fields is still facing assault causing bodily injury to a family member, which can apply to ex-girlfriends. He has a pretrial court appearance Oct. 17.
Smiley said he and his staff spoke with Fields’ former high school and college coaches as well as his attorney. But Smiley did not indicate that he and his staff spoke with Fort Worth police, who arrested Fields after investigating the incident with his ex-girlfriend.
Fields said he is still thinking about whether he will declare for the NFL draft after this season. One NFL scout is unsure if Fields would be drafted at all. “Who’s going to take him?” the scout said.
Not only would Fields offer a difficult decision for an NFL franchise as a draft pick or undrafted free agent, he would also confront the league office with a difficult conundrum. NFL scouts would likely want to see Fields perform at the league’s combine in February if he declares. Can the NFL invite him there considering the flurry of domestic violence issues they’ve endured?
“That is a very, very good question,” said Don McPherson, a College Football Hall of Fame quarterback at Syracuse who has been a prominent educator and speaker on domestic violence for three decades.
“I think it’s going to be really tough for those guys, quite frankly,” he said of prospects accused of domestic issues. “It’s such an unpredictable offense. You can test a guy for drugs or find out what’s going on in past. He can take the Wonderlic. He can get a physical. When it comes to violence against women, across the board, there really is no predictor.”
Fields said he hasn’t spoken with any colleges, but his mother and Smiley say the plan is for him to get his associate’s degree in May and resume playing major college football. Smiley said he is not allowed to say which schools are recruiting his star -- a move likely to shield the schools from bad publicity.
But he indicated there’s been interest from schools in each of the Power Five conferences. “He’s a good kid,” Smiley said. “It’s an unfortunate deal, but he’s been really good for us.”
2. Arizona’s Anu Solomon gets shot at spotlight
Anu Solomon isn’t sure if Oregon’s Marcus Mariota remembers him. But the Arizona redshirt freshman quarterback still vividly recalls meeting the Ducks signal-caller for the first time three years ago during an island-wide Sunday workout at Mariota’s high school in Honolulu. Together, the two Hawaii natives did passing drills, working on timing with wide receivers.
Mariota was already an emerging star at Oregon at the time and when the workout was over he gave advice to Solomon and the others who had participated: “Always remain humble, and work hard.”
Solomon has never forgotten Mariota’s words and heeded the advice ever since. It was an experience that Solomon calls “breathtaking.” “He’s a great icon,” Solomon said. “I look up to that guy. He’s a great athlete. He’s a great guy.”
On Thursday night, Solomon will once again be on the same field as Mariota. But this time it will be in front of a national television audience as their respective undefeated teams square off in Eugene in another Pac-12 showdown.
While Mariota is considered the frontrunner for the Heisman, the dual-threat Solomon has made his mark in his first year as Arizona’s starter after beating out four others for the job. The 6-2, 205-pound redshirt freshman’s last pass was a 47-yard Hail Mary to beat California 49-45 on the game’s final play. It was his fifth touchdown pass on his 73rd attempt of the night and capped his career-high 520 passing yards. This season, he’s thrown for 1,454 yards with 13 touchdowns and three interceptions.
It’s been quite a start for Solomon, whose full given name is Jarrett Pekelo Kahanuolaokalani. He goes by Anu, three letters in his last given name because his cousins had trouble pronouncing it. “There is no shame at all in that,” Solomon said with a laugh.
Solomon is not ashamed to admit how much he initially struggled when he and his family moved from Honolulu to Las Vegas when he was 10. His biggest problem was speaking English because his primary language was Pidgin English, a hodgepodge of Hawaiian and foreign words. Solomon laughingly recalls a friend once telling him to “stay up” when dropping him off. It’s a slang expression for good luck or take care, but Solomon actually thought his friend wanted him to stay up all night, which he did.
The next morning, Solomon called his friend and told him, “Bro, don’t ever tell me to stay up and you’re not going to call me.” His friend laughed and explained the phrase’s meaning to Solomon. “It was pretty funny at the time,” Solomon said. “It was just crazy.”
Solomon ended up starring at Bishop Gorman High in Las Vegas, earning scholarship offers from Arizona, Arizona State and UCLA, among others. He chose Arizona mainly because of Wildcats coach Rich Rodriguez and he felt the program was on an “incline.”
