According to CBS Sports columnist Jeff Goodman, The University of Texas-Pan American's basketball coach Ryan Marks is what sports-minded folks call a grinder - a coach of a low-major school - one that has limited funding and less appeal to elite high school players as a place to begin their college sports career.
But after 96 hours or so of shadowing Marks in a grueling, low-budget summer schedule of recruiting stops in four states, Goodman described this particular grinder as one of the best coaches in America and the experience of being one of his peers those days as enlightening.
"I saw the 'other' side of college basketball, without the glitz and glamour-the guys who truly do it for the love of the game and the kids who play for the right reasons," wrote Goodman. "... I'd do it again in a heartbeat."
Goodman, who jumped in June this year from Fox Sports news to CBS as a college basketball columnist, paired with award-winning CBS sports columnist Gary Parrish to write daily blogs July 6-9 at CBSSports.com while traveling on recruitment trips with two NCAA Division I coaches. It was a novel attempt to show readers the opposite worlds that high-major coaches (the "haves") and low-major coaches (the "have nots") operate in to recruit and evaluate new players for their colleges' basketball programs.
Parrish got to travel with Tom Izzo, coach of the two-time NCAA Division I basketball champions Michigan State, via private plane and a decked-out recruiting van complete with flat-screen TV, wireless intranet and a driver. They were able mingle with the nation's most famous coaches and check out the elite high school players and many of the best returning college players at top-notch basketball camps and events, such as the LeBron James Skills Academy.
Marks, who is entering his third year at Pan Am, was chosen from 75 low-major coaches recommended to Goodman by coaching staffs nationwide to follow. Goodman knew Marks had top coaching skills - he had compiled a 91-54 record at Division II St. Edwards University and led them to three trips to the NCAA Division II basketball tournament before stepping up to the Division I Broncs. He also had personality and a program on a tight budget.
Goodman learned early on about recruiting on a shoestring. Marks slept on a cot two of the trip's nights in his mother's Chicago condo. Goodman slept on her pull-out sofa. Fortunately their breakfasts there were also provided conveniently free by Marks' mom. Another night on the road was spent at a Drury Inn, with Marks sharing his room with his St. Edwards replacement. The pair travelled in a car that from day one gave Goodman a sign that he was going to be roughing it, Marks said.
"Literally our first moment together started with me not being able to start my car," Marks said. "It was an ominous start to the adventure."
Along the way as they watched players of lesser abilities and fame with the other grinders and coaches from Division II schools and junior colleges, Goodman learned about Marks' giving away his frequent flyer miles to his coaching assistants allowing them to fly to recruitment venues. He also learned about Marks' great love of the University and dedication to his coveted position as a college coach, an aspiration of his since childhood.
"We really had a great rapport ... and a lot of laughs," Marks said.
Since the blogs were published, Marks has not only heard from many fellow coaches but also from a number of childhood friends about his new "celebrity status." He said his not-too-old Twitter account also went from 150 to nearly 500 followers.
"Our institution and our region are still these hidden gems to other places in Texas, nationally and internationally. I'm glad through this process that maybe it can help draw more attention to all the great things we have going on at UTPA and in the Rio Grande Valley," he said.
For those who missed the blogs and want to read about how Goodman learned to appreciate the struggles faced by the low-major coaches and grew to assess Marks as one of the best coaches in America, go to Road Trip with Goodman and Parrish at CBSsports.com.