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Jeff Hafley and the bed of Procrustes

My favorite story from Greek Mythology was the tale of Procrustes. Procrustes lived in a cabin way up in the mountains, and travelers on the road to Athens would invariably stop by from time to time. In most respects, Procrustes was an ideal, beyond-gracious host. He would offer all passersby shelter from the elements, plying weary travelers with song, food, and strong drink. Tired from the wine, eventually the guests would retreat to their sleeping quarters, where they were greeted by a very unpleasant sight.

Procrustes lived for one thing, and that was his special, custom beds, which surely put him a notch above your average modern innkeeper with little regard for spinal health. Unfortunately, as the tale goes, Procrustes was a bit of a stickler for detail. He insisted that all guests sleep in his beds, but was equally determined to make sure that they were each a literal, exact fit. That meant chaining visitors down, stretching anyone smaller than a bed's length, and amputation for giants.

Speculation about forthcoming staff changes has been rampant since even weeks before the Rutgers football season ended two weeks ago. Pittsburgh's firing of Dave Wannstedt naturally spawned a flurry of rumors considering that the Panthers have been the RU program's top football recruiting rival for several years now. Offensive coordinator Frank Cignetti, running backs coach Dave Walker, tight ends coach Brian Angelichio (who recruits Eastern Pennsylvania), and defensive backs coach Jeff Hafley (who recruits Northern and Central New Jersey). That speculation hit a fever pitch over the past few days, and now it appears that the considerable smoke had fire behind it with the news that Jeff Hafley is joining Schiano's staff in a yet-to-be-determined capacity.

Jeff Hafley's addition has considerable implications both for recruiting and player development.  As a recruiter, Jeff Hafley fills the sorely needed void for a NJ recruiter on staff that has existed since former tight ends coach Joe Susan left for Bucknell a year ago. Hafley immediately becomes the best NJ recruiting assistant on staff, and should without question assume recruiting coordinator duties. Rutgers has done fairly well in recruiting for the class of 2011, but probably has underachieved to some extent. The fact that Greg Schiano and the athletic department moved this quickly speaks volumes.

On the other hand, Hafley is highly overhyped as a recruiter in the "good, but not anywhere near deserving of the hype" sense. He's Inception in a visor; a 7.5 dressed up as a 10. Don't get me wrong, he's a good recruiter and I'm very happy to have him working for the good guys now. The mistaken perception of him as this unblemished New Jersey recruiting prodigy was created by Pittsburgh propaganda and lazy journalists. Undoubtedly a lot of their success was attributable to Susan leaving Rutgers, and Penn State bizarrely surrendering a few early leads they held for 2011 prospects.

Before Wannstedt's firing, Pitt had five New Jersey verbals this year. Only three of them held offers from Rutgers. Considering that another staffer was Pitt's primary recruiter in South Jersey, Hafley secured a whopping two players that Rutgers wanted in 2011, which is hardly a king's ransom considering how much time their staff spent recruiting Savon Huggins and Miles Shuler (both dropped the Panthers months ago). Adding in Brandon Sacco and T.J. Clemmings in 2010, they had undoubtedly become a nuisance, but it's not like New Jerseyans were all going to be speaking Yinzer in a decades time.

The other glaring red flag with Jeff Hafley's hiring is that he's not a very a good secondary coach. Kenny Britt, Mike Teel, and Tim Brown can attest to that in jointly playing the role of the hero Theseus (who finally put Procrustes' reign of terror to an end) in torching Pittsburgh two years ago in a 54-34 victory. With Greg Schiano being a former NFL secondary coach (ironically, under Dave Wannstedt with the Chicago Bears), I have trouble believing that Schiano would entrust that unit to someone with that bad of record with coaching and player development.

Consider how there are only a few good recruiters on the staff right now. He's not the type to emphasize recruiting as a distinct priority over X's and O's. That would be a Dave Wannstedt move, and totally out of character for Greg Schiano. More importantly, Rutgers already has a defensive backs coach in Ed Pinkham. True, that unit did struggle a great bit in 2010, but it's easy to attribute the problems to a vanishing pass rush up front. Perhaps fielding a revamped defensive line next year will generate enough pressure to the point where Rutgers corners and safeties won't exactly need to reinvent the wheel, but I still cannot imagine that Hafley will coach that unit.

Criticizing this hire may not go over well, but Pitt's secondary has literally been so bad under his watch that it is not outlandish to analogize being tortured by a mythical psychopath. With any luck there is a major reshuffling coming and Hafley coaches a different unit. Rutgers fans are left to frantically contemplate the possibilities how to fit him in to a group of coaches without a natural vacancy. However, if he does coach defensive backs next year, then Schiano is overcompensating for the current assistant deficiencies with new ones. This will end up being a net positive if Rutgers can get one or more of Pitt's offensive assistants to switch sides, but not anywhere close to the unambiguously positive move that it will be portrayed as being.