Redshirting last season was a humbling experience for Solomon, but it allowed him to get better acclimated with Rodriguez’s fast-paced spread-option offense. Not that he or his father, Jarrett, his biggest critic, think he’s mastered it. The younger Solomon is extremely critical of himself too. He gets it from his father who played linebacker at San Jose State. The elder Solomon is quick to point out his son’s overthrows, misreads and slowness. He anticipated his son’s stardom long ago, putting a football in his hand shortly after his birth. “He wanted me to be a linebacker like him,” Solomon said.
Instead, Solomon is more like Mariota, who could be the first pick in next spring’s NFL draft. He hopes to someday mean as much to Hawaii as Mariota does. “I’m doing this for them,” Solomon said.
And he’s got a chance Thursday night to make sure that Mariota remembers him.
3. Michigan’s Hoke is a goner, but who will the Wolverines hire?
The juiciest job that looms on the coaching horizon is Michigan, which is spiraling toward opening after the Wolverines were blown out 30-14 by Minnesota at home on Saturday. Compounding matters for coach Brady Hoke will be the questioning of his handling of quarterback Shane Morris. Hoke put Morris back in the game after he’d been walking around dazed after a vicious helmet-to-helmet hit from Minnesota’s Theiren Cockran. Hoke admitted after the game he didn’t know whether Morris had a concussion, and Michigan released a statement Sunday night defending Hoke’s actions.
The bungling of the Morris situation compounds Hoke’s coaching incompetence and makes Hoke’s departure feel inevitable. So who would be next at Michigan?
The first two names are the Harbaugh brothers -- Jim and John -- who are in rocky situations of their own. Jim Harbaugh has clashed consistently and persistently with management in San Francisco. John Harbaugh has been caught up in the nasty divisiveness in the Ravens organization over the Rice debacle the past few weeks.
The bottom line with the Harbaughs, numerous sources told The Inside Read, is that it’s unlikely that either will end up at Michigan.
Jim Harbaugh may use Michigan as leverage for a raise in San Francisco or to get out of his contract, which has one year remaining after this season. But it’s not certain the 49ers want him back, especially after they reportedly listened to trade overtures for him last season. He’s considered unlikely to return to college for a multitude of reasons, mainly because he enjoys the pro game more.
Harbaugh was considered a frontrunner for the Michigan job when Hoke got it, but he declined to pursue it. No one would say the word never with Jim Harbaugh, but there are a lot of hurdles.
John Harbaugh also doesn’t appear to be a realistic name. The first issue is his contract, which pays him nearly $7 million per year through 2017. Would Michigan pay a coach more than double what Hoke is making? And that’s after eating a $3 million buyout to fire Hoke.
Also important to consider here is that NFL contracts are different than college ones. There is no buyout language in NFL contracts and an owner would have to release a coach from the contract. The Ravens (3-1) are also good, so Harbaugh could well be coaching into January.
So who would get the job? Michigan was interested in Greg Schiano when it hired Rich Rodriguez, and he’s sitting out this season. Northwestern’s Pat Fitzgerald has also been a Michigan target in the past. Les Miles will be a hot, popular speculation target, but he turns 61 in December and it looks like that ship has sailed.
From there, there really aren’t any obvious names. There aren’t any qualified coaches in the American, MAC or Mountain West. There’s no one elsewhere with Michigan ties that jumps out. Hiring a hot coordinator like Michigan State’s Pat Narduzzi -- a huge blow to their rival -- would go against the recent trend of big programs hiring candidates with head coaching experience.
The decision to fire Hoke appears easy. The next step is the hard part.
• Texas Tech coach Kliff Kingsbury has been criticized for not granting a release that would allow former walk-on quarterback Baker Mayfield to play at Oklahoma this season. Kingsbury has cited the NCAA’s in-conference transfer rules for his decision. It might be competitively smart too, because there is widespread speculation that an eligible Mayfield would be the team’s starting quarterback this season.
Behind current starter Trevor Knight, many already have the Sooners as the College Football Playoff’s top seed. Knight is viewed by some as Heisman Trophy candidate and has thrown for 1,065 yards with four touchdowns and three interceptions this season.
