The man behind executing Mark Richt's recruiting strategy
Mark Richt has surrounded himself with an experienced roster of assistant coaches who have proven track records. Miami fans knew that a revamped coaching staff was needed, but is a less-heralded addition has been a driving force behind Richt’s recruiting strategy.
This past spring, Richt added Matt Doherty to the staff as the Director of Player Personnel. Doherty, who worked for Miami from 2011-2014, was Michigan’s Recruiting Coordinator in 2015 for Jim Harbaugh.
Doherty graduated from the University of Miami with a degree in Business Administration in 2008. Originally from Andover, Massachusetts, Doherty felt drawn to UM at a young age.
“I grew up in a pro sports town. College football just isn’t a very big deal in New England. When I was making my way through high school, this place was smashing everybody and breaking records. The NFL was being absolutely flooded with Miami guys – most of them being drafted in the first round, as we all know. That was captivating to me for some reason. Once I determined what I wanted to do with my life at 14 or 15, Miami sort of became a foregone conclusion. My gut just always seemed to be telling me that I was supposed to be here,” Doherty said.
His love of scouting and the NFL draft process pulled him towards the profession.
“I determined pretty early on that this is what I love and something I could be good at. I had always been unusually obsessed with the NFL Draft as a little kid – this was back when the first round alone was about eight hours long,” said Doherty.
“My dad would watch the first few picks with me, then he’d come back at 7-8:00 at night and find me still sitting there, taking notes on guys being picked late in the third round. So what started as an odd childhood obsession eventually blossomed into an actual life direction. I didn’t want to get into coaching. I wanted everything to do with the personnel and roster building side of the business.”
Doherty said that he discovered the “thrill of the chase” of the recruiting business while volunteering for Mario Cristobal in the spring of 2009 before being hired into the scouting ranks by the New England Patriots that July.
So what exactly does he do at Miami? Doherty put it simply.
“It’s my job to execute Coach Richt’s recruiting philosophy – big picture and day-to-day,” he said.
A major aspect of Doherty’s work also involves making sure that the staff – at all levels – is on the same page. As he explained, the group seems to be meshing well.
“It’s been a blast. These guys are incredibly sharp and they are all really good football coaches. They’re really savvy when it comes to building and fostering relationships. They understand the landscape here and how to cultivate meaningful bonds with people,” he said.
“The energy was palpable the minute I set foot back in the building. These guys have been so well received in the locker room. There’s just a relaxed confidence and intensity about this place. And it comes straight from the top. Coach Richt has an ambitious vision and knows exactly how to execute it.”
As any coach at Miami should do, Richt has maintained the importance of making south Florida the base of the program’s recruiting. With the tremendous talent in the area also comes with unique challenges created by the culture surrounding the game.
“The landscape is more volatile than anywhere else. I think anyone who has competed for players down here would agree with that. And that can be both good and bad. These kids are more exposed than others elsewhere because the state is so highly valued for its talent output, and they are bombarded with college options at a very young age,” said Doherty.
“These kids are constantly being sold on this program and that program, stay home or ditch home. Add on top of it the standard of on-field performance they are held to in the community, as early as the Optimist days. Pressures are coming at these kids from every direction. We’re lucky in that our staff understood this from the start. To successfully recruit South Florida, you have to be completely and utterly relentless. You can’t ever rest, even when you think it may be over. That goes double for the hometown team.”
With all of the forces tugging south Florida prospects in different directions, how does a coach get to the core of a kid and connect with him on a level that the outside factors cannot affect?
“It has 100% to do with relationships. These players want to be able to trust you. That, along with winning football games, is our top priority – to build a foundation of trust and respect with every family we recruit. If a player can’t trust you and doesn’t have a clear understanding that you care about him as a person above all else, then you are wasting your time pursuing him,” Doherty explained.
“The community has to embrace this program because it’s their program. This isn’t the University of Miami’s program – I’ve always looked at it as south Florida’s program. My first experience here as a freshman was Labor Day night in the Orange Bowl in 2004. Florida State took us to overtime, and Frank Gore scored after a strip sack to win it. That night didn’t feel like it was just Miami vs. Florida State. It felt like FSU walked into the stadium to play the entire community, and the guys in orange & green were our 22 representatives on the field. That’s the type of atmosphere our opponents should always have to face. That’s the type of atmosphere this fan base should always be proud of.”
The plethora of talent in the area naturally leads to the fact that Miami cannot get every single top prospect from Dade and Broward. Doherty and the staff understand that and will work through it. He senses the players on the roster are already adopting the mentality as well.
“I think our guys on the team have adopted the mindset of ‘Hey, we’re not for everybody. You don’t like us? Great. Best of luck to you. But we’re going to do us. We know what we need to help us get where we’re going.’ History has done a pretty good job of documenting that the Canes are not for everybody. Seeing the locker room embrace that right now has been exciting, because you can tell they really love and support one another, and they aren’t looking for outside validation.”
Working with Mark Richt for a few months now, Doherty has a good feel for his vision and he’s excited to be by his side.
“He cares about them (players) as people – everything else is secondary. It’s not a front; this is who he really is. I’m amazed at the number of individuals he’s gotten to know so well in a few short months, and his concern for them as people trumps everything else. He is exactly as advertised,” he said.
“It’s been a personal mission of mine to see this place back to where it once was and I want to be a small part of getting it there. It’s been an obsession. Coach Richt has set a championship standard that he is relentless about. He’s here to put this place where it rightfully belongs, and I’m beyond grateful to be part of that effort.”
Miami’s Paradise Camp two weeks ago was heralded as the biggest recruiting event in program history. Doherty played a large role in putting that weekend together. He could not have been happier with the turnout.
“Coach Richt and I were standing together watching the one-on-ones coming towards us, and at one point we sort of just looked at each other knew the competition out there was special. It was a blast. It unfolded exactly how we had drawn it up,” said Doherty.
“It was a celebration of competition. When you celebrate competition, you are by default celebrating The U – because that’s what this place was built on and that’s what we need to get back here. Part of my excitement in the days following the weekend was feeling that come back.”
There has not been this much hope in Coral Gables in a very long time. This is also the time period when the coaching staff can sell the promising future without negative ramifications. Winning would cure all when it comes to recruiting perception, according to Doherty.
“We can only sell hope up to a certain point until it’s time to go out and execute. We know that it’s time to beat some people. I think prospects are going to really enjoy watching this team play this season. Hopefully they can see themselves being out there with us one day soon. I can’t blame a kid who wants to weigh his options. This can be a confusing and stressful period for a lot of them. But it’s time for them to write their own story. And what better character to play in a story than one that puts a proud program back where everyone wants to see it. I don’t think it gets more special or more original than that.”