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College Football Recruiting
The following is an interview with Chuck Dekeado, a former Los Angeles business professional who served under legendary coach John McKay at the University of Southern California. Although he was never an official member of McKay's staff and was never on the USC payroll, he used his contacts in the LA-area sports scene to help bring in many top recruits - including O.J. Simpson - and help the Trojans to three national championships. Dekeado speaks about how recruiting has changed since the 60s as well as other important issues in college football today.
Doc's Sports - How did you get involved with recruiting for USC?
Chuck Dekeado - Oh, boy. We are going back to the late (1950s). I was very much involved in the athletic programs in El Segundo, Calif. Pete Bethard, (former San Diego Chargers General Manager) Bobby Bethard's younger brother, was a hell of a quarterback. I got very close to him at a very young age. When he decided to go to college his choices were Baylor and SC. I didn't even know where SC was at the time. I just knew it was in LA. His older brother and I convinced him 'you are not going to live in Waco, Texas when you are done (with school), you are better off staying at SC.' Now this was before the time when you signed any letter. You weren't officially at a school until you went to a class. You were open market right up until the first day of class. When (Bethard) went to SC I started hanging around and one of the coaches approached me and said 'we understand you are heavily involved in programs in the South Bay area.' One thing led to another and I started evaluating talent for them. The LA city schools back then were given $5,000 to operate all of their athletic programs. That's paying for referees and also the security they had to have. So, consequently, they couldn't even film the games. So if you weren't there to see and go to practice and watch, a lot of times you didn't get the opportunity to bring a kid with talent into your program. I used to go watch parts of 100 high school games each fall.
DS - So a hard working scout used to be able to get an edge over the competition?
CD - That was it. If you didn't do your homework you never had a chance. Even as late as (former SC standout RB) Ricky Bell, he was recruited by two schools - LA City College and SC [laughs]. Back in those days a lot of the major schools did not see the forest from the trees. My advantage at that time was that I had a position with a commercial laundry that was a very big supporter of SC. I never took one check from USC. For 14 years there was another fellow and myself who probably did most of the scouting. We would go out and watch the kids. We would go to their classes and get to know their teachers. We would go to funerals, weddings - whatever activities that prospect was in, we would always become part of the family. You didn't have the police blotter to worry about back in those days. It doesn't take a rocket scientist to see that some of the problems these universities have is that they don't know the personality and they don't know the family and they don't know the don't know the background of the prospect they have coming into the school. The NCAA did a lot to develop that problem. I know they try and put it back on the schools and the administration. Whether it is baseball, basketball or football, how in the hell do you get to know a kid when you can only talk to him twice. You are not allowed home visits anymore. I used to go to the kid's house for breakfast and bring him doughnuts.
DS - How did it come about that you did so much work on the recruiting front but never got paid for your efforts?
CD - I spent probably 60 hours a week related to USC football. I was getting paid pretty well by the company I was working for. Hell, I used to supply cars for the freshman basketball team so that they could have a schedule. And that's the way it was back in those days. I know (McKay) never made more than $40,000 there. The money wasn't a big issue. And now you can see the way these kids dress. Come on, it's easy to figure out that something is coming from someplace. Back in my era you didn't have to do that. If you became a member of the family then they trusted you. It was like a member of your family was going to that school and it was like somebody was looking out for them. I've never met (Wisconsin Coach) Barry Alvarez, but if he was allowed to do what we did back in the 60s - become a family friend - he would get 90 percent of the kids he was after. That's because he is a people person but he is not able to use that. The guys with the busy personalities and the poor people skills are given an even playing field. That's not the way it should be. If I am a parent I want to know that my kid is somewhere where someone is looking out after them.
DS - What was it like working with McKay?
CD - If he had been in the automobile business, there would have been no Lee Iacocca. He was without a doubt one of the best judges of talent and one of the best organizers. He won his games Monday through Friday. He cared more for people than anyone I have ever met.
DS - I hear you played a big part in the recruitment of O.J. (Simpson).
CD - We all had a part in that. I have only had brief encounters with him in the years (leading up to) the hassle he got in. Boy, you talk about a jolt -- a kick in the stomach. It just goes to show you that you have to select the people you hang around (carefully). The O.J. I knew, he would do anything to help. In fact, right up until his last year, (former USC Coach John) Robinson used to call on him all the time to help with recruits. I just don't know what happened.
DS - Do you think he is guilty?
CD - First of all, O.J. was gutless when it came to fighting and for him to actually do the deed, no I don't think he did it. He couldn't even take a needle without fainting. In fact, they were going to have the trainer testify in that trial to show what his feeling was for the sight of blood. That's why he had Al Cowlings when he was at San Francisco City College to do all his fighting for him. He really wasn't a guy you would want in a foxhole with you. Whether he knew where it came from, that's a possibility.
DS - What did you say to a player to try and convince him to come to USC?
CD - We used to start when they were juniors. If you waited until they were seniors, the chances are you were really in a battle. Nowadays they can't do that. They can send them a letter along with 150 other schools. I would start with the family. (Sometimes) we would take a recruit to Bill Cosby's house for dinner. That would make a lasting impression. Those are some of the things we used to do.
DS - What do you think have been the biggest changes in the recruiting process over the years?
CD - Back then the recruiting budget was about $8,000. Now it is unlimited. Because of the regulations, you don't know the kids going in. All you know is that he is the best at his position. But do you think that Ohio State would make the move with (former RB Maurice) Clarett knowing what kind of kid he was? That's what they are not able to do and that is why you have problems. There were great ones in our area that McKay decided to pass on and they ended up with problems in the street.
DS - What is your reaction to the recent recruiting controversy at the University of Colorado?
CD - I don't know the assistant coaches there but nobody can make me believe that they didn't know what was going on. If they claim they didn't then they shouldn't be in the business because when that kid steps off that plane on that visit to your school, you have every minute documented where he is going to be. But Colorado is not the only school to do it; they just got caught.
DS - Have you heard that Rice University is implementing a program where prospective athletes must sign a contact stating they will behave on recruiting visits?
CD - What do the coaches sign? [laughs] Who is it that creates the problem? Is it the 18-year-old kid coming in to look at your school who has never been there before? Now think about it for a minute. You are making a kid come in from, say, Enid, Okla. He's coming down there to look at your campus. Chances are he's never been out of the state. Now you are taking him into another state/city and making him sign an agreement that he will act like a gentleman. If that was my son I would tell them to stick it up their ass. 'What do you people sign to make sure my son is given the right guidance?' They are attacking the wrong core of the problem.
DS - Some say that a salary cap for coaches might help ease the competition of the recruiting process. What are your thoughts on that proposal?
CD - They are all overpaid. You think about what they are getting paid now compared to what they were getting paid up until the mid-70s. And coaches were still successful (back then) You just hit the root of the problem - economics. The economics of the game has caused coaches to cheat like never before. Hell, I'm not saying I never bought a bag of groceries for a player. But that was just so they could eat. I never put any cash in their pocket. But you can't tell me there is not a lot of cash being thrown around. Kids are dressing in Armani suits and driving nice cars.
DS - How important were the parents in the recruiting process?
CD - You have got to know the parents. Nowadays that is more important than ever but you don't get to know them. If the parent thinks they are going to be a business agent you know you are going to have a problem. If they are worried about who their kid is going to be living with and their class structure, now you have a winner.
DS - What do you think are the positives in college football today?
CD - There are so few of them. You don't get the kid for four years anymore. We used to have camaraderie. The kids stayed together. They were friends for life. It's not that way anymore. There are very few positives today.
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