But one Big 12 assistant told The Inside Read that Mayfield is “probably the best quarterback on their roster.”
During Oklahoma’s spring game in March, Mayfield completed all nine of his pass attempts for 125 yards and two touchdowns. He started seven games for the Red Raiders last season and was named the Big 12 Offensive Freshman of the Year after throwing for 2,315 yards and 12 touchdowns.
But citing a lack of communication with Kingsbury, he left Texas Tech and enrolled at Oklahoma in early January. He was recently allowed to receive from the Sooners what he didn’t have at Texas Tech, a scholarship, and is still trying to win an NCAA appeal to be eligible this season. (UPDATE: Mayfield's petition was denied Monday afternoon).
“It’s really incredible,” the assistant said of Mayfield’s saga. “He’s pretty damn good.”
• As Mississippi quarterback Bo Wallace sat in the locker room at halftime of his team’s season-opening win against Boise State, he had epiphany. It came after he threw three interceptions in the first half before a national television audience. “I am going to play safe this half,” Wallace recalls thinking. “Not try to do too much.”
That’s a mentality that Wallace has tried to abide by ever since, a sharp departure from his gun-slinging career of trying to force passes to make big plays. In his subsequent three and a half games, he has thrown just three interceptions (even though he was shaky in Mississippi’s 24-3 win over Memphis on Saturday with three turnovers). His new outlook will be tested Saturday when Alabama visits Oxford in a matchup of undefeated SEC West teams, a game with major College Football Playoff implications and the biggest for the Rebels in decades. "It’s a chance for us to really make a mark as a program,” Wallace said. “Really show people that we’re here to compete for the West.”
In two previous starts against the Crimson Tide, Wallace has thrown two interceptions and not a single touchdown. The 6-4, 217-pound redshirt senior is well aware of the later. Mississippi didn’t even score a single point in last year’s loss. “It was an awful feeling,” said Wallace, who has thrown for 1,271 yards with 11 touchdowns and six interceptions this season.
Just like it was back in that locker room during the Rebels' season-opener. He believes he’s aged years in the month since then. Now, he trusts his receivers to make plays after the catch and is more confident in the defense. He’s even counting the bad throws he makes instead of the big plays.
“I want to be the best so bad,” Wallace said. “This year I’m so much more mature at looking at things.”
• Colorado State coach Jim McElwain tried to tell his players about the level of commitment at Alabama. He knows it firsthand from his four seasons as the Crimson Tide’s offensive coordinator before accepting his current job three years ago. “It’s how hard guys practice and work at Alabama,” McElwain told The Inside Read.
His players have seen it with the arrival of former Crimson Tide running back Dee Hart, who keyed the Rams’ 24-21 comeback road upset of Boston College on Saturday with a team-high 117 rushing yards on 10 carries.
“He’s brought such energy,” McElwain said of Hart. “It was like, ‘Oh, this is what you’ve been talking about.’ It just elevates everyone and they follow.”
Hart, a redshirt junior, was recruited to Alabama by McElwain, but transferred to Colorado State this summer after graduating early following three injury-filled years. He’s been zealous on the field (finishing practice drills 35 yards downfield) and off it (eye-glazing film study) in further helping change Colorado State’s culture.
Saturday’s victory is McElwain’s biggest non-conference win at Colorado State. It’s something USC was unable to achieve when it was stunned at Boston College two weeks ago.
And once again McElwain will depend on Hart, this time to keep his team from becoming complacent with the Rams likely to be favorites in all of their remaining regular-season games.
“His personality and work ethic have really helped, ” McElwain said. “It becomes contagious. Not just with the players, but throughout the organization.”
• Jameis Winston’s NFL stock is already perilous, but there’s another factor that won’t help it: JaMarcus Russell. After all, Florida State coach Jimbo Fisher was Russell’s offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach at LSU and gave him glowing recommendations to NFL personnel, according to a source familiar with the situation.
“He told the entire NFL that JaMarcus Russell was a great kid,” the person said. “He was a f------ turd then.”
Russell, of course, went on to be one of the NFL’s biggest draft busts after the Oakland Raiders took him with the first pick in 2007. The team released him after three disappointing seasons that featured dreadful play, a bad attitude and poor work ethic.
