Warren Central High School senior tight end Evan Faunce’s college football future appeared set when he committed to Western Michigan in July.
Even when coach Bill Cubit was fired, Steve Casula, Western Michigan’s now-former tight ends coach, assured Faunce that commitments are honored the vast majority of the time. But Western Michigan hired Tampa Bay Buccaneers receivers coach P.J. Fleck as head coach Dec. 17 and he withdrew Faunce’s scholarship offer a few weeks before signing day on Feb. 6.
Faunce was stunned. He had never talked to any of the new coaches in person.
“The first conversation was, ‘I’m sorry, we don’t want you,’ ” said Faunce, who added he was told the decision was made after the coaches reviewed video. “It was a big shock to me because I can’t believe a coaching staff wouldn’t evaluate the player’s personality and characteristics as a person.”
Faunce and Carmel’s Matt Sinclair verbally committed to the previous coaching staff and then had the scholarship offers rescinded when the new staff was brought in. According to NCAA rules, verbal committments are non-binding for the athlete and school, but Fleck’s decision came too late for two of the players to receive another Division I scholarship. The NCAA would not comment further on the subject.
Fleck said his decision to start recruiting fresh was for the good of the program and that recruits “commit to the coaching staff.” That is in contradiction to the National Letter of Intent that Faunce had pledged to sign. Faunce and Sinclair said one of the reasons they stuck with their commitments was because they liked the school, not just the coaches.
Carmel coach Kevin Wright and recruiting analyst Tom Lemming believe schools should keep their pledge to committed players. Wright said he will not communicate with Fleck and Lemming suggested the Western Michigan coach would have a hard time recruiting any Indianapolis schools. But Lemming also believes this trend will increase.
“Kids get vilified for changing their minds,” Wright said. “There’s a huge difference between a kid who changes his mind and a university who decides to nullify an offer because they change coaches. I think the coaches represent the university. The offer should stand as long as a student is in good standing academically and has no other issues.”
‘A rough deal’
By the time Faunce found out he didn’t have a scholarship offer, the other schools that had been recruiting him had either filled their spots or had offers out to other athletes.
Faunce is walking on at Ball State and hopes to earn a scholarship but Faunce’s father, Jay, said the family will have to take out loans to cover the first year of school. Faunce also didn’t apply for academic scholarships he could have qualified for because of the offer from Western Michigan.
“It’s absolutely a hardship,” Jay Faunce said. “Now we’re scrambling for money.”
Sinclair was told by an assistant in early January that Fleck wanted to sign a tackle instead of a guard. Sinclair said he was shocked because he had been committed since late June. He’ll play at Division II Indianapolis, where a majority of his tuition and room and board will be covered by athletic and academic scholarships.
“I stuck with (Western Michigan),” he said. “I tried to call the new coach and he never returned my call.I talked to a bunch of schools afterwards but everyone had filled up. It was a rough deal, but I’m still going to get a chance to play college ball.”
Jay Faunce also said he couldn’t reach Fleck and calls were not returned.
Wright was upset because players are pressured to make early decisions. Sinclair didn’t attend camps or take visits to other schools after he committed, but was left without a full athletic scholarship and opportunity to play Division I football. Wright said he’d never had a new staff not honor a previous commitment.
“I told (the Western Michigan coaching staff) not to bother coming back to recruit Carmel kids because I know how they do business now,” Wright said. “Those things come back to haunt you. Maybe they think it helps them in the short run.”
Sign of the times?
Fleck listed several reasons he needed to start the recruiting process over:
* The former staff didn’t provide a complete list of players who had committed. “There were some kids who said they were committed who, when I finally dug around, they didn’t even have an offer,” Fleck said. “When you take over a job, there is a lot of false information that is out there.”
* He was installing different schemes.
* Players commit to the coaching staff that offers more than the school.
The third reason is in direct conflict with the National Letter of Intent athletes would have been signing, which states:
“Coaching Changes: I understand I have signed this NLI with the institution and not for a particular sport or individual. If the coach leaves the institution or the sports program (or is not retained), I remain bound by the provisions of this NLI. I understand it is not uncommon for a coach to leave his or her coaching position.”
Fleck said the guideline from athletic director Kathy Beauregard was to determine whether the player who had previously committed fit with his approach.
“You can tell a kid (you’re) running a different system and they might want to look around,” Lemming said. “But if the kid insists on staying, the normal rule of thumb is the coach keeps him.
“(Rescinding verbal offers) may be on the incline now because new coaches used to have five years to turn a program around and a lot of times now it’s down to two years. There is more pressure on college coaches to win right away.”
Fleck said he would support an earlier signing period for football players so committed players wouldn’t be caught between two staffs. Most basketball players sign a binding national letter of intent in November, rather than waiting for the later period from mid-April to mid-May.
“I know if it was me, I would be ticked,” Fleck said of the players who had scholarship offers pulled. “I also know if it was me, I would have showed up in the office of the head football coach, telling him I was dying to still be here.”
Fleck, however, didn’t take the position at Western Michigan full-time until Jan. 3 due to his duties with Tampa Bay and there was a dead period from Jan. 7-10 in which he is not allowed to have face-to-face contact with prospects. The dead period didn’t prevent him from calling prospects.
Lemming said he expects it will be difficult for Fleck to recruit in the Indianapolis-area.
“(Your) word is usually your bond and you are not only committing to that coach you are committing to that school,” Lemming said.