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The logistical challenges of his new job may have surprised Bob Davie the most.
During his five-year stint at Notre Dame, Davie didn't have to worry about the more menial tasks of recruiting. As the head coach of a national power, Davie often had someone waiting to pick him up at the airport and drive him to a prospect's high school or home.
That's not the case anymore.
Davie, 57, ended a decade-long coaching sabbatical in December when New Mexico hired him to rejuvenate one of the nation's most downtrodden programs. The guy who once had arguably the highest-profile job in all of college football now works for a Mountain West school that won just once each of the last three years.
The move to a smaller stage has given Davie more responsibilities on the recruiting trail. Nobody was picking him up at the airport anymore. If Davie happened to get lost during a recruiting trip, he'd be the one who had to ask for directions or check his GPS. Davie had to work particularly hard during this last recruiting cycle because he didn't finish putting together his staff until Jan. 20, less than two weeks before Signing Day.
"I went out and did it like an assistant," Davie said. "It took me way back to some of my Texas A&M days [as an assistant] in trying to get around the cities and towns. It really is amazing how some places have changed and grown. The biggest problem I had was logistics in finding a prospect's house and getting by the coach's office because I had no one out there helping with it.''
Davie isn't the only former coach at a big-time program making this adjustment.
After coaching in the FCS ranks last season, UT San Antonio's Larry Coker and Texas State's Dennis Franchione will lead their respective schools into their inaugural seasons as FBS members this fall. Coker, who went 4-6 at UT San Antonio last fall, posted a 60-15 record in a six-year stint at Miami that included a 2001 national title. Franchione went 6-6 at Texas State last year after previously coaching at TCU, Alabama and Texas A&M.
They're starting over at an entirely different level, which means they're recruiting an entirely different athlete.
And they relish the challenge.
"I told some of the coaches this, 'This is the way college football should be,' '' Coker said. "It's very pure. There aren't a lot of agents hanging around. There will be as we grow, but not now. It's pure.''
They're following the lead of Frank Solich, the former Nebraska coach who took over Ohio's program in 2005.
Solich, whose Nebraska team lost to Coker's Miami squad in a Rose Bowl that determined the 2001 national champion, has posted a 50-40 record since moving to the Mid-American Conference. He has led the Bobcats to bowl games each of the last three years.
"You're still after the same thing," Solich said. "You're wanting to recruit the very best kids that you can recruit. We go out with that intention. Sometimes we get some of those guys snatched away by some schools in the BCS, so you have to have a good-sized pool [of potential recruits], but you're still working at identifying the kind of players who are going to fit what your program is all about and where you're located."
The goal remains the same, but the job is different in a number of other respects. Recruiting at a program outside the six major conferences forces Davie, Coker and Franchione to focus on aspects of the business that they rarely had to worry about at their previous coaching stops.
Franchione is aware of this because of his small-school background. He coached NAIA program Pittsburg State in the 1980s. This isn't even his first stop at Texas State. He last coached here from 1990-91 when the school was still known as Southwest Texas State.
"You watch your money," Franchione said. "You spend your money as you can. At higher levels, you can spend more. I don't say I ever wasted money [at previous jobs], but here if I'm booking a flight, I'm always asking how I can save money.''
Frankly, their entire job as recruiters now involves hunting for bargains.
New Mexico, Texas State and UT San Antonio aren't going to win many recruiting battles for four-star or five-star prospects. Davie, Coker and Franchione understand that. That makes their talent evaluation skills particularly critical.
Yes, they have to be salesmen. That's the case for any college coach.
But their success on the field will depend upon how well they can identify so-called sleeper recruits.
"We sat there as a staff and gave them all a grading sheet," Davie said. "We rated each kid. Regardless of how much attention it's getting on television, you have to be able to do it in your room with your coaches. We all know it's an inexact science. We know it's hard to rate kids. ï¿½ We have to really be rigorous because we have to rely on our staff. We're not going to go out and out-star anybody.''
Davie noted that the Lobos did beat major-conference programs for some players. Reserve (La.) East St. John defensive tackle Gerron Borne, one of five three-star recruits in a 24-man class, was verbally committed to Arizona before making a National Signing Day switch to New Mexico.
But he also admitted that he didn't have to beat any other school for a number of recruits. In those cases, he merely had to trust his staff's instincts on whether that player could contribute at the FBS level.
The same was true for Franchione and Coker.
Franchione did sign 11 three-star prospects to Texas State this month, though the majority of his class remained two-star recruits. Coker's UT San Antonio class included two three-star prospects, with the rest being two-star guys.
"Evaluation is more pivotal," Franchione said. "You can't go after the players where it's easy to pick out who's going to be a star. We have to look deeper and project them and visualize what they're going to be like in four years.''
Or, in some cases, two years.
Texas State's class included nine junior college transfers, while UT San Antonio's features eight. Texas State's class also has nine players who enrolled in January and already are participating in spring practice.
At both places, the coach currently is a bigger name than the school itself. Many players outside the state of Texas are unfamiliar with Texas State or UT San Antonio, two schools that still haven't made their FBS debut.
It's more likely they've heard of the coaches at both programs. Coker's UT San Antonio class features two players from his old Florida stomping grounds. Franchione, the former Alabama coach, signed a pair of guys from Alabama.
"The thing that's helped us here is my name recognition," Coker said.
Then again, how familiar are these guys to current high school students?
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Last fall marked the first time Coker had coached in a game since Miami fired him at the end of the 2006 season. Franchione took three years off from coaching before taking over Texas State's program. And most of today's high school seniors hadn't even mastered their multiplication tables the last time Davie was coaching.
Some of New Mexico's 2012 recruits were more familiar with Davie's broadcasting career than his coaching background.
"I knew he'd been at ESPN," Borne said. "That's really the only thing I knew about him. That he'd been a football coach, I really didn't know that."
Even though Borne wasn't aware of Davie's coaching history, he knew all about the Texas A&M "Wrecking Crew" defenses that wreaked havoc in the early 1990s. Borne just didn't realize Davie had coordinated those defenses before joining Lou Holtz's staff at Notre Dame.
Now Borne's looking forward to playing for the former Irish coach.
"He created the Wrecking Crew at A&M, and that was a really big factor," Borne said. "He's a defensive coach, and I'm a defensive player. And I feel like I can talk to him about anything."
Davie's Notre Dame connections paid off with at least a couple of his 2012 recruits.
One of defensive end Dominic Twitty's coaches at Mt. Holly (N.J.) Rancocas Valley was Terrance Howard, who played for Davie at Notre Dame. Dallas (Texas) Christian offensive tackle Garrett Adcock went to the same high school that produced Jordan Black, a Notre Dame offensive tackle during Davie's tenure.
Adcock said he didn't have any concerns about Davie's long layoff.
"He had his experience in the past from coaching," Adcock said. "And he told me that his time at ESPN had just helped him understand the game even more. He's going to bring all that knowledge and experience back to coaching, and I think he'll be just as good as ever. He said he really got the opportunity to view the game from a different perspective, watch teams week in and week out and see what they're doing right and what they're not doing right.''
Of course, it's easy to make all the right calls from the booth. Now Davie must prove himself on the sideline once again.
It all starts with finding the right players. That part of the job hasn't changed, whether you're at Notre Dame or New Mexico.
"They say it's like riding a bike, and it really is true," Davie said. "You get back in the middle of it immediately. It all comes back very quickly."
David Fox contributed to this report.
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