College football is a huge industry and the general manager position is one of the most coveted. With so much money on the line, it’s no wonder college football GMs are becoming more and more important.
The college football general manager salary is a rising trend. College football general managers are becoming more and more popular, with the most recent being Mike MacIntyre at Colorado.
It may have been difficult for Georgia Tech coaches to organize the approximately 75 prospects that visited each day last month (mostly on unofficial visits). Each recruit required a tour, face time with coaches, and, perhaps most significantly in this day and age of social media, a photograph. Coaches, on the other hand, didn’t have to be concerned thanks to Patrick Suddes and his department’s efforts.
Everything was in order. Suddes even found a local auto dealer who gave them a 1970 Pontiac GTO and two Bentleys, which they parked inside Bobby Dodd Stadium for a music video-worthy picture session.
The Buckeyes have usually welcomed 58 official guests each year at Ohio State. However, they held 51 events in the past month alone, thanks to the efforts of Mark Pantoni and his team of ten full-time workers.
Pantoni’s North Carolina counterpart, Billy High, described the first month of in-person recruitment as “organized pandemonium.” He didn’t leave the house without his trusty iPad, which he used to keep track of massive spreadsheets that showed where players ranked on their board, what other offers they’d gotten, and where else they’d gone.
And to think, not long ago, jobs like his didn’t exist. There was no equivalent of the NFL front office in college football to handle recruitment and roster management. No one knew what a director of player personnel (DPP) was until a smart assistant coined the term in 2006, and one of the greatest head coaches of all time recognized what it was and could be.
Without DPPs like Pantoni, college football can no longer operate. High and Suddes, for example, have adopted the wider and more recognized title of general manager.
In addition to high school recruitment, they are in charge of another key recruiting tool: the transfer portal, which is college football’s equivalent of free agency. It is the responsibility of personnel department directors to maintain their ears to the ground and their eyes on the portal, directing coaches to players who should be targeted.
LSU didn’t sign potential game-changers like Clemson linebacker Mike Jones Jr. and Georgia safety Major Burns on the spur of the moment. Austin Thomas, the SEC’s first general manager, is in charge of an advanced scouting operation in Baton Rouge that gives coaches with detailed dossiers on players as soon as they become available.
There is probably no one with greater impact on a team’s future than the head coach.
The concept of a personnel department isn’t new in the NFL, where general managers often have more power than the head coach. But, for whatever reason, the idea of a structured unit devoted to roster management took a long time to spread to schools, where coaches made personnel choices on their own, appointing one of nine assistants to serve as recruiting coordinator.
Granted, these were simpler times — before social media and Internet-based video services like Hudl created mountains of data to sort through; before the rush to sign freshmen and sophomores more than doubled the number of players who needed to be evaluated; and before the transfer portal, which can give as quickly as it takes.
Geoff Collins was looking for an excuse to return to Georgia Tech, where he had previously served as the tight ends coach under George O’Leary, as things were starting to shift in 2006. Chan Gailey, who had replaced O’Leary, was intrigued, but he didn’t have a coaching job open, so he offered up the position of director of high school connections instead.
Collins, who had just finished two years as the defensive coordinator at Western Carolina, viewed it as a potential dead end and was reluctant to take it because he wanted a position that would allow him to be more flexible. If he couldn’t go back into coaching, he considered moving into the NFL front office. He had observed that individuals in the professional ranks were given the title of director of player personnel, therefore he inquired about establishing that job.
Gailey was unconcerned about semantics.
He urged Collins, “Call yourself anything you want.”
Geoff Collins is the only director of player personnel to become a head coach in the ever-growing tree of directors of player personnel. Paul Rutherford is a sports reporter for USA TODAY.
Collins was instantly recognized as the first DPP in college football. He was in charge of recruiting and was instrumental in bringing in probably Tech’s greatest class ever.
Meanwhile, Nick Saban was on his way to Alabama from the Miami Dolphins, and one of his first objectives was to put up an NFL-style personnel department. He put money into it because he thought he could generate the greatest effect advantage in recruitment over other schools. He needed someone in charge who knew how to play college football, so he contacted Collins.
Collins accepted the position and set about assembling a room of student volunteers, graduate assistants, and unnamed support workers who would act as the machinery for Alabama’s broader recruitment effort. They were inexperienced and hungry. They worked in complete darkness: a windowless workplace that was manned in rotating shifts around the clock.
