Recruiting Column: Interview with Harvard football coach Tim Murphy

Recruiting Column: Interview with Harvard football coach Tim Murphy

Recruiting Column

Recruiting Column: Interview with Harvard football coach Tim Murphy

USA TODAY High School Sports has a weekly column on the recruiting process. This isn’t about where just the top five-star athletes are headed but rather a guide to the process and the pitfalls for student-athletes nationwide from This week’s article is written by Ross Hawley, the president of the company. is an industry leader in college recruiting. Their technology based recruiting service identifies the right colleges for potential recruits to pursue and provides a recruiting system that is second to none for student-athletes of all talent levels and ages.

Tim Murphy (Photo: Gil Talbot)

Are you the best student in your class? Are you the best athlete in your class? Are you committed to living your life to the highest standards possible? Well, if you’re a high school football player that answered yes to those three questions, Harvard’s head football coach Tim Murphy is someone you may need to meet.

For the last 24 seasons, Coach Murphy and his staff have been committed to being selectively selective with the kids they recruit. As the all-time winningest coach in program history and the class of the Ivy League, I’d say it’s worked out pretty well for him! This week, I sat down with Coach Murphy to better understand what recruiting looks like at Harvard. Here is what he had to say.

Q: Typically speaking, when do you start paying attention to potential recruits?

A: I would say the typical age we start paying attention to a recruit is 16, or sophomore year of high school. It may be easy to spot the top 300 football players on the planet at age 14 or 15. But, it’s not as easy to spot the next 1000 or 2000 that end up at all levels of Division I football. So much of the attention a young man generates as a recruit has to do with his physical maturity. Like many other programs, we start paying attention to a young man when he displays that he is physically mature enough to meet the demands of Division I football. Typically speaking, that’s age 16.

The reality of recruiting is you don’t really know how interested you will be in a young man until you meet him. I make that point to our coaches all the time. We don’t offer kids just based on transcripts or video or emails. It takes meeting them and interviewing them for us to really understand how well they would fit in with our program. A lot of college recruiting is about the gut instinct you have on people, based on human interactions. At the end of the day, you’re making bets on people and you’re certainly not going to marry someone before you get to know them!

Q: What does it take for a recruit to get the attention of the Harvard football staff?

A: The first thing that we pay attention to are academics. How are his grades and what type of a student is he? We could be dealing with the greatest athlete in the world, but if he isn’t a strong academic kid, then we’re just spinning our wheels and wasting our time. At Harvard, the first box we have to check is great student. If we can’t check that box, we aren’t recruiting you.

Beyond academics, we need that physicality that I spoke about earlier and we need to know that the kid we are dealing with has the characteristics it takes to be great. We look for guys that possess similar characteristics to our very best players, the ones that have won championships for us or gone on to play in the NFL. We look for the extremely driven and the extraordinarily resilient kids. Those are the guys that make us Harvard.

Q: Give me your thoughts on verballing early and de-committing.

A: It’s the culture we live in today. There’s so much scrutiny and there’s so much praise in today’s society. These recruits are not immune to that. They get the publicity pushed on them at such an early age and it can be easy for them to get caught up in the emotion of everything that’s going on. It’s all so new. For some of the kids, they develop an ‘all about me’ mentality during the process and lose focus on really what their goals should be. They forget that this is a lifetime decision. My advice to any recruit is to keep the proper perspective on this process. Go to a place that’s going to give you the best shot at whatever your vision of the American dream is.

Q: What red flags do you pay attention to when recruiting an athlete?

A: The biggest thing that stands out to us as a red flag is a kid with great test scores (ACT, SAT) and very average grades. That indicates to us, in general, that kid is an under-achiever. Another thing that really stands out to us is a kid that has changed schools multiple times. That says to us that the loyalty and the commitment to your school and to your team probably isn’t where we would like it to be. It indicates a “lone wolf” kind of attitude. As a staff, we trust our instincts on the kids we recruit. That means we’re not just trusting our instincts on the good stuff. We’re also trusting our instincts on the bad stuff, as well.

Q: What advice do you have for students going through the college recruiting process?

A: You have to take a long term perspective on this. High school will fly by and college will fly be even faster. Take the opportunity that is going to best align with your version of the American dream. Pick a school that will give you a balanced collegiate experience academically, athletically and socially. If you stay true to that idea, you’re going to be in the right situation.


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