What Coaching Change Means for Signees
Florida OLB Chris Martin
Florida OLB Chris Martin
National Recruiting Analyst
Posted May 31, 2011

Scout.com takes a look at if the coaching change at Ohio State will affect those who signed in February, with past cases of players getting out of their letters-of-intent in similar situations...

It was January of 2003 and Portland (Ore.) Central Catholic quarterback Ryan Gunderson was torn.

It would either be Oregon State or Tennessee for the 6-5 Oregonian.

A longtime commit to the Beavers, Gunderson visited Tennessee just before Signing Day.

Despite being blown away by the visit to Knoxville, Gunderson stuck with his initial decision and signed with Oregon State the first Wednesday in February, citing the home-state feel but also his relationship with head coach Dennis Erickson.

A week later, Erickson was gone. The San Francisco 49ers hired him to be their head coach and Gunderson was left to find out who the new head coach would be.

Ultimately, the Beavers hired Mike Riley, the former Oregon State coach, and Gunderson would play his career out with the Beavers. He's now on the Oregon State football staff as the Beavers' Assistant Coordinator of Football Operations.

Gunderson could have raised a fuss and tried to get out of his NLI. But it likely wouldn't have mattered, since its always been "you sign with the school, not the coach.".

Had Erickson left a week prior to Signing Day, who knows if Gunderson picked the Beavers. But the relationship he had with him helped make Oregon State the choice.

Ohio State recruits now find themselves in a similar situation, the head coach they signed with, Jim Tressel, no longer the leader of the Buckeyes' football team.

Luke Fickell was named the interim coach for the first five games of the Buckeyes' 2011 season, which Tressel was suspended for, and he's now been named the interim coach for the entire 2011 season.

The seven commits in the class of 2012 are all in-state prospects, likely growing up dreaming of wearing the Scarlett and Grey.

And if there was a desire to go elsewhere, well, they haven't signed anything, so they're free to go.

But what about the players who signed in February, who's letter-of-intent binds them to the Buckeyes? What if they want to go elsewhere?

It gets tricky there.

A longtime assistant (and the Big Ten Recruiter of the Year by Scout.com), Fickell has a strong reputation amongst recruits. Several signees cited him when committing to the Buckeyes, though Tressel was more prominently mentioned, which you'd expect with a head coach.

And there has been no inkling that players that signed with the Buckeyes in February want to get out of their NLI.

There is precedent, though its largely been in basketball. Andre Iguodala signed with Arkansas but when Nolan Richardson and the Razorbacks went their separate ways, so did Iguodala, asking out of his LOI and signing with Arizona, where he was an impact player for Lute Olsen for two seasons before becoming a lottery pick for the Philadelphia 76ers.

Ryan Hollins signed with Saint Louis but when Lorenzo Romar left for Washington, he asked out of his LOI and signed with hometown UCLA, where he would help the Bruins to the 2006 NCAA National Championship Game after earning West Regional MVP honors before going to the NBA, where he now plays for the Cleveland Cavaliers.

But football its been more difficult.

For one thing, the hirings and firings in basketball usually happen in March and April. With basketball having an early Signing Period, those early signees sometimes see the coaches they signed with in the fall, head to greener pastures (or to golden parachutes). There seems to be more flexibility there.

In football, though, most of the hirings and firings take place in December and January, and with Signing Day in February, recruits(save for the early enrollees who usually sign in December), has some time before Signing Day to change their mind.

There have been some high profile players who signed with a school in February for fall enrollment or early enrollment, who ended up at a different school by the time September rolled around.

Chris Martin signed with Cal in February 2010, but after just a few weeks in Berkeley, was released from his letter of intent and he ended up at Florida, where he redshirted the 2010 season.

Brandon Willis signed with North Carolina, enrolled early, left Chapel Hill and ended up at UCLA for the 2010 season. He was forced to redshirt for the Bruins because of his early enrollment (he's now back at North Carolina, and looking for a waiver to play this year and not have to sit out another season).

Neither of those involved a coaching change, but it showed that some schools are willing to release players.

In most cases, though, schools hold the recruits to their letters-of-intent.

It remains to be seen what the Ohio State freshman class will do, but as of Tuesday, none have given any indication that they want out.

Same with the 2012 commits, they all remain solid.

Sure, it could affect the uncommitted prospects in the 2012 class, but there is eight months between now and Signing Day.

And Ohio State is one of the few elite programs that the program is bigger than the coach, that kids from Ohio and beyond dream of playing for.

They will likely weather the storm, despite the thought of NCAA sanctions looming.

USC signed a top ten class last year in the middle of sanctions and this year, despite only having 15 scholarships, is still racking up talent, including the #1 player in the country by Scout.com.

The Buckeyes are one of those programs that plenty of allure. The recruits will join the players already on the team, with a chip on their shoulder, an us against the world mentality. It's unlikely that any will ask out.

But it will be interesting to watch.

Brandon is in his seventh year with Scout.com, currently as the National Recruiting Analyst and West Regional Manager. Prior to joining the Scout Recruiting Team, he was a team recruiting writer.  He's been covering recruiting for the Scout Network since 2003.
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