They’d mail high school coaches hundreds of blank VHS tapes, cursing when they returned in the incorrect format. Highlights were ineffective. They actually wanted full games, which they’d then stitch together using a method known as “one’ing and two’ing,” which is as dumb as it sounds.
The real excitement came when it came to grading the video, but even that was mechanical, depending on a predefined set of key criteria at each position that, when combined, gave each recruit a score. If they received a decent grade, their information was sent up the ladder to coaches, who began the more conventional recruiting process.
Over time, the operation would improve and begin to eliminate some of the guesswork in recruitment, turning what had been basically an art form into a science. Rather of allowing assistant coaches to their own devices and their own ideas about what makes a good football player, the personnel department would obey the head coach’s stringent standards.
Collins was by Saban’s side every day that first season at Alabama, getting a “doctorate” in coaching and roster management – things like how many players to recruit at a position in a given year, which had to be viewed through the lens of the current roster makeup and anticipating future attrition via the NFL draft, graduation, or transfers.
Collins returned to UCF the next offseason, continuing on-field coaching alongside O’Leary. He was appointed head coach at Georgia Tech twelve years later.
Collins said, “I believe I was the first and second director of player personnel.” “And I’m really proud of it because I believe a lot of individuals have been able to move on and accomplish some things as a result of it, and it has become a great role model for college football teams.”
Collins is the only director of player personnel to advance to the position of head coach in the ever-growing tree of director of player personnel. That, however, is not a drawback. It demonstrates that non-coaches may have significant careers in collegiate football, while before, such possibilities were confined to the NFL.
Collins’ first contact after returning to Tech as head coach was to his former Alabama coworker, Suddes, who had gone on to work at Texas, Arizona State, and Auburn. Suddes had never worked as a coach and had no desire to do so. He was the youngster who simulated games on “NCAA Football” in dynasty mode so he could get to the fun part of fiddling with the roster. He’d sell every player and stockpile draft choices when he played “Madden.”
Collins felt he could trust Suddes to rebuild the roster and help change Georgia Tech’s image since they both viewed the game the same way. Rather of creating him another DPP, he decided to try something new.
When asked why he chose the position of general manager for Suddes, Collins laughed. It wasn’t done on the spur of the moment.
Collins said, “It was on purpose.” “I wanted him to have a broad scope of influence inside the company.”
While Collins is Patient Zero in college football’s DPP experiment, he isn’t the only one who has shaped the position into what it is now. Ed Marynowitz, his successor, took it to the next level.
Marynowitz was dubbed “one of the godfathers” of the profession by Suddes, who built on and refined the methods Collins pioneered. His work was so highly received that he was hired by the Philadelphia Eagles in 2012 and subsequently promoted to VP of player personnel. He’s now a real estate agent.
Mark Pantoni is the second so-called godfather.
Pantoni was getting his feet wet at Florida under coach Urban Meyer about the same time Alabama’s recruiting program was getting off the ground under Collins and Marynowitz. It was initially a means of escaping the pile of debt that awaited him on the other side of the med school interviews, as well as whatever lengthy path lay ahead. He was a football enthusiast who enjoyed recruiting, so he decided to intern with the club for a year.
He obtained the job and went to the office every morning at 6 a.m. to send out VHS tapes, splice footage in the afternoon, and then beg for additional work before the end of the day. He toiled for a year, learning the ropes, until Meyer offered him a full-time position.
Pantoni, too, had no desire to be a coach. He aspired to be an athletic director, but he fell in love with the world of personnel, where he spent endless hours studying video and creating assessments that he would then pass on to the coaching staff.
Meyer gave him authority, allowing for lively discussions and disputes. Of course, Meyer had the ultimate decision, but Pantoni said Meyer didn’t want a yes guy. Pantoni was reluctant at first to disagree with experienced coordinators Charlie Strong and Steve Addazio, but as his confidence grew, they were willing to listen, believing that he was viewing much more video than they could.
Assistant coaches must concentrate on their particular position in order to develop, while head coaches must win now in order to retain their positions, leaving DPPs and GMs to handle the long-term picture. Chris Williams/Icon Sportswire photo
Pantoni’s responsibilities expanded to include more than simply assessments. Compliance and the recruiting budget, which includes money for coaches’ travel and official visits, as well as the usage of internet recruiting services and databases, are primarily in the hands of DPPs.
Meyer hired Pantoni a second time when he returned to Ohio State in 2012 after his retirement, and he inherited a department of two.
