USA TODAY High School Sports has a weekly column on the college recruiting process. Here, you’ll find practical tips and real-world advice on becoming a better recruit to maximize your opportunities to play at the college level. Joe is a former college-athlete and coach at the NAIA level, where he earned an NAIA National Championship. Joe is just one of many former college and professional players, college coaches, and parents who are part of the Next College Student Athlete team. Their knowledge, experience, and dedication along with NCSA’s history of digital innovation, and long-standing relationship with the college coaching community have made NCSA the largest and most successful athletic recruiting network in the country.
Consider this scenario: You and your family spend countless hours reaching out to coaches, visiting schools and trying to find your best college fit. You’re down to two schools that you like equally. However, you start to develop a strong connection with the coach at School A. You can see yourself competing on their team for the next four years, and you decide to commit to School A. Just after you sign your National Letter of Intent (NLI), that coach takes a new position at a different school. Now, you’re left wondering what you should do.
The numbers behind college coach turnover
This scenario is more common than you think. Especially in sports like D1 basketball and D1 football, coaches cycle in and out of schools at an increasingly rapid rate. Of the 650 head coaches and assistants who were coaching at football Power Five schools in 2011, 66 percent left the staff by 2015, according to CBS Sports. The SEC had the largest turnover rate of the Power Five, with about 72 percent of head coaches and assistants leaving between 2011 and 2015.
And these changes are not unique to just football or division 1. In fact, roughly 20 percent of D1, 25 percent of DII and 30 percent of DIII volleyball coaches will change jobs within one year, according to The College Volleyball Coach.
How coach turnover can affect your recruiting
Whether coaches are fired, hired elsewhere, retire or take on a new role, this change up can leave young recruits in the lurch. Here’s what that means for student-athletes:
- You might lose your verbal offer. Verbal offers are basically hand-shake agreements between a coach and a player. However, if the program gets a new coach, they may want to recruit their own athletes. Because verbal commitments aren’t legally binding, they don’t have to keep athletes who don’t fit with their vision for the program.
- The structure of the program could be completely different. The incoming coach may move you from offense to defense, change your position—or bench you. In many cases, a new coach or assistant coach is coming into the program to shake things up. Unfortunately, that could mean you don’t get what the former coach promised.
- You many lose your scholarship after a year. If you’ve already signed your NLI with a school before a coach leaves, your scholarship is usually safe for the upcoming school year. However, in most NCAA sports and division levels, that scholarship is not guaranteed the following three years. The new coach may not award your full scholarship—or even an athletic scholarship in general—if you aren’t performing to their standards.
- Your experience at that school could be relatively the same. For some recruits, a change in coaches is disheartening at first, but then nothing really changes. In fact, many recruits are perfectly happy to be part of a new coaching staff. Chadarryl Clay committed to play women’s basketball at Auburn, and not long after, the coach left the program.
She told ESPN, “I’m committed to Auburn, and I’m eager to see who the new coach is. Auburn has a great class coming in and I’m looking forward to playing with the new and old players.”
What you can do when the coach who recruited you leaves
Depending on where you’re at in your recruiting, you have a couple different options if the coach who recruited you leaves the program.
If you haven’t signed an NLI with the school, you are still able to talk to other coaches. We always emphasize the importance of exploring as many opportunities as possible in the recruiting process, and this is a prime time when those efforts will pay off! Start reaching back out to coaches you were in touch with before.
If you have signed your NLI with the school, you’re locked in to playing there for at least a year. During this year, you can figure out if you want to play for the new coach or you’d prefer to transfer to a different school. Before you start thinking about transferring, have a candid talk with the coach. See where you stand and how you fit into the future of the program. Transferring to a new school is a tricky process, so if you can make it work with the new staff, it might be worth the effort. If you are set on transferring, make sure you brush up on the rules—because there are many of them! The NCAA has a downloadable guide you can reference if you decide transferring is the route you want to take
Some elite athletes purposefully don’t sign an NLI to avoid being stuck with a program if the coach who recruited them leaves. However, only the most elite recruits have the leverage to pull this off. For most student-athletes, the best way to avoid disappointment is to choose a college based on the school itself, rather than the coach. Does the school offer your major? Can you imagine yourself living there for four years? Do you like where it’s located? After you’ve determined if the school is a good match for you, then you can consider which coach you’d like to play for.