Coaching changes following National Signing Day have been rampant again this offseason. Georgia, LSU, Alabama, Tennessee, Florida, Oregon, and NC State are among the schools where assistant coaches have recruited prospects through the signing of their official National Letter(s) of Intent and then left the program or been asked to leave.
In some situations, a change in primary position coaches isn’t bad for a particular signee in the long run. But it’s not a good practice for players to have their primary recruiters leave immediately after convincing them to make life-changing decisions and sign contracts designed to heavily discourage transfers.
It’s deceptive, and one of the sport’s many annual practices that undercut the rights of the player.
Coaches move after Signing Day for a variety of reasons. Sometimes a coach identifies and is targeted for an opening but agrees to stay through the recruiting process with his current staff. NC State’s Ryan Nielsen left for a defensive line job with the New Orleans Saints, a position that’s been open for over a month.
Sometimes internal staff issues are tabled until after NSD. On Wednesday, UCLA hired new Oregon wide receivers coach Jimmie Dougherty for the same job. Dougherty was with former Oregon assistant head coach David Reaves during a DUI arrest two weeks ago, complicating his status with the Ducks.
In the case of Nick Saban and Steve Sarkisian, frustrations between the two led to Sark jumping to the Atlanta Falcons. While the OC job in Atlanta wasn’t technically open during recruiting season, former OC Kyle Shanahan was known to be the next head coach in San Francisco for weeks. All parties involved can retain plausible deniability if they’re accused of misleading Bama’s 2017 signees, but to assume Sark was unaware of the Atlanta job until after the Super Bowl is naive.
Coaches don’t tell recruits they’re on the move. Because of the competitiveness of the process, assistants remain visibly loyal to the school that signs their checks, until the last minute. That’s especially true when assistant coaches are terminated after NSD, such as at LSU. Assistants aren’t told their fate with much (if any) advance notice, to ensure they keep recruiting hard for their current employer.
With more assistant coaching jobs potentially coming, this could become more common. In January, the American Football Coaches Association recommended the addition of a 10th assistant coach, with the NCAA expected to vote on that this spring.
The proposal has increased the jockeying among coaches this offseason, and it’s only getting worse. If one more assistant position is suddenly available in the SEC this summer, a coordinator in the Sun Belt or FCS might jump at that job, creating new openings down the line.
Complicating matters even more are the internal power struggles created by the rise of “analyst” positions. Wealthy schools like Michigan and Alabama can hire out-of-work coaches as non-coaching analysts (meaning they can’t interact with players, by rule, but are allowed to game plan or break down film) on staff. Then, if a head coach wants to replace his offensive line coach but not interrupt the continuity of recruiting relationships, he can look for the replacement in-house.
This is bad for recruits. The only solution is to commit to schools, not coaches. More money in college athletics means higher demand for winning, which means more turnover in the coaching market. Compounded with the potential of more coaching jobs at each school, the chances are increasingly small of a recruit playing even three years for the same staff he’s recruited by.
College football players are afforded little power, and even less so after signing a National Letter of Intent. Now more than ever, it’s paramount for athletes to evaluate what they can achieve and earn from a university, not a coaching staff. Of course, separating a school from its staff is easier said than done.