College football can be a cruel mistress for today’s blue-chip, but also wide-eyed recruits.
Technically, these kids are choosing a university which best meets their educational and social needs. But let’s be honest here. The majority of prep standouts make life-altering decisions based on two primary factors:
1) Geography (proximity to home, family, warm weather or the express desire to play in a different region)
2) The relationships with a school’s coaching/support staff (head coach, assistants, trainers, etc.)
The second item has become noteworthy this week, given Auburn co-offensive coordinator/receivers coach Dameyune Craig’s jump to rival LSU — as the Tigers’ receiving coach.
At first blush, this move doesn’t make sense for Craig (a former star quarterback at Auburn), since it has the appearance of a backwards transition, job title-wise. But then again, Craig’s top-5 ranking as a recruiting closer (source: 247Sports.com) suggests that LSU ponied up big-time for a good receivers coach … who also moonlights as an elite-level salesman.
(Note: Auburn reportedly filled Craig’s staff vacancy on Monday.)
It was touched upon two weeks ago in this column: Recruiting gurus, or positional closers, are the new rock stars of college football, so much so that they deserve to get paid just slightly below offensive/defensive coordinators at Power 5 schools. How effective was Craig with Auburn? In 2016 alone, the Tigers landed three 4-star wide receivers (Kyle Davis, Nate Craig-Myers, Eli Stove) and one 3-star wideout (Marquis McClain).
Today’s subsequent concern: Should recent Letter of Intent signees be allowed to break their commitment to a school (without a transfer penalty), if an assistant/recruiting closer leaves shortly after National Signing Day?
It’s an unfortunate situation, for sure; but from my perspective, it still warrants a decisive no.
Without a doubt, some college recruiters operate like snake-oil salesmen, running afoul with NCAA rules, painting false pictures of hope and/or making recruiting pitches which end up as empty promises. But the vast majority of recruiting gurus operate above board, relying on instincts, determination, work ethic, networking connections and irreverent charm to close the deal.
Just like ambitious and creative salespeople in corporate America.
Which raises two more questions: Why do assistant coaches jump from one program to another after National Signing Day? Isn’t there a more convenient time to make the leap, without possibly alienating or deceiving recruits?
A number of Power 5 schools operate in a para-military setting, where organizational secrets —no matter how grand or insignificant — are protected in hushed tones for as long as possible. By extension, assistant coaches who leave a program can only do this during so-called inactive periods, such as the immediate end to a regular season or shortly after National Signing Day (early February).
Leave during the summer? Positional coaches have already missed invaluable time with their new players during spring practice. Leave before Signing Day? The schools would rather have an exiting coach on double-secret paid leave than allow him/her to join another rival in late January. (It’s all about trade secrets.)
The whole process, to an outsider, reeks of perpetual chaos. But for the insiders, the ones who live for building programs from scratch, the ones who live for working 100-plus hours every week, with few exceptions, it’s easy to recognize and adapt to a new situation … or at least heed the famous words of “Hyman Roth” from the The Godfather saga:
This is the business we’ve chosen.
Yes, it sucks that a particular recruit may have forged a personal kinship with an assistant who’s here today, gone tomorrow. But that’s how it works in college football; and it’s hard to bring substantial reform to a system that’s not necessarily begging for change.
(The money helps.)
It also stinks for the assistants and staffers, committing to coaches and universities on an annual basis, without knowing if certain sacrifices will pay off — in the form of an in-house promotion, a chance to buy (and not rent) a home in the area or the simple pleasure of cashing regular paychecks for another football season … as a means of keeping that house.
Jay Clemons, the 2015 national winner for “Sports Blog Of The Year” (Cynopsis Media), has previously written for SI.com, The National Football Post, Bleacher Report and FOX Sports.