And here you were thinking all the drama ended when CeCe Jefferson finally sent in his national letter of intent to the University of Florida. In the immortal words of Lee Corso, “Not so fast, my friend.”
Don’t panic. Jefferson is going to be a Gator, but he’s not the only kid who didn’t fax in his national letter of intent last week.
Roquan Smith didn’t either. By all accounts Smith, a very fast and physical linebacker from Montezuma, Georgia, is a difference maker. On National Signing Day he put on his UCLA cap but didn’t sign the NLOI. And, when UCLA defensive coordinator Jeff Ulbrich bolted to become the linebackers coach of the Atlanta Falcons, Smith concluded that he (a) isn’t going to UCLA; (b) is going to go to either Georgia, Michigan or Texas A&M and (c) isn’t going to sign a letter of intent with any of those three schools. Smith says he’ll commit – one of these days; he says he has no timetable – and then sign his scholarship papers when he shows up on campus the first day of summer classes.
Says Smith’s high school coach, Larry Harold, told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, “I guess you’ll really be able to tell if a coach or college really wants a kid if they’ll agree to do this – letting a kid come to their campus this summer without signing an LOI.”
We can draw a couple of conclusions from Smith’s decision: (1) he’s got some very smart people surrounding and advising him and (2) his decision could change National Signing Day and the face of recruiting forever.
Let’s start with #1.
The folks surrounding Smith fully understand the rules. There is no rule that requires a kid go sign an LOI. An LOI is a binding contract and once a kid puts his name on the dotted line and faxes in his papers, he’s locked in to that school. It doesn’t matter if the head coach is fired or the assistant coach who invested months recruiting the kid elects to take a job with the NFL (see Terrell Williams; see Ulbrich). Getting out of the LOI doesn’t require an act of God, just whatever is next on the list of most difficult things to do on the planet.
So instead of being bound to UCLA, which is 3,000 miles from home, and playing for a new defensive coordinator, Smith has decided to make a commitment one of these days, show up at the school of his choice the first day of summer classes and then sign his financial aid papers. Roquan Smith has the option of changing his mind a dozen times or more between now and the first day of summer classes. Until he shows up on campus and signs those papers there is nothing to bind Smith to any school.
Okay, now let’s talk about #2.
CeCe Jefferson didn’t send in his LOI until five days after National Signing Day so he’s bound to the University of Florida. Perhaps the people advising Jefferson knew that Florida was the best place for him to be, but they could have pulled a Roquan Smith.
Mike Weber, the stud running back from Detroit’s Cass Tech, signed his LOI with Ohio State on National Signing Day. The day after, Ohio State running backs coach Stan Drayton took a job with the Chicago Bears. Because Urban Meyer knew that Drayton was going to be leaving and didn’t alert Weber, Weber’s dad and Weber’s high school coach are making a big stink. Weber has tweeted that he’s perfectly okay with Drayton’s replacement, Tony Alford, and he’s sticking with his choice to attend Ohio State, but up until the moment he faxed in that signed LOI he had options.
What’s happened with Smith, Jefferson and Weber could be the beginning of a trend where kids decide to keep their options open. They might make a commitment in a big National Signing Day ceremony at their school, but they may hold off signing the LOI, opting instead to leave themselves an escape route in case things don’t work out quite the way they envisioned. For example, they might elect to wait until after spring practice to see which coaches leave and which coaches are hired, which kids transfer out or transfer in, and who suffers a major injury during spring practice. Or maybe some kid will decide he just doesn’t get along with one or more kids in his signing class or comes to the conclusion that the head coach or one of the assistants lied to him during the recruiting process.
Until he signs the LOI, he is the one with all the choices and the power and if he and the people who advise him understand, it could force college football to change the rules as they now exist. Matt Hayes, the highly respected college football editor of The Sporting News, has a proposal, which would alter the current rules but wouldn’t address all the problems.
Hayes writes: “If a player signs with a team and the coach (assistant or head coach) who recruited him leaves by choice for another job within 30 days of National Signing Day, the player is automatically released from his scholarship and can sign with any team if he chooses.”
That might solve some of the current issues, but not all of them and these are issues that aren’t going to go away anytime soon. Coaches and athletic directors would be smart to hold a symposium in which all the issues of the LOI are addressed and a better way of doing business is created. If they don’t there is going to be total chaos.
