EVANSTON, Ill. – Playing one of the lead roles in Northwestern’s football recruiting as the Wildcats’ director of player personnel is a hands on job for Lima Senior graduate Chris Bowers.
It’s also a thumbs on job.
One of the key parts of college football recruiting after identifying prospects is constantly communicating with them to try to get them to visit your campus, to keep your school’s name in front of them and to remind them you’re very interested in them as a person and an athlete.
With the NCAA doing away with limits on texting recruits in 2016, the 41-year-old Bowers can work a cell phone keyboard like a teenager.
“I use my thumbs to talk more than my mouth,” Bowers said earlier this week as Northwestern prepared to play Ohio State in the Big Ten championship game tonight in Indianapolis.
The position of director of player personnel is a relatively new one that has grown rapidly in the last 10 or 15 years in major college football.
When Bowers was hired for his current job in 2011 at Northwestern his staff consisted of himself and an intern making $6,000 a year. Today he and four full-time people and four interns handle a myriad of tasks related to recruiting.
A 2017 Chicago Tribune story compared his job to a combination of air traffic controller, supply chain manager and travel agent. And that’s just scratching the surface.
His equivalent at Ohio State is Mark Pantoni, the rock star among college directors of player personnel.
“The average Ohio State fan or the more serious Ohio State fan knows exactly who Mark Pantoni is and has read multiple articles on him. At Northwestern the majority of fans wouldn’t know who I am and we have the exact same job except we do it different,” Bowers said, with a laugh.
Bowers graduated from Wittenberg University in 1999, then got a master’s degree from the University of Findlay, where he was a graduate assistant with the football team.
After that, he worked at Northwestern for four years as a recruiting assistant, director of football operations and in a coaching role as a defensive graduate assistant. His next move was to Defiance College, where he was the defensive coordinator, for two seasons. Then he was an assistant at Concord College in West Virginia before returning to Northwestern in 2011.
Every player on Northwestern’s roster has been recruited since Bowers was hired as director of player personnel.
Northwestern recruits nationally with Illinois, Ohio and Texas being three of its most productive areas.
“If you go through our starting lineups you kind of have people from all over. Someone on my staff says we have the second most states represented on a Power Five conference roster in the country but I don’t know if that’s true. But it’s a lot,” Bowers said.
Northwestern’s recruiting involves finding what might be called the right fit. Academic standards matter a lot. Overall, only 8.4 percent of the applicants for Northwestern’s current freshman class were accepted.
“We have a process early in recruiting where we’re allowed to submit academic information to admissions and they say yes, no and for some guys they say maybe if this or this happens. If it’s a maybe, that’s tough because you can’t make a commitment on a maybe,” he said.
The Wildcats are making their first appearance in a Big Ten championship game, which has Bowers thinking about the recruiting evaluations and decisions in the recent past.
“Those decisions literally win and lose championships and you don’t think about it at the time. This week has really made me reflect on what decisions are you making now and how is it going to affect the future,” he said. “Probably 85 percent of my time is devoted to trying to help us win a game in 2021.”
The great turning point in Northwestern football was an unexpected Big Ten championship in 1995 and a trip to the Rose Bowl. In the 41 seasons before 1995, the Wildcats had only two winning seasons.
Could a win over Ohio State and another Rose Bowl have as much impact as 1995?
“In some ways it’s as big or bigger. You can argue it’s not as big because we’ve had much more success recently than we did prior to 1995. The really best players want to go where they can win. Getting here (to the championship game) is a big deal and it helps us,” Bowers said.
Northwestern coach Pat Fitzgerald is the second-longest serving Big Ten football coach at age 44 and got a 10-year contract extension last year. Northwestern opened a striking indoor practice facility this year and now finds itself in the Big Ten championship game for the first time after winning its first West Division title.
“We’re opening a $270 million building that is absolutely magnificent and unbelievable in every way. Combine that with saying not only do we talk about winning championships, we win championships here. For years we’ve said we’re a game away, if we just beat this team or that team we’re in Indianapolis. Now you’re not a game away, you’re in that game,” Bowers said.