The college football season is reaching its crescendo, which means that soon the firing season will begin. Head coaches and their staffs will be let go and replaced, and the domino effect of one firing will affect many institutions. We’ve already had one high-profile firing at USC (Lane Kiffin was let go early in the season) and that change alone will have a significant domino effect in the coaching industry as USC football is considered a top-tier coaching position.
What happens to the football recruits who have verbally committed to X University, only to have the university fire the head coach who approved their verbal commitments, often made by assistant coaches who might not be retained by the new head coach? What happens to the recruits who have verbally committed to Y University, whose head coach and staff leaves to take the job that just opened up at X University?
The short answer is, it all depends. How good is the prospect? Does he come from fertile recruiting territory where bad public relations with local high school coaches could cripple a school’s future recruiting efforts? Does the new staff feel confident in its ability to successfully detour to their new school the prospects whom they originally recruited for their previous school? How much time is left before signing day? And so on.
As much as some would like to maintain the notion (fiction?) that prospects sign with the bricks and ivy of X University, the reality is that football prospects typically commit to a particular school in large part based on their feelings for the head coach and their position coach at the university.
Remember, verbal commitments are not binding on either the prospect or the institution, and there is no NCAA violation should either side change its mind. This can and does lead to hard feelings among competing coaches, but the general industry practice is that recruitment does not cease until a prospect has actually signed a letter of intent. See this article for the reality of football recruiting in the Big Ten.
The earliest that high school students may sign a national letter of intent in football is the first Wednesday in February of any given year. Depending on the timing of bowl games involving candidates for a head coaching job, a school might not hire its new coach until shortly before signing date. That typically presents the worst-case scenario for both the school and the prospect.
A top prospect probably can feel confident of his continued desirability by the new coaches, and also probably will be able to land on his feet at another school if he doesn’t like the new coaches. On the other hand, a more average prospect should be very concerned. As you can imagine, coaching changes lead to a great deal of uncertainty and anxiety among recruits and their families. This article focuses on one such situation involving the University of Cincinnati, and this is hardly an unusual occurrence. The article notes the difficult position a recruit can find himself in if he stops talking with other schools once he makes a verbal commitment.
If a football prospect has discontinued his contact with all other schools, and then gets bad news as a result of a coaching change at the school he had wanted to attend, then the young man is in a tough spot. I don’t know if this is still the case, but back in the day when I was an NCAA investigator, it was common for schools with a new football staff to place a football recruit that they were not sure about in a junior college with which they had a close relationship. Their hope was to sign the prospect a year down the line, or at least prevent another school from signing him in the current year.
It’s a shame that what typically starts as an exciting experience for both the young man and his family sometimes becomes a stressful experience for all concerned when a scholarship offer disappears due to a coaching change. The “Firing Season” in college football will soon be on us, and again this year it will have dramatic implications for many young men and their families.
Good luck to any of you whose family is going through the recruiting process at this time!
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