Looks Like University Of Illinois - Ashton Washington
I don't normally LLUOI when a new Director of High School Relations is named, but I got an email today asking if I could do just that, and I was on the presser Zoom call yesterday, so why not write up an LLUOI? Maybe I'll even assign some Tom Cruises. (Probably not - those are reserved for recruits.)
First off, as I tweeted yesterday, she's very impressive in person. If you didn't see that, here's what I put on Twitter:
I'm not kidding I'm fired up and ready for practice to start. The best comp I can come up with for her - and some people will push against this because he failed here - is John Groce. Engaging, driven, and infectious. If she interviewed at your company you'd hire her tomorrow.— Robert Rosenthal (@ALionEye) May 20, 2020
Hiring a football junkie, to me, is always the way to go. She's an "eat, sleep, and breathe football" person, having attended her brother's practices (with her father often coaching) since she was 10 years old, and that's perfect for this role. While in college she worked for a Texas HS recruiting website (unpaid position), and then her first job out of college was with the XFL Houston Roughnecks. Once Covid hit, the XFL went under and she was out of a job. Joe Price, who she knew from her years working for the Texas high school recruiting website, put her in touch with Lovie, and the rest is history.
And yes, it's history. She's the first female football staffer in a football role. There have been female staffers in other roles, of course (training staff, office staff), but never on the football staff. As you probably saw yesterday, Lovie talked about adding a female to the football staff back in February. And this has been discussed by Lovie well before that. In fact, when the updated floor plans for the Smith Football Performance Center came out (the ones that were released while the building was going up, not the original ones), many noticed that a "female staff locker room" had been added to the facility. Here's that part of the floor plan:
So yes, this was a very intentional move by Lovie, I think. Floor plans call for a female staff locker room, he states that it won't be long before he has a female on his football staff, and now Ashton Washington is hired. But I don't think we should view it as some kind of "he looked for a place to hire a female on his staff and this was it". This was much more like Butler hiring Brad Stevens (what?). I'll attempt to explain.
There's that famous story where Brad Stevens is out of college and working for Eli Lilly but he really wants to be in basketball because that's all he cares about. So he quits his job and takes a volunteer position under Thad Matta at Butler which quickly leads to an administrative job. He stays in basketball, doesn't go back into the business world, and... you know the rest. Here's a quote from Matta in a New York Times article when Stevens took Butler to the Final Four:
"He was just a hungry young kid that was desperate to get into coaching," Matta said in a telephone interview. "He had a great passion and was willing to take a risk to get into the coaching profession."
That's the story here, I think. No, I'm not saying Washington will be the Patriots head coach by age 37 (although, why not?). I'm saying that this is the same story. 23-year old who cares about one thing gets a job on a college staff because the business world just isn't for them - it's gotta be sports. For Stevens, it was basketball. For Washington, it's football.
I was curious about her background, so I looked it up the night before the Zoom interview. I found that her brother was a 4-star recruit in the 2020 class, signed and headed to Penn State, and that her dad played football in college (at both Air Force and Mississippi State). I also found out that her cousin is Josh Dobbs, former quarterback for the University of Tennessee, now with the Miami Dolphins. So this was my question to her during the interview (I'll just give you the full transcript.)
RR: I was doing a little reading last night and I see that your brother is going to be a freshman at Penn State, your cousin Josh Dobbs was at Tennessee and now he's in the NFL, you dad played college football - I'm assuming you've been around football your whole life.
Ashton Washington: Robert you said it correct - my whole life. So I'm the only girl and I don't really have that many girl cousins. I've got my younger brother and I've got my cousins, all guys. Just with that it has taught me how to be tough in the game of football. I'm not playing it, but I'm in the game of it, in the business aspect. So with them just kind of being those extra mentors, those extra pushes for me, that's been the greatest thing overall.
I laugh because my brother, Parker, the one headed to Penn State, I told him that I officially took the job under Coach Smith and he said "that's cool, but when we play y'all, we're gonna beat y'all". I said "OK", so that's a big battle in the house. My mom, she's like "I don't know whether to wear a Penn State shirt or an Illinois shirt". I said "you'd better pick a good choice, it's either Illinois or you just rep the Big Ten overall". So that's the battle right now. You already know that with me in the house, Illinois is on top as of now.
Josh (Dobbs), he tweeted me last night and he called. He let me know that he's super proud. His parents, they messaged me as well. I wish he was up closer, up north - he was with the Steelers. But now he's even father away from me (in Miami). But hopefully I can get him up to see Illy games.
(Yes, she said "Illy" and I kind of love it.)
RR: So if this was all happening a year ago when your brother was on the market, what kind of push would have made to maybe get your brother in Champaign?
Ashton Washington: I would have made a huge push, I definitely would have. But also with that, with his recruiting process, which helps me with this role, was that I got to see the front end and the back end. I got to learn what to do/what not to do when recruiting a kid. What helps the parents - getting in with those moms, with those dads. So that was the best part of his recruiting experience.
I used it, of course, like a networking piece, but most importantly, I was learning. I'm a sponge. I was talking to the first woman coach in the NFL on Twitter today, coach Jenny Welter, and I was telling her that when I was communicating with her the first time I was a sponge, I was taking it all in.
But with Parker, yeah, I would have made a push. I'm not going to lie. I definitely would have made a push.
That reminds me - we should probably talk about her specific role. It's not exactly a "recruiting" role, at least in the way most view recruiting. Meaning, she won't be on the road, meeting with recruits. I'm sure she'll be involved when kids are on campus, but this is not an off-campus recruiting role. Her role is The Connector. Make connections at high schools across Illinois and everywhere else Lovie recruits (well, I guess not Illinois of late), get a foot in the door, and open up conversations that will eventually lead to Lovie and his 10 assistants recruiting players from those schools. It's an organizational role. Make the connections with high school programs, learn about the players there, and then guide that process from the first text between Keynodo Hudson and some recruit all the way through "with that being said I would like to announce my commitment to the University of Illinois".
Lovie has filled this role with various people over the years. You might remember that Nate McNeal was in this role before he left for Temple with Thad Ward. Lovie then turned to Joe Price, but that only lasted one year. Joe Price is now at Texas-San Antonio, the job was open again, Joe Price connected her with Lovie, and Lovie hired her.
My opinion, as mentioned above: it's a great hire. She really oozes a love for football and a desire to be around it. Her first job with the Roughnecks was swept away by Covid, and here she is, moving to the college game, ready to go make connections across the country. She's quite energetic and appears to love being someone who is breaking down barriers for women in football. That's awesome.
Also awesome: "Hopefully I can get him here to see some Illy games".