Next season, there will at least be 28 new head football coaches at Football Bowl Subdivision (FBS) colleges. That’s a turnover rate of nearly 21 percent.
Here’s an even bigger, and certainly related number: leading into National Signing Day on Wednesday, 45 of the top 160 players, roughly 28 percent, are uncommitted. That doesn’t count the “soft commits,” players who might change their minds during the regular signing period for National Letters of Intent that begins Wednesday and ends April 1. The number of uncommitted players heading into signing day is more than double what it was five years ago.
The huge turnover in college coaches has led many recruits to hit the pause button on their recruitments.
St. Thomas Aquinas (Fort Lauderdale) wide receiver Sam Bruce committed to Miami in 2014, then went on an official visit to South Carolina when Mark Richt took over the Hurricanes. Last week, he said he would stay with Miami after all.
“I have kept in close touch with Coach Richt and examined what kind of guy he is,” Bruce said in December while he was still trying to decide. “I wanted to see what he’s all about. (Richt’s hiring) put me on pause to see what he was going to do. I feel like I can go in any offense and perform and excel. I feel that I am athletic enough to do that. It’s just picking a school for after football. I can go to any school and God willing, get drafted into the NFL.”
As much as the turnover has been huge among head coaches, it’s even greater among assistant coaches, the ones who often have the most contact with recruits.
Travaris Robinson began recruiting Bruce for Florida when Bruce was a freshman at University School (Fort Lauderdale). Last fall, Robinson, then the defensive backs coach at Auburn after following new Auburn defensive coordinator Will Muschamp from Florida, was pushing hard for Bruce to go to Auburn. When Robinson became the defensive coordinator at South Carolina for new Gamecocks coach Muschamp, Bruce took an official visit to Columbia, S.C.
“I think the coaching carousel, as crazy as it was this year and the nature of it, has extended the recruiting process for a lot of these guys,” said Barton Simmons of 247Sports.com. “I think that’s why there are that number of the highest-rated guys available so much later in the process. The hiring process this year was to bring in coordinators (from other schools as head coaches) and that made for a lot of turnover in coordinator ranks and assistant coaches. That’s where those relationships are. Kids are trying to figure out what relationships they feel most comfortable with.”
Michail Carter, an uncommitted defensive tackle from Jackson, Ga., made visits this month to Georgia, Clemson and Georgia Tech. The big reason many feel Georgia will sign him is new Bulldogs coach Kirby Smart kept defensive line coach Tracy Rocker, who won the Lombardi and Outland Trophy awards when he was a defensive tackle for Auburn.
“I love coach Rocker,” Carter said. “I’ve known him since the 10th grade and we have built a great relationship. If he hadn’t stayed, it probably would have changed my opinion of Georgia.”
Rocker also could play a significant role in the choice made by Derrick Brown, the No. 9 overall prospect in the class according to ESPN.com. Brown said in December after Smart was hired that the new head coach would not impact his decision much, but Rocker’s departure would.
Flanagan (Pembroke Pines, Fla.) linebacker Devin Bush Jr. enrolled at Michigan earlier this month. While he was sure he didn’t want to follow his father to Florida State, the plethora of coaches on the move worried him.
“It kind of slowed down the commitment process,” Bush said. “I had to go back to the board and think about things for the future. I had to make a decision based off what I want to do as a player and a person and my dad helped me through that.”
Scout.com managing editor Scott Kennedy said the term commitment means less than it ever did.
“It’s cutthroat and only getting worse because the money and the stakes keep getting higher except of course for the players on the field — that money stays the same,” Kennedy said. “What it’s doing is it’s accelerating chaos, more decommits, more flips, more guys trying to get other player to commit. I don’t blame the 17-year-olds for having trouble with the process. The blame should go to multimillionaires.”
Mike Farrell, the national recruiting director for Rivals.com, says schools’ coaching hires should be made independently of how well or how poor a coach’s current recruiting class seems to be. Most coaches will make a bigger impact in their second years with the full recruiting cycle. That has been evident this year with Michigan’s Jim Harbaugh and Florida’s Jim McElwain among others.
“Coaching hires should never be about the current recruiting class,” Farrell said. “If you let someone keep coaching because he had a great class but isn’t the right fit, it’s foolish and clueless. It’s so important to get the right guy. There’s no need to worry about this recruiting class. The second class is the one that matters for a new head coach.”
Farrell also said there’s little recruiting advantage to firing a coach before the season is over.
“I think the more coveted coaches that were hired this year were hired by programs that waited,” Farrell said. “The (Steve) Spurrier and (Frank) Beamer situations are different because those guys made their own decision to step down. When I look at Maryland, I don’t think that gave them an advantage with DJ Durkin. The trend that was set by Iowa State or Syracuse by firing a guy before the last game was disrespectful. It would make me think as a coach, is that where I want to go? At least give the guy the dignity to coach his last game. I think it’s a trend (to fire coaches earlier) but I don’t think it’s a helpful trend.”
Ironically, the number of coaching changes may have turned back the clock in one way. In the early 1980s, Tony Eason, the father of American Family Insurance ALL-USA Offensive Player of the Year Jacob Eason, was a receiver at Snohomish. He didn’t find out he had a scholarship offer to go to Notre Dame until signing day.
“It’s totally different from when I played,” Eason said. “My commitment came down to National Signing Day and that was when most of them went. The board filled up then. Brock Huard committed (in 1994 from Puyallup, Wash.) before the Rose Bowl or something like that and that was as early as anybody committed back then.”
Contributing: Josh Barnett, USA TODAY High School Sports