NFL personnel haven’t forgotten Fisher’s rosy endorsement of Russell. Combine that with all of Winston’s misdeeds under Fisher’s watch and whatever Fisher might say positive about his star quarterback won’t count for much.
• An interesting name surfaced for the SMU job this weekend -- Mack Brown. The former Texas coach wasn’t thrilled about his departure from Austin and has a strong reputation in the state. Brown said it’s too early to declare mutual interest. “I haven’t talked to anyone,” Brown told The Inside Read on Sunday night. “I don’t have an agent. I’m working my tail off [in the media] like you are.”
Brown has been an analyst for ESPN this season and likes to joke that he gets to watch coaches deliver coachspeak in interviews while he finally gets to say what’s on his mind. But when talking about getting back into coaching, Brown issued a non-denial that smacked of coachspeak.
“I got some great advice this spring, from some coaches who’ve gotten out and back in,” Brown said. “They said don’t even consider coaching again until December. Work through the fall with ESPN and see how you like it. In December, if someone calls and talks about a job, consider it.”
Brown said he’ll stay true to that timeline. “I haven’t even considered where I might go, and I’m not going to until December,” he said. “That’s if I’m interested, I really don’t know whether I will be or not.”
A slew of other names will also be bandied about at SMU. Those include Ohio State offensive coordinator Tom Herman, Clemson OC Chad Morris, East Carolina OC Lincoln Riley, Baylor OC Philip Montgomery, Oklahoma OC Josh Heupel and Texas A&M assistant David Beaty.
• The Kansas job also opened over the weekend after the Jayhawks fired Charlie Weis. Don’t be surprised if Kansas ends up hiring someone with ties to the school and knows how difficult it is to win there. The first name is Clint Bowen, the defensive coordinator and interim coach who will use the next eight games as an audition for the job. Another strong name is Ed Warriner, the Ohio State co-offensive coordinator who was the OC during Kansas’ 2007 Orange Bowl season and broke nearly every statistical record. His roots are deep there, as both of Warriner’s daughters attend Kansas and work in the football office.
Nebraska offensive coordinator Tim Beck and A&M’s Beaty are also considered strong candidates. Both bring strong Texas recruiting ties, which are considered critical to winning in Lawrence. The rest of Kansas’ list looks a lot like the SMU list from above, especially because Herman, Morris, Riley, Montgomery and Heupel all have varying degrees of Texas ties. Others such as Ball State’s Pete Lembo, North Texas’ Dan McCarney and Louisiana Lafayette’s Mark Hudspeth could get a look if Kansas wants someone with head coaching experience.
Kansas is one of the worst jobs in the Big 12, doesn’t want to pay big money and badly needs an identity. That leaves an assistant coach as the likely choice.
• Will Lyles made headlines recently with his newly launched recruiting service. The Houston-based Quest Scouting Services is certified, according to an email from the NCAA that Lyles provided to the Sun Sentinel. He told the South Florida newspaper that he is trying to break into the recruiting scene in the Miami area.
But Lyles is apparently already headed back to his old tactics that got Oregon and Tennessee in trouble with the NCAA. An assistant coach told The Inside Read that Lyles called recently and left him a voicemail about recruits.
“I got some kids that want to come visit [your school],” Lyles said in the message according to the assistant. “Would you please contact me?”
The assistant said he did not return Lyles’ call. “Willie Lyles is a bad, bad dude,” the assistant said. “For him to pull over on the NCAA some bull---- about him starting a new service, it’s an absolute farce. The only thing Willie Lyles is concerned about is making money. Let’s not fool ourselves for a second.”
The Inside Read reached Lyles, but he asked the reporter to call back and then didn’t return a message left on his cell phone.
Lyles was paid $25,000 by Oregon for what he claims was his influence with his recruits, namely Ducks running backs LaMichael James and Lache Seastrunk, through his now-defunct Complete Scouting Services. Last summer, the NCAA levied Oregon with sanctions that included the loss three scholarships and three years of probation. Former coach Chip Kelly also received an 18-month show-cause penalty.
