Jeff Hafley made his mark on the Pitt coaching staff when, as a first-year graduate assistant in 2006, he displayed his dedication and desire to coach Division I football by sleeping on an air mattress in his office.
“I think that’s got to make an impression on you,” Pitt coach Dave Wannstedt said. “Either the guy is really committed or he’s out of his mind – in some cases, both.”
Wannstedt believed the former over the latter, and promoted Hafley to Pitt’s secondary coach when Chris Ball left for Washington State last year. Hafley, a Montvale, N.J., native, immediately volunteered to focus his recruiting efforts on his home state even though Pitt had landed only three New Jersey prospects in the previous four seasons.
“We had recruited New Jersey, just didn’t have one specific guy focused on it. You’ve got to get one guy to focus in on New Jersey, and I wanted to,” Hafley said. “When I got hired, I said, ‘Coach, I’d like the shot to recruit New Jersey. It has great football, and they all know Pitt. It has great tradition there, they know it. Let me get a shot at it.’ I’m from New Jersey, and I think that has a lot to do with it, being a Jersey guy and going back into that state and recruiting.”
Hafley showed the same passion toward recruiting as he did his sleeping habits, using a tireless work ethic to help the Panthers sign five Jersey recruits in the Class of 2009: safety Kevin Adams of Montvale’s St. Joseph Regional, running back Ray Graham of Elizabeth, defensive back Jason Hendricks of Hudson Catholic, running back Dion Lewis of Blairstown Academy and defensive end Bernardo Nunez of Hoboken.
“That’s the way I did it,” Hafley said. “I went into recruiting New Jersey with that mentality in the spring. I was behind, because I didn’t get a year or so to know these kids as juniors. I went in and tried to hit as many high schools as I could each day, to get to know the coach and get into it and show my face. I just wanted to lay down a foundation, so when I came back in a year that I thought maybe they could welcome me in.”
Hafley’s success shouldn’t come as a total surprise, considering he’s not your average graduate assistant. A 2001 Siena College graduate, he spent four seasons as the defensive backs coach and recruiting coordinator at the University of Albany before taking a step backward to move forward.
“Recruiting is recruiting,” Hafley said. “You go out and everybody is driving around, no matter what level you’re on. My shirt (logo) changed. The biggest thing I noticed was, now I’m recruiting for such a great school with such a great head coach. That’s the bottom line. We all help one another out. I had David Walker and Greg Gattuso with me at times, but to be able to walk in and say, ‘I’m with Dave Wannstedt’ helped out a lot. To recruit for a guy like coach is so much fun.”
Wannstedt certainly has taken notice, especially considering that Hafley kept Pitt in the running for highly regarded Jersey recruits in tight end Malcolm Bush, safety Josh Evans and defensive tackle Isaac Holmes until the eve of Signing Day. Wannstedt said Hafley was updating him until almost midnight Tuesday.
“He was staying alive on it, fighting it. We were in a tough battle. Usually, when you recruit that hard – even on the kids you don’t get – you’re building a lot of relationships with high school coaches and principals and guidance counselors,” Wannstedt said.
“That school is going to have somebody else come up, and you’re going to get them because you’ve spent so much effort into somebody you didn’t get. You reap what you sow. If you put that much time in, you’re going to have success.
“All of a sudden, overnight, he’s turned into a very good recruiter for us. Jeff Hafley was a full-time secondary coach at the University of Albany and gave up his full-time job to come here and be a graduate assistant. He came here hoping to get an opportunity. When you make a sacrifice like that, it usually comes with a lot of hard work.”
And hard work sometimes comes at a price.
Hafley recalls feeling like a zombie by the end of that first year as a graduate assistant. After a season of sleeping in a shared office, he can laugh at the sacrifices he made to crack the D-I coaching ranks.
“What’s funny is, looking back, it was hard,” Hafley said. “Blowing up the air mattress and sleeping under my desk just about every night but Thursday, it starts to hurt after a while. Your body hurts by the end of the season. You’re worn down. The plus of that was I was the first one there in the morning and the last to leave.”
That routine hasn’t changed for Hafley, though he is happy to report that he has invested in a “great new mattress.” Now that Signing Day has come and gone, maybe he will get a chance to finally put it to use.