McNeese State head football coach Matt Viator. (American Press Archives)
Last Modified: Wednesday, February 06, 2013 4:35 PM
Now comes the hard part, or maybe it’s the fun part.
After selling the McNeese football program, now Matt Viator and his staff have to teach the Cowboy way.
It is the part of college coaching Viator enjoys most.
“I like recruiting,” he said sounding more like a guy who just got out of the dentist chair.
He may enjoy it, but it’s not always fun. Recruiting, especially on the level of McNeese State where big names don’t often coming knocking on your stadium door, is a long, hard process that engulfs the entire coaching staff and even players in the program.
Then, like an expecting father, at the end all you can do is wait and hope for the best.
Things turned out pretty well for McNeese on Wednesday, as 23 players signed on the dotted line.
Viator, like a proud papa, stood before a group of media and supporters proclaiming this “a great day for McNeese football.”
He then told us about each and every one of those 23 and what they could mean to the program. We even got the college football version of home videos, as the best of each player was shown to the crowd.
Not a penalty in the bunch, imagine that.
Yes, it was a day when the best face was put on each program across the nation, and McNeese State was no different.
It is also the day when we turn 17- and 18-year-old high school athletes into instant celebrities.
Kids we had not heard of, or heard little of, become instant program makers, even if a good portion may never get off the bench.
All this because they run a great 40 time, or can bench press a small car.
Not once during all the stats did I ever see any of the future college students’ grade-point average. Then again I, like most everybody else, wasn’t really looking.
What we want to know now, today, when the ink on their first major signature of their lives is still fresh, is exactly how they are going to turn our program into a champion.
It’s not fair, but it is the game.
“I love to coach football, but I understand how important it is to recruit,” Viator said. “You have to start with the talent, now it is up to us to get the most out of that talent.
“It is a challenge to the coaches that they can turn a good recruiting class into a winning one.”
Some coaches appear better at it than others.
Nick Saban always seems to have a winning team no matter where his Alabama team finishes in the recruiting rankings.
That proves a good coach still matters, maybe even more than a good salesman.
“It helps to be good at both,” Viator said. “You first have to sell the program. You can’t win without good players, but you also have to sell them on the program.”
That is where things can sometimes become interesting.
You build up a kid, tell the world how good he is, including himself, then you have to get him to work hard for you and the school he has just started to care about. All this while the youngster is going through the rigors of what every freshman has to deal with, like homesickness and the pressure, joys and opportunities of being away from home for the first time.
That can be scary.
“You want to make sure they are comfortable and enjoy there time at the school,” Viator said. “You are invested in them as a person as much and maybe in the end even more than as a player.
“It is hard. You hope that they are doing the things they do for the right reasons and that this is the place they want to be and want to be part of the school and community.”
If not, they might not be around long enough to even take that first snap in the fall.
And it is not any easier in the world of social media, where every person can let the world know what is on their mind and how it might be changing with the press of a button or tweet on a phone.
Viator admits he and his coaches have watched players’ sites just to make sure there are no surprises.
“You have to watch to find out what is going on,” Viator said.
It is like being a parent to an entire team.
All this while the new kids on the block hold your coaching future in their hands. But even with a good recruiting class comes pressure.
If you get a great class and don’t win right away, fans consider you a bad coach. A bad class and you are a bad recruiter and killing the program.
Seems like Wednesday might seem like a good day, but for coaches it is a lose-lose situation.
Viator sees it as a challenge.
“We have high expectations here, so we want the challenge of getting a good class and coaching it up,” he said.
As for turning high school players into media monsters, that was done a long time ago.
Now it is just part of the game, or maybe the fun.
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Jim Gazzolo is managing sports editor. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org