Mike Hutton: New Valparaiso coach has to get players
November 17, 2013 7:26PM
Hutton, Michael 2004 Post-Tribune sportswriter Michael Hutton
Updated: December 19, 2013 6:24AM
VALPARAISO — Unlocking the recruiting puzzle is the key to success for the next Valparaiso University football coach.
It’s pretty simple to say but not that easy to execute. It’s the pivotal quality that athletic director Mark LaBarbera must find in the next coach, according to former coaches and players.
The pyramid flows downward from getting the right kind of players — players who will excel at a place where they won’t get an athletic scholarship. All the money they get comes in the form of financial aid or academic scholarships. It’s the same playing field for the other teams in the Pioneer Football League.
It’s true the team is a revenue generator for the school. Former coach Tom Horne said he was responsible for bringing 144 players to campus his last season. There are roughly 100 players on the team but some drop out. If each player is responsible for roughly half his tuition ($20,000), the program generates just under $3 million in revenue.
Horne, who retired after the 2004 season, was the last coach to achieve what are the standards for the program. His teams won the PFL title in 2000 and 2003. Overall, Horne competed for a title three times in the last 11 years of his 16-year tenure. He finished with a record of 67-103-1.
The first four years of his run at VU were not good. The Crusaders were 3-30-1. However, the program could never get on solid footing because they jumped from the Heartland Conference to the Midwest Intercollegiate Conference to the PFL. The Crusaders’ record stabilized when they made a permanent switch to the PFL. For the most part, the teams were near the top or winning it every five years. The year before they won the PFL in 2003, the Crusaders were 1-10.
Horne recruited nationally and he tapped into the wide network of alumni that helped him look for VU football fits —serious students who might’ve been rejected by larger Division I schools and who had Division II offers.
He’d sell them on the education and the chance to travel the country. For example, the Crusaders played Yale in Solider Field in 1997 and they travel to San Diego every other year.
According to Mike Beebe, the offensive line coach for Horne, the key to differentiating your team was to find four or five difference makers. Beebe brought in David Macchi, the quarterback for the 2003 team. Macchi was one of the best modern quarterbacks at VU. First, he had to convince Macchi to come to VU, then he had to convince the VU admissions folks that he would work out. He was a borderline student under VU’s standards.
The Crusaders also had the best wide receiver in the PFL that year in Rob Giancola. Players like this will allow them to compete with the best teams in the league.
“It’s about trust,” Beebe said.
When Stacy Adams worked for Horne, he was responsible for recruiting the St. Louis area, which he did well.
Horne delegated the recruiting and then he’d close the deal if necessary.
LaBarbera said that Horne did a good job, but that the PFL is much stronger now. VU has never won more than three games in the PFL, even when the Crusaders won it in 2000 and 2003, when the league had four teams. Now, it’s an eight-team league. Given the standards that former coach Dale Carlson faced, it’s likely Horne never would’ve lasted 16 years. Horne pointed out that former VU basketball coach Homer Drew didn’t do well in his early years. He was 24-87 after his first four years.
From that perspective, the job has changed. A new coach gets some slack but not the kind of slack Drew and Horne had in the late 80s and early 90s.
“We have to figure out how to get to six or seven wins,” LaBarbera said.
LaBarbera said he wants to have a new coach in place in three or four weeks. He believes that, while the window of candidates is narrow for VU, the Crusaders have plenty of good options. The Patriot League and the Ivy League are full of coaches who have had to operate under the same recruiting restrictions as VU.
Of course, he’d like to upgrade the facilities but he doesn’t see that as impediment.
“People say the ARC isn’t that great but we’ve managed to win the last two conference titles in basketball,” he said.
He said he understands the frustration of the players. He had to sit through the 72-12 loss to Butler, a team that VU used to regularly beat, and it was “painful.”
“We haven’t been as good as we need to be,” he said. “We need to be better. I have no issue with people coming to me and telling me that.”