Listen to Austin 360 Radio

Golden: Coach Steve Sarkisian grapples with how COVID has altered the recruiting landscape

Texas coach introduced the newest members of the Class of 2021 Wednesday.

Texas coach Steve Sarkisian introduced the newest Longhorns during a national signing day Zoom press conference Wednesday. Sarkisian wonders how the pandemic-challenged experiences of the last year will affect the recruiting game in coming years.
  • Sarkisian signed four players Wednesday.
  • Sarkisian also wondered how future signing days will be conducted after experiencing how COVID affected the process over the last year.

We live in a time where the majority of teenagers would prefer to have a conversation via text message or online over sitting on a couch at home with the folks while a visitor rattles off a well-rehearsed recruiting pitch.

The pandemic has been one awful experience in so many walks of life, but in the area of college football recruiting, coaches have had to learn on the fly when it comes to portraying their programs in the best light possible.

Texas football:Commitment 101: Defensive end David Abiara joins Texas' 2021 recruiting class

Someday, members of the class of 2021 will tell their children and grandchildren about the unique environment they experienced while being recruited to play football at the University of Texas. Stories of official visits and Mom cooking up a meal for visiting coaches will be replaced with how Zoom, text messages, Twitter and FaceTime played such a vital role in them choosing to play in Austin.

Steve Sarkisian just put the finishing touches on his first class as the head coach on what used to be the most important day of the recruiting season. The first Wednesday in February was once a live-event showcase across the country where the best of the best would sit at decorated tables inside packed basketball gymnasiums and cafeterias with family members, classmates, coaches and media on hand for a day of celebration.

Some of that tradition is still happening on a much smaller level but the ravages of COVID-19 made it necessary for schools to take a much more toned down approach to the most important day in a high school football player’s career.

Kirk Bohls: Sarkisian likes receivers, but linebacker, cornerback depth is thin

Frankly, 2020 sucked. We all dream of the day when COVID will be a thing of the past and we get back to the blessing of walking into a restaurant, grocery store or movie theater with smiling uncovered faces, but even when that happens — and it will —    don’t expect social media to all of a sudden take a backseat once these coaches take back to the road for home visits.

Sarkisian, like most accomplished recruiters, is at his best when he is face to face with players and their families. Like Texas coaching legend Mack Brown before him, Sark has an easy way about him and appears extremely comfortable, not only in a live social setting but also in his own skin.

The past season created unique challenges nationwide and led to more questions than answers when we think about how much of the traditional approach will be altered in coming years based on the 2021 experience.

“How many press conferences are going to be in person?” he wondered during Wednesday’s online media availability. “How many are going to be on Zoom? What's the setting? I think recruiting is going to kind of be almost along those same lines.”

The absence of travel for official and unofficial visits saved the families of recruits some nice coin over the last year but the kids did miss out on the excitement of being wooed in person while making multiple college visits. While history cannot be changed, the guess here is they will carry a greater appreciation for still being able to put in the work needed to sign with a major football program.

As for the coaches, it was a teachable moment, one that exposed them on a large scale to a new mode of recruiting that will change the landscape for years to come. With that said, the one constant is the ability to sell these young men and their loved ones on one’s football program, whether it’s in person, on a cell phone or on a computer screen.

“It’s still about the personal relationships,” Sarkisian said. “It’s still about making that connection.”

Recruiting remains a people business, but Sarkisian and others like him just learned there is more than one way to arrive at a preferred destination.