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Pac-12 Media Days: Coaches learn to navigate transfer portal

Kyle Whittingham
Kyle Whittingham (AP Images)

HOLLYWOOD, Calif. – Some coaches love it, some hate it, but most at Pac-12 Media Days are still trying to figure out what it means for their respective teams.

We’re talking about the transfer portal. And it’s just another part of the recruiting landscape that coaching staffs will have to consider moving forward.

There are so many factors to weigh when dealing with the transfer portal in roster management, size of recruiting classes and even the continuation of recruiting players once they’re on campus to make sure they don’t leave for another opportunity.

It’s so consuming that Utah coach Kyle Whittingham has a staff member whose main job is to monitor the portal.

“We do,” Whittingham said. “Absolutely. Watches it every day. Every day. And he reports to me. And the transfer portal is not really well-organized. It's just kind of haphazardly put in there. It's not broken down by position or anything. There's no real systematic approach to it. They just throw names in there. So it's a tedious job.”

If you’ve lived in a cave, the transfer portal is a database of players who are considering a transfer from their current school. It has serviced players such as Kelly Bryant, Justin Fields, Jalen Hurts, Tate Martell, Nate Craig-Myers, Bru McCoy (who went from USC to Texas and back to USC), and many others in the last few months alone.


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It can be cumbersome and challenging, but UCLA coach Chip Kelly has no problem with it.

“The transfer portal is a good thing,” Kelly said. “If kids go somewhere and they're not happy there, then they should be allowed to go where they're going to be happy. Coaches move. I don't know why players can't move. I've never had a problem with the transfer portal.”

In his second season at UCLA, Kelly said he does not even understand the argument against the portal. If a player is recruited by one staff and signs with that school only to see those coaches leave for another job, Kelly is confused as to why the player is expected to stick with that program. He preached education, too, for the player who might think he’s getting a better opportunity elsewhere, but that’s not always the case.

Washington State has seen tremendous success from transfer quarterbacks in recent years, whether it's Gardner Minshew last season or Gage Gubrud this season (Gubrud is expected to be the starter for the Cougars after coming over from Eastern Washington). For that particular school, it’s paid off.

“So far it hasn't hurt us,” Washington State coach Mike Leach said. “If we're not careful, that portal can become a free-for-all. If somebody can just transfer for whatever reason anywhere and be eligible, then at some point we're going to end up taking scholarships from somebody that doesn't have a good year and giving them to some walk-on that does.

"You want some structure to this thing. I do think the portal has diminished some of that. It hasn't hurt us. Guys that we've lost in the portal are either guys far enough down the depth chart that they want on the field to play, or else they're people that we were better off without anyway.”

Mike Leach
Mike Leach (AP Images)

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The transfer portal has become tricky to navigate. Should coaches fill out entire recruiting classes or save some room for inevitable transfers? How should coaches handle delicate personalities on their current roster, knowing those players could always go right to the portal? Those are just a few of the questions coaches need to now ponder on top of all the other recruiting nuances.

Oregon State could greatly benefit from some recent high-profile transfers such as quarterback Tristan Gebbia and receiver Tyjon Lindsey (both from Nebraska) and linebacker Addison Gumbs (from Oklahoma). Coach Jonathan Smith said it’s a balancing act of roster management between players coming and some going elsewhere.

“It’s another avenue that maybe 10, five years ago wasn’t there,” Smith said. “As you’re building a roster and the recruiting part you’re thinking of the age and position you need in high school, junior college, and this is another avenue. It’s not just how you’re trying to add, it’s subtraction, people are leaving your place. It’s not just the numbers on how many you can bring in, that’s always fluctuating with guys exiting as well.”

There are plenty of benefits to the transfer portal as struggling teams can quickly ramp up the talent level on both sides of the ball. But maybe one often overlooked consideration: Players who enter the portal are not guaranteed to be picked up by another school, and it can be a prolonged process.

Basically, the field turf is not always greener on the other side.

“I know there are a lot of guys in the portal that (have) no place to go right now,” Whittingham said. “The portal is still stocked with guys that don't have any place to go, and they can't go back to the original institution, because most coaches take the same stance that we do: If you go to the portal, then you're done here. There's no coming back.

“It's not shop yourself around, if I get a better deal, take it. If not, I'll come back. And so I think in the future players will see what happened to some of the guys, maybe be a little bit more judicious about making that decision to enter the portal.”