Miami takes a new approach to grad transfers

Mark Richt's tactic of taking to Twitter may prove fruitful if Miami can land a running back. Shanna Lockwood/USA TODAY Sports

AMELIA ISLAND, Fla. -- Mark Richt is looking for a running back.

This does not qualify as breaking news. In fact, if it were, Richt would be the man credited with breaking the story because, just last week, he took to Twitter to let the world know.

In this new era of graduate transfers in college football, Richt placed the recruiting equivalent of a personal ad. And until there's a Tinder for transfers -- swipe left if you like Miami! -- it seems like as good a battle plan as any.

"I wasn't targeting a kid," Richt said, "but I don't even know if a kid is in position to want to transfer. Maybe you find a guy who's interested, and then you check him out and find out if he's going to work out or not."

This is somewhat uncharted territory in college football, where the rules -- the strict NCAA guidelines and the etiquette that coaches are supposed to follow -- are largely being made up on the fly, so there's no ideal way to identify targets. With more and more players graduating early due to year-round coursework, the NCAA saw a threefold increase in graduate transfer rates in men's sports from 2011 to 2015. In football, that increase has been significantly higher.

In Richt's own division, transfers figure to play a big role. At North Carolina, coach Larry Fedora is dabbling with graduate transfers for the first time in his career -- nabbing four from other schools, including former LSU quarterback Brandon Harris -- in hopes of filling some big needs. How will it work? Fedora is the first to say he's not entirely sure. He hopes the new arrivals will fit with his current team, the chemistry will work, and the system will prove easy enough to learn quickly.

At Pitt, coach Pat Narduzzi has a little more experience with transfers, including this year's likely starting quarterback, Max Browne, from USC. Still, Narduzzi was impressed by Richt's openness in appealing to potential transfers.

"That's not a bad idea," Narduzzi said.

Pitt landed Browne through a mix of interest from the quarterback and aggressiveness from Narduzzi's staff. Browne and his brother made a list of five potential schools and Pitt made clear it was interested.

In other places, however, Narduzzi has heard some less above-board approaches.

"I've heard of staffs now reaching out and looking at rosters at 1-AA and non-Power 5 schools," he said. "I can respect what Mark did. He just put it out on Twitter."

Officially, the recruitment of a graduate transfer -- or any transfer, for that matter -- cannot begin until he's been granted his release from his current school. But the rules are malleable, and it's not hard to find some middle men to test the waters. That's where things get sketchy. In an age when graduate transfers are proliferating to a point that college football has something approaching its own form of free agency, there's incentive to push the envelope.

On the other hand, most coaches are wary of bringing in a player for one year without being sure he's a good fit. Selfishly, Richt said, there's little downside to a grad transfer. But for the player, it's a critical choice.

"You can still bring in a midyear, and he doesn't keep you from signing another guy in the next year's class, so it doesn't cost you anything," Richt said. "But you don't want to bring in a guy who's miserable. The kid gets one shot, and I want him to have his best shot."

That's certainly worked well for a handful of transfers, from Russell Wilson in 2011 (when just 17 graduate transfers occurred in football) to Syracuse's Amba Etta-Tawo last year (when 108 switched schools). And in 2017, Browne and Harris figure to play big roles as graduate transfers.

Some will work out. Others, not so much. That's the point, Richt said. There isn't a game plan, really. The rules are flexible, the outcomes varied and the players diverse. So why not simply throw something out on social media and see what happens?

"It's a brand-new thing," Richt said. "If there was years and years of it, and you could predict, but I just don't know what to expect."