Pantoni now supervises a personnel staff of three full-time workers and one full-time intern, as well as a director of on-campus recruitment and a five-person creative team. That’s not even taking into account the swarm of student volunteers.
Three years ago, he and Marynowitz organized a personnel conference, which drew approximately 180 individuals. The next year, that number had risen to 300.
Despite the fact that COVID-19 forced them to postpone last year’s event, they plan to reschedule it shortly.
So much is changing in the sport. Support staffs have exploded in size, the transfer site has finally introduced free agency to college football, and sophisticated analytics, which have exploded in popularity in professional sports but have failed to gain traction in college, are making progress. Furthermore, athletes’ capacity to earn from their name, image, and likeness is a game-changer in terms of assisting players in developing their brands. Personnel departments have no option but to keep up with demand.
Pantoni added, “It’ll continue to develop and mirror the NFL front office.”
Assistant coaches must concentrate on their particular position in order to develop, while head coaches must win now in order to retain their positions, leaving DPPs and GMs to handle the long-term picture.
“You’re recruiting a lot of kids; right now, we’re giving 2025 youngsters. There’s just a lot that goes into it “Suddes said. “Coaches have a lot on their plates, including teaching X’s and O’s, dealing with players on and off the field, and then reaching out to these prospects. A ten-person coaching team and a single head coach can’t possibly manage everything.”
Out of Alabama, the personnel tree expanded rapidly.
Whispers swirled about what was going on inside Saban’s windowless office as his recruiting machine ramped up and began raking among the top three classes every year. The college football world watched as Saban’s former assistants rose through the ranks and, very predictably, brought someone from his office with them. Kirby Smart of Georgia recruited Marshall Malchow, Mel Tucker of Michigan State hired Geoff Martzen, Lane Kiffin of Ole Miss hired Matt Lindsey, and so on.
Coaches on the other team had the brilliant notion to do the same.
“They were all hand-picked by teams attempting to replicate Nick’s success,” Suddes added.
LSU was the first SEC football team to have an official general manager. Matthew Hinton/AP Photo)
He should be aware of the situation. Mack Brown brought Suddes to Texas after six years at Alabama. When Brown returned to UNC, he hired High, who had previously worked with Suddes at Auburn and earned the moniker Billy Spreadsheets.
There is also a great deal of cross-pollination. High and Thomas both happened to be working at Tennessee at the same time. Thomas was succeeded by Malchow when he returned to LSU in January after serving as assistant athletic director for football personnel at Texas A&M from 2018 to 2019.
Thomas is just 36 years old, yet he’s already looking forward to seeing what the next generation can do, demonstrating how fast this profession is evolving. For those who don’t have direct ties to Alabama or Florida, there’s plenty of space.
Andy Frank, a Princeton graduate, gave up a career in engineering and rose through the ranks at Vanderbilt and now Penn State, from volunteer to DPP. Jordan Sorrells quit his position as Chick-fil-operations A’s manager to become Furman’s director of football operations, and is now DPP at Clemson.
When asked how Clemson’s 2020 class came together, Dabo Swinney told reporters, “Jordan Sorrells is a writer from the United Kingdom. You have to begin there.”
What’s interesting, according to Thomas, isn’t simply how many more people are working in his company or how they’re beginning to be recognized; it’s how their duties are beginning to extend beyond recruitment.
As GM, Thomas serves as a bridge between the administration and the football program, as well as being involved in the search for assistant coaches and other positions within the organization. LSU has added a director of scouting, a director of personnel research, and a director of recruitment to its staff.
Thomas looked into NFL front offices a few years ago, based on connections he had with the New York Jets and Houston Texans, and wanted to replicate their advanced scouting departments for college football. Their capacity to assist in the identification of transfers is only one aspect of their work; they also assist in game preparation throughout the season.
“When you think about it, there’s strength and conditioning staff, nutrition staff, analysts, recruitment staff, personnel staff… it’s a lot of people,” Thomas added. “It may quickly go wrong if a head coach doesn’t have assistance with that things to convey his message and execute it on a daily basis.”
And therein is the most significant distinction between NFL and college general managers. It’s truly that easy. In college, GMs have a lot of power, but they’re basically the right-hand man to the head coach, who has the final say.
“I’m employed by Coach O,” Thomas said. “He’s not one of my employees.”
The football gm is the new position that has been created in college football. They are responsible for all aspects of a team, from scouting to hiring coaches and players.
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