GatorZone.com Senior Writer
(Photo courtesy of Stanford Sports Information)
GAINESVILLE, Fla. – Jon Haskins was out of football in the spring of 2007 when he and former Stanford teammate Kailee Wong had lunch with an ailing Bill Walsh, the architect of the San Francisco 49ers’ dynasty in the 1980s and their former coach at Stanford.
As Haskins and Wong visited with Walsh that day Jim Harbaugh, Stanford’s new coach, stopped by and plopped down at their table to join the conversation.
Football dominated the discussion. Wong waited for the right moment before mentioning to Harbaugh, who had recently taken over the Cardinal after a stint at Division I-AA University of San Diego, that his next-door neighbor back in Houston was a pretty good quarterback and wanted to attend Stanford.
“If you guys like him, he’s yours,’’ Wong said.
Harbaugh had heard of Andrew Luck, but told the group he was focused more on quarterbacks Landry Jones and Terrell Pryor.
Haskins knew Harbaugh a little from their brief time together as teammates with the Chargers in the late 1990s. He chimed in how different recruiting and scouting players is today compared to when Harbaugh, who had no scholarships to offer at San Diego, played or even started his coaching career a few years earlier.
Something Haskins said resonated with Harbaugh, who called him up a few days later with a job offer. He wanted to hire Haskins, a four-year letterman at Stanford from 1994-97, as Stanford’s director of player development.
Haskins was working as a technical advisor for a company that produced football-themed movies and commercials and was set to move to Los Angeles soon. Instead, he took a turn north to the San Francisco Bay area to return to his alma mater.
Five years later Luck is the projected No. 1 pick in the upcoming NFL Draft, Harbaugh is now head coach of the 49ers, and Haskins is back home in Florida, hired earlier this week to serve as the Gators’ director of player personnel.
“It’s a small world,’’ Haskins said Thursday. “This game is all about relationships and working with good people.”
Haskins spent three seasons on Harbaugh’s staff and helped build a 2008 recruiting class that is expected to have at least three and possibly four players taken in the first two rounds of April’s draft in Luck, offensive linemen David DeCastro and Jonathan Martin (OT), and tight end Coby Fleener.
Haskins spent the 2011 season at Nevada and joined Florida’s staff to replace Mark Pantoni, who left last month to work for former Gators coach Urban Meyer at Ohio State.
Haskins grew up in Sarasota and was a USA Today All-American linebacker at Sarasota’s Riverview High in the early 1990s. He was a childhood friend of former Gators defensive back Todd Johnson, also a Riverview High product and now the school’s head coach.
“He was always a fiery player,’’ Johnson said. “He is a football guy. He lives and breaths it. He is going to do a phenomenal job in finding players and researching them and doing whatever Coach Muschamp asks him to do.”
Haskins has ties to a pair of Florida assistants. He spent two seasons with Gators receivers coach/recruiting coordinator Aubrey Hill on Carl Franks’ staff at Duke in 2002-03, and he worked three years with Florida linebackers coach D.J. Durkin at Stanford.
Haskins spent time in the NFL with the Chargers and Eagles and capped his playing career with a season in the XFL for the San Francisco Demons.
Haskins’ college scouting/coaching career started with a phone call to Franks, who had recruited Haskins in high school when he was a Gators assistant on Steve Spurrier’s staff. Haskins was considering joining Tyrone Willingham’s inaugural staff at Notre Dame – Willingham replaced Walsh at Stanford during Haskins’ sophomore season – but Franks offered him a job at Duke.
Haskins laughs at the irony of how he ended up working for the coach who recruited him more than anyone in high school.
“Carl Franks was like a made man at my high school,’’ Haskins said. “He was so well-respected. Florida kind of slow-played me a little.”
While Haskins had a close relationship with Franks, the Gators never actually offered him a scholarship like schools such as Tennessee, Iowa, Miami, Notre Dame, Penn State, Georgia Tech and Michigan. It probably wouldn’t have mattered.
“I wanted to get out of state. I was enamored with Stanford,’’ said Haskins, who finished his public policy degree at Stanford in 2000 and later spent time working toward a master’s degree at Duke.
Nearly 20 years later Haskins walked around the Swamp this week, recalling some of the surroundings he first saw in high school. His new office inside the Florida football offices remains a work in progress as he tries to offer what he can to help Muschamp and Co. close out a strong 2012 recruiting class.
His biggest impact will come on future National Signing Days. Haskins has strong ties to many of the state’s high school coaches from his days at Duke and Stanford.
“At the end of the day the head coach is the one who pulls the trigger on who he wants to bring into this program,’’ Haskins said. “We set the table. What really matters is that two days into camp, our coaches feel like, ‘that kid is going to be really good here.’ And then a year later you really have an idea of how he is going to fit long term in your program.
“When people think about recruiting, they think it’s the sexy stuff – the meet-and-greets and the visits. In reality, in my opinion, it’s more of an interview process. It’s really trying to give our coaches what they want however they want to attack recruiting.”