Tennessee received two years probation in November 2012 for former assistant Will Mack Garza’s reimbursement to Lyles for Seastrunk’s unofficial visit three years earlier.
After the Oregon fallout, Lyles worked at Houston-based liquor store chain stocking shelves and occasionally baking bread in the deli. His attempted foray into cutthroat South Florida recruiting isn’t going well already, according to an assistant who recruits the area.
“If you’re not from down there, you’re not just going to come in and fit in,” the assistant said. “They’ll call you out quick. Plus your background will come up. Nobody’s going to touch that guy. It ain’t worth it.”
• Josh Sweat, the nation’s top 2015 recruit by some services, had just suffered what ended up being a season-ending knee injury. But after being taken off the field in an ambulance earlier this month, the Chesapeake (Va.) defensive end quickly called and informed an assistant at one of his top college choices of his injury.
Nacogdoches (Texas) safety Brandon Jones, one of the nation’s top 2016 recruits, did the same thing earlier this month after he suffered a season-ending knee injury. It’s damage control for even elite recruits who know just how quickly a program’s interest can change in the topsy-turvy world of recruiting.
“The kids are now usually in touch immediately after injuries,” said an assistant who received a call from Jones.
Interest in Sweat or Jones isn't expected to wane because of their injuries. But how an assistant handles those calls from recruits after an injury can be a defining moment in the player’s recruitment. So much that the assistant has tried to perfect how he handles them.
“You’re going to be fine,” the assistant said. “We’ve got no issues. You come to (here) and it’ll be all good.”
Four In (and one out)
1. Oklahoma: The Sooners play at TCU this week before an inevitable dismantling of Texas on Oct. 11.
3. Oregon: The Ducks host Arizona on Thursday. Don’t forget they got crushed 42-16 last year.
5. Texas A&M: Gutsy overtime win against Arkansas, including a frantic comeback, is good for a young team.
Q&A with Nebraska RB Ameer Abdullah
Nebraska’s Ameer Abdullah is by his own description “weird.” He also just so happens to be one of the nation’s best running backs and rushed for 208 yards and three touchdowns in Saturday's blowout of Illinois. He will have a marquee opportunity to prove it once again Saturday at Michigan State. Earlier this month, he became the Cornhuskers’ leader in career all-purpose yards, breaking the previous mark held by Heisman Trophy winner Johnny Rodgers (5,586 yards). A recent interview with Abdullah became a nearly 30-minute discussion about his social awkwardness, why he’s a John Mayer fan and his plan in the event of a zombie apocalypse.
You’ve said you were socially awkward. Give me some examples.
I just didn’t really know how to make friends. I’m kind of a weird guy. I’m always the guy walking around with my headphones on, just listening to my music. Even when you get to know me, there is still so much more to learn about me. The way I just act sometimes is different. I have a lot of friends on the team now. They would probably say I’m not that weird. But talk to some of my roommates and they would probably be like, ‘Yeah, he’s a different guy.’
Who do you listen to musically?
John Mayer is probably my all-time favorite artist because I feel like he’s a very underrated guitarist. He writes his own music. He’s a great mixture of the blues and R&B. I feel like a lot of his music touches your soul. When you’re going through something, you can pop in the 'Continuum' album and just ride it out. Every song has a great message. I love music that’s actually saying something instead of just bragging about I have this amount of money, these amount of girls and this kind of jewelry on. All that stuff is really mainstream and makes for good radio play, but in the long run, what does it do to really touch your soul? How does that music really help you get through the day? What is that expressing to yourself?
What’s your favorite John Mayer song and why?
Probably 'Stop This Train.' He’s talking about going through phases of life and pretty much everyone’s afraid of getting older. No one wants to age and in this song, he’s talking about how he wasn’t this same guy as he was years ago and how he just wishes time would slow down. But in the end, he’s realizing that what he’s learning through life can be pretty much [be passed] on to the youth. You have to realize that life stops for nobody. So you got to make the most of what you’re doing now.
Any other weird things?
For a long period of time I woke up at 4:30 a.m. and did four sets of 15 push-ups and four sets of 15 sit-ups. I don’t know why. I had this weird fear of when I’m sleeping I’m losing muscle tone. I don’t know why. It was like freshman through junior year. And it used to piss my roommates off, especially when I was in the dorms. My alarm would go off at 4:30 when we would have to be up at 8. After I went through that little span, I would wake up at 5 every morning and make two PB&Js. I would eat them and then go back to sleep.
