Kelley L. Cox/USA Today Sports

Transferring is a Tangled Web

The transfer experience relies greatly on the point of view of the parties involved. Mark DeVaughn explains.

When a standout defensive lineman announced he would transfer to his arch-rival, his car was vandalized.

When a hotshot quarterback opted to transfer, his coach used the media spotlight to insult the kid.

Both recent events highlight the pressures of big-time college football. Each aggressor took a playground bully approach on a campus of supposed higher learning. May Jake Barnett find as much validation wherever he goes as Brennan Scarlett did after leaving Cal for Stanford.

I believe Nick Saban’s exercise in hypocrisy was just as vindictive as -- but even less surprising than -- a spiteful Cal fan. The reasons why come from a guy named Nottingham.

While a writing a feature about his son who was still a senior in high school, I found Dr. Paul Nottingham back in early 2010. Brett Nottingham had just joined the likes of Ed Reynolds and Henry Anderson in what would be Jim Harbaugh's last recruiting class here, but only after verbally committing to UCLA.

In surgical detail, the East Bay orthopedic surgeon defended high schoolers whose decisions put them at-odds with adults earning a comfortable living on their services.

"These are kids making a monumental choice that will impact their entire future,” he told me. “They may never get another chance to make a choice of that magnitude. What does it say about a grown adult man who comes down a kid for choosing his own path in life?”

I first sympathized with the younger Nottingham, but not for 
failing to inherit Andrew Luck's job. After calling UCLA's head coach to deliver the news of choosing Stanford, Rick Neuheisel responded with some angry, choice words.

Seventeen years earlier, Jake Plummer picked Arizona State over Washington State. Mike Price stood ungracious in defeat. "He told me I was making a big mistake, Plummer recalled. "Then he hung up on me. I was 18 years old, pretty thin-skinned. Everything affects me."

As much as Saban would like it be ("I was taught growing up about not quitting and seeing things through," he said), Barnett's plight is not about another millennial revolt against a violated safe-space.

The quarterback who announced his transfer weeks after losing his starting job represents a real deficit in fairness.

On one side exist coaches of major college programs. Owners of unchecked influence (and nearly as much money), they have their entire adult lives to make a powerful, lucrative living.

The recruits they seek, especially the quarterbacks, know far less stability. They live in the moment, mostly out of necessity. Their livelihoods depend on avoiding the constant risk of injury and pleasing the whims of said A-list coach.

As Dr. Nottingham said, the sway of these teenagers can be more fleeting than borrowed time. A backup running back cuts a valuable niche (see Remound Wright). A backup quarterback most likely sits the bench.

Transfers, especially under center, populate major college football more than ever before. The Pac-12 is no different. 

When Cal hosted Utah last week, the quarterback dual matched two sides of the trend: Davis Webb (a graduate transfer from Texas Tech) took on Troy Williams, who found a roundabout path -- first Washington, then Santa Monica Junior College last year -- to Salt Lake City.

There lies little controversy in graduate students seeking one final year of eligibility at a new school. Coaches everywhere covet the likes of Williams, already a team captain who graciously called his time in Seattle "fun while it lasted."

It would therefore be refreshing to hear Saban admit fault for his tone-deafness. "It always looks better someplace else," said the coach who ditched the Dolphins (with three years left in his contract) for Bama. "So you think, instead of facing your fear and overcoming adversity and making yourself better through competition, you go someplace else thinking it'll be better there."

Did Saban turn away Jacob Coker for failure to overcome adversity, as in Jameis Winston, at Florida State? Of course not. He won a national title with him at quarterback. 

It's not about "fear of competition." Just like coaches do every year, it's about a player picking the rewards of opportunity elsewhere over the risks of stagnation.

And more often than not, it IS better somewhere else, for all parties involved. A high-profile transfer is football's biggest example of addition-by-subtraction. 

Yes, Jeff George left Purdue after one year for Illinois. Two straight losing seasons for the Boilers turned into 12. Florida traces its decline to when Cam Newton, the heir-apparent to Tim Tebow, left school after being arrested for theft.

But for every case like those, there are way more such as Nick Foles. From the same high school that produced Drew Brees, he joined a Michigan State team well-stocked (Kirk Cousins and Brian Hoyer) at quarterback. All the above are in the NFL, that after Foles transferred to Arizona and became the Wildcats' all-time leading passer.

It's hard to imagine the Spartans' classy coach -- who made Cousins and Foles part of his first recruiting class in East Lansing -- calling Foles' very integrity into question. 

That said, Mark D'Antonio does have the job Nick Saban quit (before a New Year's bowl, no less) for LSU. 

I appreciate how these highly paid/highly stressed/highly successful college coaches help make the sport we love what it is.

But Saban could actually learn something from Tyrone Willingham beyond the 38-0 beating in the Sun Bowl 20 years ago. How Willingham addressed Stanford football's biggest soap opera that year remains a lesson in restraint for coaches everywhere.

"That's life," he said, when Tim Carey left school after Chad Hutchinson was named starting quarterback days before the 1996 opener. "We'll move on."


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