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Strength coach Dave Ballou is all about breaking through barriers, but he was nearly stopped from taking a new job because of the NCAA's new recruiting regulations for Football Bowl Subdivision schools.
Ballou, who was the physical conditioning coach at IMG Academy (Bradenton, Fla.) last season, was a finalist for the 2014 National Strength and Conditioning Association's High School Strength Coach of the Year Award. In January, he was hired as a strength coach for Notre Dame's football team but soon ran into a snag.
Part of the new legislation prohibits FBS schools from hiring for non-field coaching jobs people who are close to a prospective student-athlete for a two-year period before and after the student's anticipated and actual enrollment at the school. The Irish have three underclassmen on their roster who went to IMG, and Notre Dame is in the running for several 2018 IMG recruits. The legislation was made retroactive to Jan.18, and though Ballou had agreed with the Irish on the terms of his new job before that, his hiring wasn't announced until Jan.30.
Not wanting to jeopardize the athletic eligibility of Notre Dame sophomore running back Tony Jones Jr., freshman offensive lineman Robert Hainsey and sophomore safety Spencer Perry, all of whom went to IMG, Ballou went back to Bradenton this spring until the situation could be sorted out. He was not available to comment.
"At the time it was going on, he felt he had to come back here, because he was not going to put those kids at risk," IMG coach Kevin Wright said. "He came back and worked with us for a couple of weeks before he got the call from the NCAA it was OK for him to take that job."
High school coaches generally approve of most of the NCAA's new rule changes, such as allowing juniors to take official visits or the new December early signing period. However, while Ballou made it under the wire, many high school coaches are worried the new legislation will hinder their ability to land college jobs. The new legislation also applies to junior college coaches and family members.
DeMatha (Hyattsville, Md.) football coach Elijah Brooks said off-the-field jobs have been the biggest entryway for high school coaches into on-field college coaching jobs.
"Nowadays, the trend has been the off-the-field job as a recruiting guy or analyst or QC (quality control) position," Brooks said. "Now, a high school guy, unless you're a head coach who has great connections, it's going to be tough getting a job in college."
Veteran Colquitt County (Moultrie, Ga.) football coach Rush Propst has seen 15 former assistants go on to coach in college and can tick off the names of his former assistants at Hoover, Ala., who got their first college job in off-the-field positions.
"If this rule was in effect 10years ago, Jeremy Pruitt (Alabama defensive coordinator) would not be in college, Kevin Sherrer (Georgia outside linebackers coach) would not be in college and Chip Lindsey (Auburn offensive coordinator) wouldn't be in college, among others," Propst said. "For the American Football Coaches Association to not do something about this rule is a travesty."
During its annual meeting in January, AFCA members voted to support the overall package, including the portion of the proposal dealing with "individuals associated with a prospect." Todd Berry, the AFCA's executive director, said at the time that the reform package was not a finished product but a first step that could be tweaked later.
UNLV coach Tony Sanchez is the rare football coach to make the leap to being a head coach in college directly from being a high school coach at Bishop Gorman (Las Vegas). He said the most innovative football is being done at the high school level and the inability to hire high school coaches hurts college football.
"To me, it's a right-to-work issue," Sanchez said. "If I cannot hire somebody and pay them $100,000 and they're making $55,000 as a high school football coach, that's a chance to better their life. How is that constitutionally OK? I probably know as many high school coaches as anybody.
"This spring, we had a bunch of smart high school coaches hang out with us. I would love to bring some of those guys on at some point in some capacity and give them an opportunity. But I want to get to know them. I want to see their work ethic. I want to see their true knowledge on a daily basis, and if it is what I think it is, those are the guys I eventually end up hiring as on-the-field assistants.
"But now that transitional phase is no longer. To me, it's just a good ol' boy network, a way to grandfather people in and keep the outside people out."
Propst said one way to get the NCAA to reverse course would be to go to the courts.
"I've been told by several college coaches that someone should file a class-action lawsuit," Propst said. "This is the worst thing I've ever seen happen to high school football coaches."
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