What else do you view differently?
I definitely look at women much differently. Sometimes women are seen as more of an object or as the material things they own, how they dress or what kind of makeup they’re wearing. It’s definitely something that’s applauded and like, ‘Oh, look at her. She’s so pretty.’ But I always just think simplicity is the way. I learned to respect women. Something I’ve learned growing up is you shouldn’t involve yourself with someone if you don’t have a purpose for them. If your purpose for that woman or man is sexual needs or desires, it’s just pointless. You are maybe going to get married one day and going participate in those kind of acts with your wife or your husband and I just feel like it’s not going to be as special. It just won’t mean as much. Everything in my life I try to have meaning, and definitely that’s something that’s been lost in society.
You’re Muslim. What’s that been like?
It was definitely a challenge. Growing up in Alabama, it’s a very Christian conservative area, especially in Homewood. But after 9/11, things kind of changed for me. I was really young when that happened. So I didn’t really have a good understanding of the situation at the time. But a couple of years later, you get a better grasp of what was going on and what Muslims are fighting against and facing nowadays, just the stigmas and the stereotypes now. You do face a bit of immaturity and some people who say things out of spite without being thoroughly educated on the matter. I used to come home and talk to my dad, really frustrated about the situation. People were making fun of me. We went to an away game and a kid asked me where my turban was. I asked my dad what should I do. He was like, ‘Son, all you can do is just encourage people to thoroughly educate themselves on the matter before they can take a stance or decide if they like something or not.’ That’s something that stuck with me ever since. If you encourage people to really educate themselves instead of judging the book by its cover, then you are really doing them a service instead of just saying, f‑off or shut up or whatever.
It’s my understanding you have an interest in zombie apocalypses.
It’s just with all the movies that are coming out, all the TV shows, Walking Dead and stuff. Me and my best friend on the team, Kenny Bell, [we’re] actually preparing for a zombie apocalypse. We’re going to ride this thing out together. We’re probably the weirdest two guys on the team, because we are not even joking. We’re dead serious. We’re eating lunch, dinner together [and] we’re talking like, ‘Bro, this is the plan. We’re going to fight our way through North Lincoln and get to the south side to [Kenny’s] house and fight the zombies from the inside out.’ Kenny Bell is prepared. He definitely is going to be my right-hand man not only on the football field, but during the zombie apocalypse. You think I’m playing. I’m dead serious. Definitely got food stored up and water. Fall camp we get a bunch of Gatorades and water. Instead of just drinking that stuff right after practice, I save that crap. You never know.
You’re fast, but what’s your weapon?
That’s classified information.
1. Todd Gurley, Georgia: Looked so dominant against Tennessee, especially in the fourth quarter.
2. Marcus Mariota, Oregon: Scouts confirmed this week he’s the runaway favorite for No. 1 pick.
3. Everett Golson, Notre Dame: Was dynamic and turnover prone against Syracuse. He’ll stay here as long as Irish keep winning.
4. Melvin Gordon, Wisconsin: Had 181 yards on 32 carries against USF and it hurt his 7.8 yards per rush.
5. Dak Prescott, Mississippi State: If the Bulldogs get past A&M and Auburn at home the next two weeks, he could emerge as the favorite.
1. Mariota: Unlikely to lose this spot off the field.
2. Gurley: He’s hurdled over Knowshon Moreno’s hurdle.
3. Amari Cooper, Alabama: He’s nearly eclipsed his numbers from last season.
4. Ameer Abdullah, Nebraska: College football’s best running back in “years” according to a respected NFL scout.
5. Rakeem Cato, Marshall: If only he played on national television …
• Mississippi State safeties coach and recruiting coordinator Tony Hughes knows the significance of Saturday. The state of Mississippi will be the center of the college football universe all afternoon. First for the Bulldogs’ home game against Texas A&M and then Mississippi hosting Alabama, both matchups of undefeated SEC West teams. Each game has significant implications for the inaugural College Football Playoff, but also important is which in-state recruits attend which game or if they attend both (the two schools are separated by approximately 100 miles).
