But before Smith signed with the Burins, he and his coach decided that they would go eat lunch first. It was a move the two had discussed the night before.
On the way back from lunch Smith and his coach started getting frantic text messages from Georgia’s coaching staff. The Bulldogs had gotten word that Jeff Ulbrich, who was the primary recruiter and the person Smith was closest with at UCLA, had been hired by new Atlanta Falcons coach Dan Quinn.
Georgia was in a panic to make certain Smith had not signed. UCLA was holding on for hope. Smith was confused. Smith decided that he would not sign on Signing Day after all. He decided to take his time a reevaluate everything his situation.
Ten days later he committed to Georgia over UCLA - ending one of the strangest recruiting dramas in recent memory. 2. Josh Harvey-Clemons – Grandpa Says Not Yet
I’m still confused by this one to this day.
Five-star Lowndes OLB Josh Harvey-Clemons came down to Signing Day seeming rather confused. He had narrowed his list to Florida, Florida State and Georgia. His recruiting was hot and heavy with his grandfather Woodrow Clemons, who took coaches to church and even took Mark Richt on a bail bonds call during Richt’s trip Valdosta in January 2012.
On Signing Day Josh Harvey-Clemons picked the Bulldogs, which was expected, on ESPNU about 8 AM. When Richt spoke to supporters around noon he talked about JHC – thinking nothing of it.
But JHC had not yet signed his papers and still was eligible to be recruited and even sign with another school. Richt had unknowingly committed a NCAA infraction, but more importantly didn’t yet know that JHC had not yet signed.
As the afternoon drug on, Georgia still didn’t have a signed letter of intent on JHC. The linebacker needed his grandfather, who had left Lowndes moments after JHC picked the Bulldogs, to sign as his guardian. The problem was that Woodrow Clemons was nowhere to be found.
Day turned to night and even thought JHC had gone on ESPNU to tell everyone he was going to Georgia that was not yet certain. As it turns out Woodrow Clemons wanted JHC to think harder about going to Florida, which is much closer to Valdosta than Athens.
A national media firestorm followed.
But by the next morning, and after JHC had told his grandfather that he wanted to go to Georgia, Woodrow Clemons relented and signed the papers for JHC to play in Athens.
Months later I asked Woodrow Clemons about the entire event, and I am not sure what he was getting at – at least I am not sure I understood his explanation of why he did what he did. He took the easy way out and blamed the media, which is a total cop out.
“By not signing at that particular moment – what was the rush? I had told Josh that I would support him wherever he was going to go – and I have, and I will,” Woodrow Clemons told me that May. “I didn’t have a favorite school. There was a lot of drama afterwards. The hesitation wasn’t about where Josh was going. The hesitation (in signing the letter of intent) was that I had that right (to sign when he wanted to). “I saw it on the news, and people started calling me asking what was going on. But nothing was going on. Had I known the media was going to portray it like that I would not have done it like that. If I had known it was going to get like it got I would have never done that – hell no. It wasn’t worth it.”
3. Isaiah Crowell – Pulls Out a Puppy
These days Isaiah Crowell symbolizes what can and does go wrong in the evolution of a prospect into a player. But during the recruiting season of 2011 there was no bigger running back name in the country, and no single recruit more important to Georgia’s program and Mark Richt’s job safety than Crowell.
Georgia knew how important Crowell was for the future of the program. Entering the 2011 season the Bulldogs knew they had to sign Crowell. But that didn’t mean they knew they were going to sign him.
As the 2010 season came to a close and Georgia needed to beat Georgia Tech to avoid their first losing season since 1996 (Georgia would still finish up with a losing season after a loss to UCF in the Liberty Bowl – marking the low point of the Richt era in Athens), Crowell made an appearance – showing that Georgia was still very much in the race to sign him with both Alabama and Auburn.
After the New Year, Crowell returned to Athens for his official visit. He listened as students chanted his name and held up a giant picture of his face on a stick during a basketball game. Crowell was important – critically important.
