Welcome to SEC Country’s daily Auburn Tigers football recruiting notebook with Auburn recruiting beat writer Benjamin Wolk. It’s Thursday and SEC Country breaks down a tough upcoming decision with Richard Jibunor.
ATHENS, Ga. — Confusion doesn’t begin to describe the ups and downs of the college football season for Richard Jibunor.
Before the season started, the 4-star athlete from Athens Christian (Ga.) narrowed his options to Auburn, Florida and Tennessee. Each of those three teams have gone in quite different, unexpected directions this season.
But nothing put a bigger twist in Jibunor’s recruiting picture than when Florida parted ways with two-time defending SEC East champion coach Jim McElwain.
“After the stuff that happened to Florida’s coach, man, I don’t know. I was surprised really. I was really surprised about it,” Jibunor said. “Some fans, man. Here’s how I look at it, man. If I’m a fan, and I see the problems that team is facing, and I see all the players the coach has lost [to suspensions], I should not expect winning every game. I look at the case of Georgia here with Mark Richt [a couple years ago]. The coach had given them almost everything. It turned out good for Georgia, but you can’t blame the coach for everything.”
The following monologue Jibunor went into perfectly describes the Nigerian native who, quite simply, has a completely different outlook on life than any other recruit I’ve ever covered.
He hates the generally accepted idea of blaming a coach for everything. Jibunor sees it as a student-athlete’s responsibility to carry the torch for their coaches. Oftentimes, he sees coaches lose their jobs — or be placed on the hot seat over and over again — because of effort mistakes by the player. But in the world of college football, everything falls back on the coach.
“The players have to fight for their own pride,” Jibunor said. “I believe if these coaches could put on shoulder pads and a helmet, they’d give their best too. You can be a big Division I caliber player and go to a small school and not even play because your attitude sucks or your work ethic is bad. If you don’t put in the work, it’s like that. It’s not all about the coach.”
The McElwain situation was yet another reality check for a prospect who — as a prospect considering three hot-seat coaches — has heard a lot of murmurs throughout the 2017 football season.
“Again, people are always talking about Butch Jones and talking about Gus Malzahn on the hot seat again,” Jibunor said. “So the decision, it’s about the school. Coach plays a big factor, but it’s really about the school you want to play for and want to represent. Are you ready to put in the work? Most teams are doing good, but no one is doing well all the time.”
Jibunor wasn’t trying to downplay the role of coaches.
He dove back into that subject, offering props to the way Travis Williams and Rodney Garner have approached his recruitment. The way they treat him has a major effect on his impression of Auburn, as is the case with Florida’s coaching staff and Tennessee’s coaching staff.
But Jibunor’s larger point hits home for Auburn, as the Tigers face an important three-week stretch.
“A coach isn’t giving you a free scholarship to go eat and sleep and put his job at risk. He’s giving you an opportunity and a chance to go play something you love. The mindset is you’ve got to produce for him to help secure his job,” Jibunor said. “Apart from football, a coach has a family and everything. Winning helps him secure his job. You have to give him the best you can to help him secure his job. He’s going to take care of you.”
In Malzahn’s case, however, Jibunor said his college decision isn’t likely to come down to the head coach, or even the position coaches who have recruited him. It’ll be about the comfortability at the university.
That certainly plays into Auburn’s favor. He’s visited the Tigers the most out of everyone. And in the next three weeks, he’ll be at Auburn for the Georgia game and Alabama game. He doesn’t have any plans to make it anywhere else, which should tell you something.
He expects to make a decision soon. These next two visits should be enough to seal the deal.
“I’m looking toward end of November. I just want confirmation. My heart is a lot on one side. Sometimes I have doubts. Sometimes I don’t have doubts. I want to get to that point where I’m ready and confident enough to do it,” Jibunor said. “I think it’s just a matter of time.”
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