Love him or hate him, NFL Draft guru Mel Kiper is general the most accurate predictor of where kids are going to go in the NFL Draft. Kiper came out with his new mock draft Wednesday, featuring Florida State quarterback Jameis Winston as the top overall pick, going to the Tampa Bay Bucs. Former Daytona Beach Mainland star Leonard Williams, who put in three brilliant years at Southern Cal, is picked to go #2 to the Tennessee Titans. Here is the rest of Mel’s latest top ten.
1. Tampa Bay: Jameis Winston, FSU, QB
2. Tennessee: Leonard Williams, USC, DE
3. Jacksonville: Shane Ray, Missouri, DE
4. Oakland: Amari Cooper, Alabama, WR
5. Washington: Randy Gregory, Nebraska, DE
6. New York Jets: Marcus Mariota, Oregon, QB
7. Chicago: Danny Shelton, Washington, DT
8. Atlanta: Arik Armstead, Oregon, DE
9. New York Giants: Brandon Scherff, OT
10. Andrus Peat, Stanford, OT
Others in the first round from the SEC and state of Florida:
13. New Orleans: Dante Fowler Jr., Florida, DE
15. San Francisco: Breshard Perriman, UCF, WR
16. Houston: Erreck Flowers, Miami, OT
19. Cleveland: Eddie Goldman, FSU, DT
28. Denver: Denzel Perryman, Miami, LB
29. Indianapolis: La’El Collins, LSU, OT
31. Seattle: Phillip Dorsett, Miami, WR
If Dean Smith was college basketball’s Mr. Clean for 37 years, then Jerry Tarkanian was considered the equivalent of black mold. Starting with Long Beach State, where he had his first run-in with the NCAA, Tark spent his entire career battling the organization. It’s a shame that too many remember him only for his battles with the NCAA because he was one terrific basketball coach. Tark finished his career with 729 wins and a .784 winning percentage. For the most part, he won with kids a lot of others didn’t want, not because they couldn’t play but other issues. That earned him the tag of college basketball’s “Father Flanagan.” His teams played hard, they challenged you defensively and they made you defend the entire floor when they had the ball. He wasn’t a good coach; he was a great coach.
At the 2006 Final Four in Indianapolis, Marty Cohen, Guerry Smith and I were given less than prime press seats for Florida’s semifinal game with George Mason. Seated to my left was Tarkanian, who provided a running commentary throughout the game. He was funny. He was engaging. But, most of all, he was insightful as he dissected the game. The comment I remember the most was, “I love what Billy (Donovan) does with these guys. They play hard, they defend every play, they play together and it’s all about winning, not about who gets the glory.” That was the way Tark’s teams played.
Rest in peace Jerry. The NCAA won’t go after you in heaven.
Bleacher Report claims that the Denver Broncos might not want Peyton Manning to return for the 2015 season. While Peyton is getting long in the tooth (he’ll be 39 in March) and the season didn’t finish well, he’s still one of the two or three best quarterbacks in the game and has thrown for 131 touchdown passes in three years in Denver. Perhaps this story will grow legs, but for now I question the source. It’s a site for amateurs run by amateurs but as my grandma used to say, “Even a blind hog can find an acorn every now and then.”
Tiger Woods is also taking a leave of absence although his is self-imposed. Tiger says he isn’t going to return to the PGA Tour until his game gets back to a high level. Tiger missed the cut in Phoenix and withdrew in San Diego, claiming back problems were the cause. It’s interesting but in his statement on his website about why he’s taking a leave of absence, Tiger said it wasn’t related to his back problems. Tiger has finished all 72 holes just four times in his last 11 tournaments, missed the cut four times and withdrawn from three others. It would seem that unless he can arrange a session with Benny Hinn sometime soon that his days as golf’s best are behind him and that Jack Nicklaus’ record for wins in major tournaments is safe.
With the potential for chaos if more kids take the Roquan Smith approach, do you think the 65 teams from the power conferences need to take the lead and reshape the way they do business when it comes to signing players to scholarships?
While looking for some music by blues diva Paula Harris, I came across this Austin City Limits performance by Stevie Ray Vaughn that has been named “One Night in Texas.” His recording career lasted only seven years before he died in a tragic helicopter accident in Wisconsin, taken just as he was getting into his prime as a guitarist and performer. Listen to this 5-song set and if you weren’t already a Stevie Ray Vaughn fan, I think you will be by the time the set is complete.