I believe in the Pat Fitzgerald recruiting policy.
I don’t believe in its hype.
When I look at football de-commitments, I rarely feel bad for the school—with former 2014 commit Jordan Thomas among the rare exceptions.
When I look at football de-commitments, I always feel bad for the players, the ones who risk their reputation on changing their mind.
These are 17-year-olds. Even on the academic side, at 17, I would have swapped from Virginia (in December) to Northwestern (by March).
I still don’t know whether that was the right decision. And I also feel as though the two are comparable situations. You’re young and a whole bunch of things seem right.
Yet we somehow continue to protect the school. Yes, Pat Fitzgerald is a saint, we know that. I respect him as a coach and know that he follows the same mindset: Character and working his tail off.
It’s not bullshit either. I respect his decision to pull the scholarship of those who visit other schools. It’s not heroic. Of course he wouldn’t want his commits wavering.
Instead, though, we need to start creating a culture where it’s okay for recruits to change their mind, up until a certain point. For whatever reason, the Dowell twins changed their mind, and yes, we should sympathize with them.
Northwestern and Pat Fitzgerald will be fine. It’s hard to pretend that NU is the most damaged party here. They lost two very replaceable commits with a very average offer list.
Running back John Moten appears to be one of their most underrated commits. He was offered by Notre Dame the day after committing to NU and spurned Brian Kelly. He might be a better player than Andrew Dowell.
Meanwhile, the Northwestern defensive back situation seems all right. Watch Jacob Murray to turn into an All-Big Ten player: The sleeper safety out of Texas screams “NU star.” They have a shot at Isaac James, and in the end, you can find local guys at DB.
Plus, even with that, they’re already sitting on a stellar class. Jordan Thompson was recently upgraded to a fourth star and he was the guy you couldn’t find a sub for. Trent Goens and Simba Short are California talents with signature personalities. Cameron Green might have been their top target all along. The Dowells had just been a bonus.
But to the Dowells, NU was their four- or five-year decision—the one made in April. When Andrew Dowell called me after his commitment, I’ve never heard someone happier. He was ecstatic. I think he called himself “juiced” in a text when I called him at around 1 a.m.
You imagine that de-commits weren’t sold in the first place. You imagine that they committed to something they weren’t ready for. But the recruiting process picks up quickly. People need to land spots, even when there are plenty open.
This wasn’t close to true. Then, the Dowells loved NU. And for whatever reason, they didn’t anymore. They needed to suffer through calling Pat Fitzgerald with the amount of respect they had for him, Andrew told me Monday.
Note the “for whatever reason.” We don’t know. They didn’t brazenly just happen to visit schools. That’s too gutless. Something drew them to change their minds, and it hurt them more than it hurt the school. And there are obvious complexities. Yes, it was a “huge” recruiting blow, as I said when it happened.
But the twins, stuck together, are stuck with the system that deifies guys who stick to Fitzgerald-like policy. Fitzgerald helps the reputation of his school, yes, but he’s never really the victim.
Instead, the Dowells are stuck looking around. They could re-evaluate which schools are on the market for a running back and a cornerback. They could stick to their current list of offers, which really aren’t that impressive for a four-star duo.
Vanderbilt? Illinois? They’re not touting Michigan State offers and changing their minds to commit elsewhere. They plan to look at similar schools at similar levels. They have to deal with the process of changing their minds. They’re not okay.
I’m not into politicized statements. I’m not saying that the Fitzgerald policy is wrong—but maybe it is less right than we think. And I’m certainly not saying that the Dowells should be criticized for making any decisions.
As someone who covers recruiting full-time, I can say this safely: Here, it’s very simple. There’s nothing to look into.
There’s no need for sweeping articles about Fitzgerald’s genius. There’s no need to look at two four-stars and act like it cripples this entire program.
I suggest that we only shift the focus to the players. It’s about time to. The recruiting process forces them into early decisions, and that’s fine. But it also gives them leeway to change their minds—again, for whatever reason.
I feel bad for Andrew Dowell. I feel bad for David Dowell. They are allowed to make mistakes and re-open their recruitment. Time to protect them. Time to understand who suffers. Time to understand that even though they hurt Northwestern, they hurt more themselves.