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Matt Lindsey moves on and now Drew Hughes is putting his stamp on South Carolina

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Matt Lindsey moves on and now Drew Hughes is putting his stamp on South Carolina

March 18, 2020 | GCF Staff Report              

When Drew Hughes first saw South Carolina’s football operations facility, he marveled at how it compared to the digs at his last job at Tennessee. And when he took stock of the recruiting operation he was set to take the helm of, he saw something that fit most of the specifications for how he planned to operate. That’s the advantage of taking over a department built up by a friend who learned the craft alongside him. That’s an advantage of working for Will Muschamp, who he worked under before and had hoped to work for yet again.

Hughes said. “In the back of my mind I’d always knew I wanted to work with Coach Muschamp again. So that’s kind of long story but that’s how it happened “Full circle for me.”

Hughes joined the Gamecock staff this offseason, making the jump from Tennessee. He steps into the role held by Matt Lindsey, someone Muschamp credited with playing a crucial role in the program’s recruiting operation. (Lindsey, now at Ole Miss, called Hughes about the opening.) Now Hughes takes the reins of a large-scale information gathering outfit, one structured like an NFL personnel department. Once a 23-year-old thrown into the deep end of the profession, Hughes is now a veteran of three SEC staffs.

Muschamp said on Drew. “I had Drew when I was at the University of Florida, did a fantastic job for me there.So it’s been a really seamless transition for us as far as our day-to-day operation, recruiting, evaluation and how we work as far as the recruiting standpoint is concerned.”

THE GUIDANCE FOR THE VETERANS

Hughes was only an undergrad when he “wandered” into the recruiting department at Alabama. A high school player in Alabama, he planned for a future as a high school coach. He started on the video side, shooting practice. He then started helping the grad assistants break down tape and then found his way to the recruiting room.

Hughes said.  “That’s when it really clicked for me. Once I got into the recruiting side of it, particularly the team-building and the different critical factors that you look for at each position and the all the different elements that go into building a championship team, it just clicked for me.”

He came under the guidance of Ed Marynowitz, who worked for Nick Saban at the start of his tenure with the Crimson Tide, left for the Philadelphia Eagles and later returned. Hughes explained that Marynowitz was one of the pioneers of the personnel industry on the college level, and Lindsey had worked under him. At the time, Hughes was being asked to do the kinds of tasks he now has undergraduates doing. He arrived around when Saban did, taking part in the rise and building of a dynasty.

When Hughes was finishing up school after the 2011 Iron Bowl, it was Marynowitz who recommended Hughes for his first job. Marynowitz played out the end of his college career for George O’Leary at Central Florida, and the former Georgia Tech head man reached out looking for someone. After a drive to Atlanta and a flight to talk to O’Leary, a freshly minted 23-year-old college grad was in charge of the recruiting operation for a Conference USA program.

O’Leary had been running the show there for more than half a decade, and he delivered lessons well beyond what to look for on film.

 Hughes said.  “I got coached by Coach O’Leary on how to grow up. I was 23. He was 60, or whatever it was at the time, and he would ask me for things he knew I didn’t have. And what he was doing, I didn’t realize it at the time, what he was doing is he was training me to start thinking ahead.” In his one year there, UCF recruited the Griffin twins, who both ended up drafted. Hughes left for N.C. State, where he helped Dave Doeren land a class with four defensive line draft picks, led by top-five pick Bradley Chubb.

One year in Raleigh came to a close with a cold call from Gainesville, Florida. Muschamp brought Hughes back to the SEC, where he worked for him, then for Saban assistant Jim McElwain (Muschamp’s replacement) and eventually Jeremy Pruitt at Tennessee the past few seasons.

DREW ABOUT BUILDING EVERYONE UP

As Hughes sits in his office describing the structure of his department, the term “empowered” comes to mind. He’s in charge of this operation, working alongside Jessica Jackson, who heads up the on-campus aspect of recruiting, and Justin King and Zach Frehse, who manage the graphics/edits side of things (“I’ve always said no one works for me, we all work together,” Hughes said).

But he has a staff, many undergrads who were brought on and trained by Lindsey, and they are the first line of what is an information-gathering and synthesizing operation. The students and personnel assistants are assigned to an assistant coach, and they’re responsible for all the players at that coach’s position and in his area.

 Hughes said. “Everything kind of originates from the film. And if the film stands out, they do everything from using the various analytical services that we have, verifying track times, going through their social media. You know you can find out a lot about a guy by what he tweets. And we have all the sheets, you know every player has a sheet.”

The staff compiles all that information about a player and then presents that profile to a coach. It allows the staff to recruit more efficiently, having a staff process through hundreds of recruits coaches don’t have to.

Hughes said. “You have to be very transparent and upfront, be accurate with the information that you have. looking back at all the staffs he has been a part of. “And every coach that you work for, whether it’s head coach or assistants, they’re all different. So you have to understand you know what they want, and I think there’s a trust that’s developed over time.”

WHAT TO LOOK FOR

On that film that gets cut up, those high school games that get processed down, the Gamecocks staff, and by proxy the personnel staff, are looking for specific attributes. Hughes lists off 12 for running backs alone, from power running and vision to ball security and blocking. On high school film that might be of low quality, the “wow” plays tell a tale, and more sets of eyes on more film means more consensus.

Hughes said. “You and I could watch a player right now and you may notice something that I didn’t. And if you notice something that helps us make the best decision.”

He described the process as prospect identification and organizing information. The camps the school runs in June serve to boost that, in part to cross-check a player’s physical measurements and skills and give coaches a chance to watch players in live settings.

And although it all starts with film, everything is bolstered by the personal side of things, when coaches hit the road and can chat with folks in the community or even opposing coaches about a player.

Hughes said. “It’s just a combination of utilizing the recruiting calendar when you can go out on the road. You’re hitting people in the community, you’re talking to high school coaches, you’re talking to the janitor at the high school, the teacher, not just the high school coach, obviously “All that information, matching up with the film matching up with the character, ultimately, helps you make the best decision.”

DREW CASTING A WIDE NET

A program such as South Carolina’s isn’t just recruiting for next year’s class, but realistically for the next three. The database the team maintains includes around 2,500 total high school players across all three classes.

Hughes said. “Our database is massive. Our job is to help the coaches narrow it down, get that number down to as low as, as good of a number as possible, a manageable number.”

He joked this is probably one of his easier transitions because he doesn’t have to build up the infrastructure. He’s joining a coach he knows well and has a feel for, one who is established and has the pieces set in place by a good friend. 

Hughes said. “It’s easier because you know what to expect, you know how they work.” Coming in and with (Lindsey) being here, you know things are going to be set up the same way and done the right way and organized and structured so, this has been unique and different.”

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