College coaches give opinions on a ‘dark side’ of recruiting

One of this year’s biggest recruiting stories was college football assistants taking other jobs only a day or two after national signing day. It happened at high-profile places such as UCLA, Texas, Florida and Ohio State, among other schools.

Georgia Tech's Paul Johnson (AJC)

Georgia Tech’s Paul Johnson (AJC)

This was immediately after those assistants had convinced kids to sign letters of intent with colleges that they were leaving. Obviously, some of those kids were disappointed by the sudden and unexpected turn of events.

It was truly a dark and ugly side of recruiting.

Georgia Tech coach Paul Johnson gave his candid opinion on this issue, saying “I don’t think I would want to do business that way as a head coach.”

He also added, “I would have a hard time personally misleading guys like that. I wouldn’t do it. I wouldn’t let somebody working for me do it – if we knew that they weren’t going to be here (after signing day).”

UGA fans know all about this type of situation because of Roquan Smith, who is headed to the Bulldogs. Smith committed to UCLA on signing day, but held off signing the paperwork because of a report that defensive coordinator Jeff Ulbrich had accepted a job with the Atlanta Falcons. Smith said Ulbrich told him that he had turned down the NFL job offer, but Ulbrich ended up taking it after signing day. Smith later committed to UGA.

Here’s what some other college coaches told the AJC about the disturbing trend:

USC’s Steve Sarkisian: “I think you handle it ethically. I think you’re upfront and honest with kids. To me, it seems a little bit deceitful, quite honestly.”

Bob Stoops (AP file)

Bob Stoops (AP file)

Oklahoma’s Bob Stoops: “I don’t think there is a good answer to this. I lost a coach the same way. He got hired to the NFL right after signing date. The NFL people didn’t call until that day because they knew it probably wouldn’t work. In other words, the guy didn’t want to let you down in the middle of recruiting. He’s not going to take the job, so they call after (signing day). So unless you want change the recruiting time period, there isn’t a good answer to it. You know, I think athletes should be signing to go to a university, and not a particular one person.”

Oklahoma State’s Mike Gundy: “I think we are in a market now that is very similar to the NFL. There’s a tremendous amount of money involved, and everybody wants to win. For that reason, we’re not ever going to control how that happens. If it were up to me, I wouldn’t allow coaches on a current staff to go out and do interviews with another staff until recruiting is over. But if a coach leaves your staff, you have to fill your staff with another coach. So you have to interview somebody else at some point. That’s never going to change. And there’s no way to ever control that. Is it a perfect scenario? No, it’s not. You’ve got to fill your staff. It’s a difficult part of this business, and it’s not ever going to go away.

Florida's Jim McElwain (AP/Phil Sandlin)

Florida’s Jim McElwain (AP/Phil Sandlin)

Florida’s Jim McElwain: “This is a transient profession. You’ve got make sure that this university is the place you want to be, they have the degree you want to get and all those type of things. I believe a recruit should chose not for a person, but for an overall brand.”

Miami’s Al Golden: “I think it’s difficult. Unless they put a moratorium on it, I think it’s very difficult. I lost two assistants to the NFL. One on the Monday (after signing day), and another on the Wednesday afterwards. I didn’t see either one of them coming. I think it’s just really hard. College coaches are changing during that recruiting cycle, and that month January. And clearly any changes in NFL or college head coaches affect both professions. Then there’s a trickle-down effect on how it impacts both college and NFL staffs. That’s the time of year those changes are made, January and February. I don’t know if there’s a way to quell that.”

Arkansas coach Bret Bielema: “Unfortunately, I’ve seen that for a number of years. I’ve lost five or six coaches to the NFL. I lost my running backs coach about a week after signing day to the New Orleans Saints. It’s one of those things unfortunately that is out there. I don’t how much you can control it, or curtail it. But I think that’s more along the lines with the people that you’re signing with, you know. If you’re a head coach and you’ve got a reputation for being a little bit dishonest or maybe not being truthful during the recruiting process, then it’s going to show up again and again and again in other areas of your program. So, the part that our guys realize is that we’re the same dog every day. We’re going to put things in a way that are consistent. We’re not trying to fool anybody, or make anybody look silly. We’re just trying to put our best foot forward, and help you understand that this is something you can be a part of.”

Tennessee’s Butch Jones: “That has been going on for a number of years. That wasn’t a nuance that occurred this past year. That has gone on before. You know, everything is about relationships. So I can’t comment on other schools with what has gone on. And nobody truly knows the dynamics or inter-workings of each position or each institution. The only thing I can comment on is what has happened here at Tennessee.”

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