If Tom Luginbill has proven one thing in his lifetime it’s that he is not afraid to try new things.
He moved around a lot as a college football player. He transferred to Georgia Tech as a junior college quarterback in 1994 only to leave a year later and conclude his career at Eastern Kentucky. He also got around as professional football player and coach. He played and coached for six different teams in four different leagues — none of them the NFL — over eight seasons.
Now 35, Luginbill feels like he has finally found his niche. Today he is national recruiting director for ESPN.com. As such, as chief analyst for ESPNU’s high school football telecasts and an in-studio college football analyst. This week the Charlotte resident will be at James R. Hallford Stadium in Clarkston to cover the M.L. King-Stephenson game.
Luginbill started working for ESPN five years ago as an NFL scouting expert five years while running an independent player-personnel company called Scouts Inc. ESPN and Disney absorbed Luginbill and his company 4 1/2 years ago and dissolved the player-personnel side of the business. So today he’s a full-time recruiting expert for ESPN.com. He is also the main person who determines what high school games are going to be televised by ESPNU each week.
I had a long telephone interview with Luginbill earlier this week. Here’s some of what he said:
Q: So you played football at Georgia Tech but you weren’t there for long (one season, 1994). You guys went 1-10 and head coach Bill Lewis got fired. What was that experience like?
A: I felt bad about it. I liked Coach Lewis a lot but he had got himself into a no-win situation at Tech. A lot of people don’t realize there were some very important people that didn’t want him there. It was hard enough being hired two years after Tech won a national championship it may or may not have been deserved. Then my situation didn’t help him. I hated things didn’t work out. I really liked it there.
Q: After finishing your career at Eastern Kentucky, you gave pro ball a short go. Then you went straight into coaching at a very young age. But it was with the XFL, NFL Europe, the Arena Football League, af2. Why not a more traditional route?
A: [Laughing] I’ve done just about all of it. . . . I had opportunities to get into the coaching ranks in college. But I saw what happened to my father (Al Luginbill) at San Diego State and I didn’t want to go through that. I decided to try to go through the professional ranks where I felt like you had a little more control from a personnel standpoint. I’ve always been interested in the personnel side of the game and I was able to be involved with that and get a lot of experience right away.
Q: How did you end up in the recruiting game?
A: I started working with ESPN from a scouting standpoint, mostly with the NFL. When they wanted to expand their college recruiting coverage from a scouting and evaluation angle, I was a natural fit. We’re not as concerned about the rumor-mill side of recruiting, where they’re going and that kind of thing. Our tactical vantage point is the same as the colleges in that we are looking at these kids from an evaluation standpoint. We’re not doing to the same things as these other recruiting sites. We’re going to spend a bunch of time looking at a bunch of tape on a bunch of kids. We start with 3,000 kids and we don’t even start to rank them until we’ve been through 1,500. That’s how we come up with the ESPNU 150.
Q: I understand you’re the person chiefly responsible for selecting the 20-something games you guys will televise this year. What’s your thoughts on Friday’s contest between M.L. King and Stephenson?
A: Both teams are extremely talented from the standpoint of their defensive front sevens. M.L. King has been decimated with injuries on offense and that’s going to hurt them. Losing [wide receiver] Demarco Robinson is a huge loss for them. Mack Brown, we’re all eager to get a look at him. But he’s hampered right now with the hamstring situation. On the other side, a lot of people are not paying enough attention to [Raymond] Sanders, the running back for Stephenson. He’s a good ball player. We like the Thornton kid [DT Mike Thornton], too. But Martin Luther King is good on defense, too. It should be a great game.