ST. PETERSBURG — Tim Jackson has spent the past four months choreographing the complex recruiting dance with his parents. The Gibbs High defensive lineman has inspected campuses, met potential teammates and monitored classes.
Al and Cassandra Jackson tried to avoid influencing their son’s decision. But they stressed the importance of balancing academics and athletics. They also wanted him to attend a college that could give him a taste of the world beyond St. Petersburg yet be close enough for the occasional trip home.
And, thanks to a recent trend, there was another factor in the family’s discussion: a coach’s behavior and character.
The treatment of college football players is being scrutinized more than ever.
• In December, Kansas coach Mark Mangino resigned amid allegations that he verbally and emotionally abused players.
• Later that month, Texas Tech coach Mike Leach was fired, in part, because of accusations that he isolated a player in a locker room after sustaining a concussion.
• Four weeks ago, South Florida coach Jim Leavitt was fired after a school investigation concluded he hit a player during halftime of a game and lied about the incident.
The bad behavior of the aforementioned coaches has attracted instant notoriety to football programs that isn’t always easy to shed, even if the coaches are exonerated.
And some parents of prospective recruits are being swayed by college coaches who make headlines for the wrong reasons.
“I think everything that has happened with college coaches in the news the past few months has raised some eyebrows with players and their families,” Rivals.com recruiting analyst Jamie Newberg said. “I’m sure parents are asking a lot of pertinent questions with coaches because of that.”
Whenever coaches came to woo his son, Al Jackson made sure to talk to them about how they behaved on and off the field.
“(Tim) kept up with the latest with what was going on with coaches and so did we,” said Al Jackson. “We talked about the decisions some coaches have made that have damaged themselves.
“I always asked coaches what they thought about the coaches who were making the news to gauge their reaction.”
Bernard Reedy Sr. also was interested in how a coach would treat his son, Bernard Reedy Jr., a standout utility player at Lakewood High who committed to Toledo over the weekend.
“The big thing I wanted to find out was how they handled freshmen,” Reedy Sr. said. “Were they treated any different than any other player? I wanted to make sure Bernard came into a welcoming environment.”
In contrast, some players have had a different reaction than their parents and are looking at the program as a whole with the coach only a small component of their college decision.
“There were some coaches who crossed a line that should not have been crossed,” Newberg said. “But at the same time, football is football. There is going to be some yelling in the game. I don’t think a kid, say in Miami, is looking at these situations that happened at a few programs any different. That’s something they probably see in everyday life.”
In the fall, Alonso High quarterback C.J. Bennett was recruited by Kansas and USF, two schools that had coaching turmoil. Though he never got an offer from either and ultimately committed to South Alabama, he would have considered going despite what happened.
“I’ve had coaches who have been mad at me before,” Bennett said. “It never really entered my mind how a coach was treating a player.”
And Tim Jackson crossed USF off his list because of how the school treated Leavitt, not how the coach treated his players.
“He’s a good coach and a good guy,” Tim Jackson said in January. “What the school did was wrong. …I don’t want to be a part of that mess.”
Last week, Jackson publicly made his college choice official, committing to North Carolina.
“We really felt comfortable with coach Butch Davis,” Al Jackson said. “He really made it feel like it was a family there.
“I think the most important thing any family wants for their child is to make sure a coach has a kid’s best interest at heart.”
Bob Putnam can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org