Inside Texas State's roster turnover in Year 1 under head coach G.J. Kinne

Courtesy of Texas State Athletics

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SAN MARCOS – Texas State head coach G.J. Kinne has added 51 new scholarship players to his roster, and 20 pounds to his frame, since accepting the job on Dec. 1 of 2022. He credits the roster turnover to research. He blames the extra weight on frequent trips to the hibachi grill during official visits

Such is life as a new head coach in modern football. The old days of turning over a roster in three or four recruiting cycles are disappearing in the rear-view mirror. Colorado set the pace this offseason with 70 incoming scholarship players. Kinne’s Bobcats sit in second with 51 new additions. Arizona State is at 50, while Auburn sits at 41. 

“It is a game within a game,” Kinne said of roster building on the fly. “It is scary. That’s why you must do a lot of research.” 

That research wasn’t as easy at his last stop. Kinne guided nearby Incarnate Word to the FCS semifinals in his lone year in San Antonio. He rode successful transfers such as quarterback Lindsey Scott, who won the FCS version of the Heisman Trophy, and defender Steven Parker into a 12-win season and a conference championship in his first season as a head coach. Six of the Cardinals’ eight first-team all-conference selections were first-year transfers. 

Programs can subscribe to websites that track transfers and help sift through data and tape to identify potential fits. One of the big ones is ran by PFF. The problem for Kinne at UIW was cost. They couldn’t afford multiple subscriptions to multiple platforms, so Kinne did what coaches do in times of adversity – rely on their network.

“We had UTSA’s log in and UCF’s log in and even something from Hawaii,” Kinne chuckled. “Anyone can look good on a highlight from practice or something. PFF tells the truth. It helps us get a better idea of how much someone has played and to view actual footage.” 

The first job of an arriving head coach is to evaluate the current roster. Kinne tasked graduate assistants with building cut ups of every player he inherited at Texas State. The staff watched every player as a group, and then continued that evaluation through spring semester conditioning and into spring practice. That led to some tough conversations at the conclusion of spring practice – for the coaches and the players. 

“There were some guys who left that we didn’t want to leave and there were others who probably had a better chance of getting on the field somewhere else,” Kinne admitted. “There are some really good players who might just not fit the new scheme. We had guys like that. It didn’t mean they weren’t a good player, just that maybe not for our system.” 

Of the 51 new signees, 37 are transfers. Seven more are from the JUCO ranks, and the other seven are straight out of high school – a welcomed change in San Marcos. Eighteen of the 37 transfers came from Power Five programs, which is tied for the most in FBS. Twelve signed from the FCS level, including nine from UIW. Most of them had the same thing in common – production.

“I’m going after that first,” Kinne said of previous production. “Some teams would take the P5 body that has never played, but I’d rather get production. Especially at the skill positions. An All-American receiver at UIW can play FBS football. It is not that much different. The lines are where it is different.”

If you’re wondering why Kinne is so comfortable with integrating transfers into his program, it is because he was one as a player. Kinne began his collegiate career at Texas before transferring to Tulsa, where he became a three-year starter and an eventual NFL player. He knows fit trumps all. 

“I’ve had a successful transfer, so I know how much it can benefit the player and a person,” Kinne said. “The second decision has to be a business decision, and I can use my story as proof.” 

Kinne estimates that he’ll sign 15 to 18 prep recruits a cycle moving forward. He doesn’t see the transfer portal as the future lifeblood of the program. He knows his locker room, and waistline, can’t handle that type of turnover on a yearly basis. The old regime relied heavily on transfers. Former head coach Jake Spavital only signed 10 prep players combined over his last three recruiting cycles. The 2022 class included two prep commitments and ranked 128th nationally according to 247Sports. With only three months, Kinne & Co. signed the 87th-best class in the country. That 41-spot jump indicates a clear change of direction in San Marcos. 

Kinne was hired by a determined administration to win and repair those relationships across the Lone Star State, especially with the Texas High School Coaches Association. Kinne's dad was a long tenured high school coach in Texas. And one of Kinne's mentors is UTSA head coach Jeff Traylor, who coached a young Kinne at Gilmer High School. Texas State joined the FBS in 2012 and are still searching for its first bowl invite. The team hasn’t finished above .500 since 2014. Jake Spavital, Kinne’s predecessor, never won more than four games in a season and was 9-23 in Sun Belt play over four seasons. 

Winning at the FBS level requires risk. Some coaches see the transfer portal as a way to exchange each other’s waste. Kinne views it as an opportunity. Not one without a downside, but one with plenty of upside for those with the right eye – and approach. The goal isn’t to bat 1.000. The goal is lead the league in hitting percentage. 

“Any time you bring in this many guys this fast, you’re going to miss,” Kinne said. “That’s college football. But limiting the number of misses is going to separate the programs doing this right and the programs that aren’t.” 

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