Mississippi State’s recruiting class is ranked as high as No. 10 by one service and Ole Miss’ tops out at No. 22. But neither program has been able to reel in the state’s top high school player, Petal High offensive lineman Javon Patterson.
“You’re always competing in this state,” Hughes told The Inside Read. “We kill each other over the same kids.”
After all, Mississippi is known for its quality, not quantity of recruits (see Brett Favre, Walter Payton and Jackie Slater). Hughes has lived it from all sides. A native of the state, he is in his sixth season at Mississippi State, was an assistant at Mississippi from 2005-07 and is a graduate of Southern Miss, where he coached in 2009. The 55-year-old has been instrumental for the Bulldogs with his securing of nine commitments, including star Bassfield (Miss.) safety Jamal Peters, and is ranked by one service as the nation’s ninth-best recruiter.
“We’re having a heck of a year,” Hughes said.
Hughes credits Mississippi State’s recruiting success to a smaller class in February that allowed the coaching staff to get a head start on the current one. The class could end up being one of the most touted in school history if the Bulldogs can keep it together.
“You’re constantly fighting in Mississippi,” Hughes said. “It never stops.”
• The coaching odyssey of Jeff Jagodzinski has come full circle. He’s back in the Georgia Dome, just like when he was an Atlanta Falcons assistant. Only this time, it’s as the offensive coordinator for Georgia State, which is in its second season playing in the FBS.
After going winless in its inaugural campaign, Georgia State is 1-3 this season. But Jagodzinski’s unit has lived up to his reputation for his offensive wizardry with 331.5 passing yards per game, which ranks first in the Sun Belt and 14th nationally.
Still, it’s all quite a ways from Jagodzinski coaching Brett Favre as Green Bay’s offensive coordinator in 2006 or his interview three years later to be the head coach of the New York Jets (which got him fired as Boston College’s coach). There was also his brief stint as offensive coordinator for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in 2009 (he left before the season after being demoted).
“I think I’m a better coach now than I was then,” Jagodzinski told The Inside Read. “It’s been quite a ride. I’ve been at the top and then places where I’m not at the top.”
Jagodzinski was the head coach of the Omaha Nighthawks in the now-defunct UFL in 2010 before being fired and was wide receivers coach at Ava Marie, a NAIA school in Florida two years later. He landed his current gig because of his friendship with Georgia State coach Trent Miles from when they worked together at Green Bay in 2000.
There’s a perception in coaching circles that the 50-year-old Jagodzinski is difficult to work with, but he dismisses that. “Everybody grows with the experiences they go through,” he said. “I don’t think I’m hard-headed. I don’t think so at all.”
Jagodzinski insists he’s happy at Georgia State. So much that he points out he didn’t pursue any jobs after last season. He’s still close with many NFL assistants, particularly Seattle Seahawks offensive line coach Pat Ruel and offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell. In the meantime, Jagodzinski resides in an apartment in Atlanta, while his wife and a majority of the couple’s five children live in Tampa Bay.
“It’s the path God’s got me on right now,” Jagodzinski said. “I’m not real sure where it’s going to end up. Things always turn out the way they’re supposed to.”
Air Force coach Troy Calhoun likes to celebrate at Ted’s Montana Grill. But his visits to the location in a Colorado Springs shopping center aren’t for victories like his team’s surprising 28-14 upset of Boise State on Saturday. They’re for when his 10-year-old daughter, Amelia, gets good grades in math.
“She’d eat there every meal if she could,” Calhoun said. “We’re not there nearly as much she’d like. We try to keep it special. It’s a pretty good treat that way.”
The chain specializes in bison steaks, but Calhoun usually orders the grilled salt-and-pepper trout that’s topped with a corn and tomato salsa. It’s served with roasted asparagus and vine-ripened tomatoes, which he pairs with a red wine to share with his wife, Amanda, who adheres to a Paleo diet.
Calhoun and his family visit Ted’s about once a month. His daughter recommends the peppermint candy ice cream. “It’s a favorite,” Calhoun said with a laugh.
So is the view outside the restaurant for Calhoun. It’s of Falcon Stadium.