By JOEL COLEMAN
A lot has changed since Brian Baker last coached college football over two decades ago. When the man now guiding the Mississippi State defensive line last had his toes in the sand of the college game, Bill Clinton was still in his first term as president, dial-up internet was the best thing since sliced bread and cell phones were the size of cinder blocks.
For the last 20 years, save for last season when he assisted at a high school in Texas, Baker has coached in the National Football League. Now, Baker is back on a college campus and feels rejuvenated after admitting he’d become complacent in the professional ranks.
“I’m 54 years old and I’ve been coaching for over 30 years,” Baker said. “I consider it a blessing to be in a situation where you are challenged every single day. I guess with human nature, I kind of fell into a comfort zone in the NFL although I had been with several teams and had to learn several systems.
“Although it was a fantastic experience, I did fall into a comfort zone which I am ashamed to say because it shouldn’t happen.”
At MSU, Baker is a new man. No longer does he feel he is on cruise control. While in Baker’s words, “ball is ball”, the threats posed by high-tempo college offenses and dynamic, dual-threat quarterbacks keeps his defensive mind running at all times.
“You’ve got to figure out a way to defend those kinds of offenses,” Baker said.
Still, that’s not what Baker declares is his biggest adjustment now that he’s back to coaching in college. Recruiting was different in the late 1980s and early 1990s, the last time Baker was attempting to lure players onto a school’s campus.
“There were no recruiting services,” Baker recalled. “There were no stars, no ESPN and certainly no coverage on signing day other than local media at the school. It was always a celebration because there was no rankings of classes. There was one game back then and that was the game on Saturdays. Now, college football has become the game on that first Wednesday in February (for National Signing Day) and that’s one season for college football. Then the second season starts in September.”
Social media has changed the recruiting game as well. In Baker’s younger days, a tweet was a sound a bird made, not an online post that thousands and thousands of people could read. Now, Twitter and other outlets have complicated the entire recruiting process as prospective student-athletes share their feelings in public forums. Upon joining the Bulldogs, Baker had to adjust with the times.
“I am an old guy that had a flip phone until about eight months ago,” Baker said. “You might laugh, but it is true. That is just me because I allowed myself to be stuck in the old days. We talk about getting out of that comfort zone and that was one of my things with my flip phone. I didn’t want to learn a smart phone and all of a sudden I had to use one.”
Baker’s technological game is catching up to speed. He has a Twitter account with more than 1,500 followers so far.
While he still may have things to learn in order to use his phone to recruit effectively, there’s one part of the equation Baker says is timeless.
“A kid has to believe in the guys that are coaching him and they have to believe the school is the best opportunity for them,” Baker said. “Mom and Dad are going to hand their kid over to you because they feel like you are the best guy to help them develop into young men and good players. The pitch is exactly the same as it has always been. It’s relationships. After you get through all the other stuff, you want the coach to feel good about you and you want your family to feel good about you.”
On a personal, one-on-one level, Baker appears to have gotten right back on his old horse when it comes to recruiting. Yes, he’s still figuring out things, from his phone to how to slow down college offenses, but all that is refreshing.
After getting too comfortable in the NFL, Baker likes not having all the answers. He’s thrilled to wake up every day in Starkville looking to figure things out.
“There is no comfort zone here,” Baker said. “It is a challenge for me every day and it makes me a better coach. It challenges me to challenge them and make them better players, so I am excited about the opportunity.”