So much so that records show that the Bulldogs spent a substantial amount of time and money recruiting Crowell. Georgia’s recruiting reports show that expenses that included trips to Columbus (where Crowell lived) totaled $19,781 – in travel costs alone.
But all that money and attention didn’t secure Crowell. His official visit to Alabama came a week before he visited the Bulldogs officially. All the while McClendon, who was the lead recruiter of Crowell for the Bulldogs, was doing his best to recruit the star running back.
McClendon was in Columbus all day on January 7th. He was back there all day on January 18th – the day before Crowell’s close friend Quintavious Harrow committed to the Bulldogs. When Crowell visited the Dawgs officially in January McClendon’s phone records are littered with calls from Columbus extensions. Five days later McClendon returned to Columbus a final time. He drove to Columbus the morning of January 27th and didn’t return home until after midnight.
Crowell was a priority for Georgia – that was clear to everyone in the recruiting world – and the records prove it.
But the Columbus native was quiet and hard to read. Crowell only called McClendon and Richt a combined three times in January. Richt and Crowell spoke for 13 minutes on January 10th and seven minutes the Tuesday after he returned from his official visit, but telephone communication between Richt and Crowell was limited.
When Signing Day arrived insiders thought Crowell would pick the Bulldogs, but they were not certain. He set his announcement to take place in Columbus on ESPNU alongside teammate Gabe Wright, who picked Auburn that day.
Georgia had recruiting momentum at the time, but it needed a running back to get them through the 2011 season. Without Crowell, Richt would have likely been fired – but with him there was no telling how far the Dawg could go.
With cameras rolling and with Wright firmly with Auburn, Crowell pulled a live Bulldog puppy out for the entire world to see – giving away where he was headed and giving Georgia hope about the future.
4. 2010’s Swing and Miss(es)
Georgia’s 2009 season was the worst of the Mark Richt era at the time, but it had nothing on that winter’s recruiting results. After the season Richt fired nearly all of his defensive staff. The transition from Willie Martinez and company to Todd Grantham and crew was rocky on the recruiting trail.
Quick recap from February 4, 2010: “Two of the top three players in the state signed with the Vols… even though UT went through a messy coaching change weeks before Signing day. Schools with a name other than “Georgia” had more players signed from the Peach State top ten than the Dawgs did (Georgia had three – ONLY THREE – players signed from the top ten in state).”
By the time Signing Day rolled around the Dawgs were looking for recruiting momentum in any form they could get, but they looked more than they found.
The same day Rogers decommitted from Georgia, Lowndes LB Telvin Smith decided to re-commit to Florida State instead of picking Georgia. On Signing Day Georgia totally whiffed on receivers. Five-star Tampa Catholic WR Christian Green picked Florida State over Georgia – to no one’s surprise. Meanwhile Georgia started the day off by losing three-star Union Grove WR Jordan Akins to Central Florida… Central Florida.
It was bad. Georgia finished ranked No. 21 in the country in recruiting – the Bulldogs’ worst finish in Mark Richt’s tenure at head coach.
5. Laremy Tunsil – Funny Business?
It shouldn’t have been as difficult as it was, but that’s recruiting. Lake City, Florida OL Laremy Tunsil picked Ole Miss over Georgia on Signing Day even though he had privately committed to the Bulldogs prior to Singing Day.
Tunsil’s sining to the Rebels set off a fire storm of criticism against Ole Miss including allegations of cheating. The finger pointing angered Rebel head coach Hugh Freeze so much that he took to twitter himself – calling out those calling out the Rebels.
“If you have facts about a violation, send it to email@example.com. If not, please do not slander these young men or insult their family,” he tweeted.
And so they did. According to the Memphis Commercial-Appeal Mississippi’s compliance office got 85 emails regarding recruiting. Some of them were not serious – including this one: “Go home Hugh, you’re drunk.” – but 31 of them were serious enough for the Rebels to take a second look at.
Cheating or not, Ole Miss signed the No. 10 class in the country. The Rebels followed that up with a No. 18 class in 2014.