Spotting the top high school coaches in the state wasn’t too hard to do at this year’s state 7-on-7 tournament in College Station earlier this month.
They were all in the end zone wearing name tags, standing on the fringes of the field a few yards from their typical spots on the sideline.
“I just think it puts Texas high school coaches in a terrible position,” Gilmer coach Jeff Traylor said, “because we either break the rules or risk losing your job because you’re breaking a rule, or you turn your kids over to somebody that’s not paid to coach.”
A couple of weeks later at the Texas High School Coaches Association convention and coaching school in San Antonio, the possibility of allowing coaches to work with their respective teams in the offseason was a hot topic.
Coaches currently are forbidden from working with their athletes in the offseason.
University Interscholastic League athletic director Mark Cousins said the governing body over the state’s public school athletics has discussed changing the rule as 7-on-7 has gained importance over the years.
The game is played on a field that’s 45 yards long instead of the traditional 100-yard field in the 11-man game. All offensive plays must be passes and the game is played across two 20-minute halves with running clocks.
Cedar Hill coach Joey McGuire said the game has become a big part of the summer and a big part of football. It is one reason why there are so many Texas quarterbacks starting in college and in the pros, McGuire said.
Coaches across the state have expressed their concern about their collective void on the sidelines, and their absence could lead to the exploitation of their athletes by select 7-on-7 leagues.
Cousins said that dialogue is in its infant stages and has no concrete destination.
“It all comes down to what level of involvement our schools and our coaches need to have when it comes to activities that are not necessarily directly related to the school,” Cousins said.
According to Section 1209 of the UIL’s constitution and contest rules, coaches cannot instruct students in seventh grade to 12th grade from their attendance zone during the offseason, unless the children are their own. Coaches cannot transport students, be the primary director or schedule games, practices or other contests.
Cousins said there’s a wide disparity between some of the organizations that represent different UIL sports. The THSCA’s football coaches were interested in getting a little more involved, while the Texas Association of Basketball Coaches was against it and the Texas High School Baseball Coaches Association wants to work with their student-athletes.
“It’s something we’re going to continue to look at,” Cousins said. “But with the wide variation that we have with our stakeholder groups in reference to what their desires are in this regard, we’re talking about a very deliberate process before we’re going to get to any end result in reference to how that’s going to happen.”
Among some of the state’s best football minds, there is a difference in opinion in how to approach the topic of coaches working in 7-on-7.
Graham has won two straight 7-on-7 Division II titles. The school’s football coach, Kenny Davidson, is against coaches working with players.
“We don’t want the coaches to get involved in 7-on-7,” Davidson said. “It’s really good for the kids to run their own stuff.”
Former Ryan head coach and current Denton ISD Athletic Director Joey Florence is not a fan altogether. When Florence was with the Raiders, Ryan played 7-on-7 for a few years but the team refrained from the summer activity toward the end of his coaching career.
“Not every coach agrees with me, and I get that,” Florence said. “For the past seven or eight years, I’ve been a lone dissenting voice on 7-on-7. I didn’t see where it was benefiting us. We were getting more kids hurt. Coaches were having to cheat. I just saw a lot of negatives.”
Argyle coach Todd Rogers said if coaches were involved, he wondered how it would be regulated by the UIL.
Rodgers believes some coaches are already overstepping their bounds, and that allowing all coaches to work with the kids could level the playing field.
“I think people are ignoring it,” Rodgers said. “I think it’s already happening.”
A few coaches said allowing coaches to be more involved with 7-on-7 could keep their players playing with their high school teammates instead of playing for teams filled with blue-chip recruits.
The IMG7v7 National Championship that took place in June at renowned IMG Academy in Bradenton, Florida, featured 34 high school club teams with some of the nation’s top recruits. While the event is open to all those who qualify, it is mostly comprised of teams filled with players from different high schools.
Manvel senior Gary Haynes played with Core 6 Athletes, a team based out of Illinois. Armwood (Fla.) defensive end Byron Cowart, the nation’s top recruit in the Class of 2015 according to Rivals.com, participated in this year’s tournament that received 70 credential requests from outlets like Rivals.com, Scout.com, 247Sports and ESPN.
Traylor expressed a fear other coaches held in regard to 7-on-7. With the absence of coaches on the sidelines, coaches believe it gives those with select 7-on-7 teams a foothold to lure kids away from their high school teams and play with teams that travel across the country, similar to what goes on in basketball, baseball and other team sports.
“When I go to my games, I have to watch to make sure that people aren’t getting to my kids,” Traylor said. “That’s what I’m monitoring, because they know who the national recruits are. When it’s real football, no one gets to my kids. I have control of it. But I can’t be a part of it [7-on-7]. So they’re free to the public.”
McGuire echoed Traylor’s concerns. If coaches were allowed to coach 7-on-7, the head coach of the defending Class 5A Division I champions said he is more interested in coaching his middle school students and might leave the varsity team with a young coach.
McGuire said high school football players in other states are already participating in select leagues and that could happen in Texas if coaches do not get involved in coaching 7-on-7. McGuire said it could be an avenue that could cut coaches off from the current college football recruiting model that involves the college coaches talking to the high school coaches. A select-sport model and its advocates could entice parents with dreams of future scholarships, McGuire said.
“At some point, somebody’s going to find a way to make money off of kids,” McGuire said. “That’s all it is. That’s what these people do. They prey on parents, and that’s where it all ends up. You end up having things like [Amateur Athletic Union] and club stuff, where kids are more involved in that than they are in school sports.”
Cousins said allowing high school coaches to be more involved in 7-on-7 might not fix the issues.
“I don’t know that opening up to coaching is going to solve some of the problems and concerns that are out there with select 7-on-7 and people getting in between the high school coach and the college coach in the recruiting process,” Cousins said. “I don’t know that opening up the coaching ranks to be able to do that is going to be able to solve a lot of those problems.”
Doug Stephens is the head coach at Rowlett and is the executive director for the Texas State 7-on-7 Association board of directors. The association conducts the state 7-on-7 tournament, which is in year three of a five-year deal with Adidas as the event’s title sponsor.
Stephens said it’s hard to control outside interest, when you can’t coach your kids. With the constant growth of 7-on-7, Stephens said change may be necessary.
“It’s here,” Stephens said. “It’s going to continue to grow. I don’t know what UIL’s going to do. I know there’s been dialogue about change. I hope UIL sees — and I know they do — they see the importance of having coaches control it.”