Will Muschamp: They call him Flipper

February, 3, 2014
Feb 3
10:00
AM ET
They call him Flipper, Flipper, faster than lightning,
No one you see, is smarter than he,
And we know Flipper, lives in a world full of wonder,
Flying there under, under the sea!

GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- It may be a 1960s TV show, but try getting the theme song for "Flipper" out of your head once it's stuck there. It's about as easy as getting Florida coach Will Muschamp to stop recruiting a prospect he wants.

In three years as chief recruiter for the Gators, Muschamp has clearly displayed a penchant for getting committed recruits to change their minds.

Dante Fowler
Courtesy Fowler FamilyDante Fowler, right, flipped from Florida State to Florida in 2012.
He's done it so often, some Florida fans call him Flipper.

The first big splash came in 2012 when defensive end Dante Fowler Jr., a prized recruit in Florida State's No. 2-ranked class, made a dramatic switch to Florida on signing day after being committed to the Noles for more than a year.

Muschamp's persistence over that time period and insistence that Fowler would get on the field earlier with UF paid off.

"It was real difficult,” Fowler said on signing day. "Being committed for a year and growing up a Florida State fan all my life -- I always hated Florida, and I always told myself I would never go to Florida, and now I’m about to be playing for them. It’s kind of crazy."

That was just the start of the craziness.

Last year Muschamp upped the ante with six more flips, four just before they signed as early enrollees in January 2013. In fact, three of Florida's four linebackers in that class -- Matt Rolin (from South Carolina), Alex Anzalone (Notre Dame) and Jarrad Davis (Auburn) -- flipped from other schools.

The key to flipping recruits, Muschamp said, is not a secret. It's a simple approach.

"You stay on guys," he said, "and try to make valid points you’ve made throughout the entire recruiting process all the way through."

He's done it again this year, getting three of his nine early enrollees to flip.

Each of the three -- cornerback Jalen Tabor (Arizona), athlete Brandon Powell (Miami) and offensive tackle Kavaris Harkless (Louisville) -- changed their minds as late as the first week of the spring semester.

None was more last minute than Harkless, who was on campus at Louisville the day before his first class when he changed his mind and flew back to Florida. Harkless was swayed by the departure of coach Charlie Strong, who left Louisville for Texas.

When the coaching change news broke that weekend, so did Harkless' commitment to Louisville.

One of Harkless' coaches at Jacksonville (Fla.) Trinity Christian, Gerard Ross, saw firsthand how UF coaches laid the foundation for Harkless' change of heart. Ross says it's a matter of the Gator coaches continuing to build relationships even after their targets have committed elsewhere.

"They do a good job of staying in contact with those guys that they really want who are committed to other places," he said. "That way if something ever changes that kid's mind, then that whole time they've been there with that kid. The [recruit] has something to fall back on."

It used to be taboo in recruiting to go after a committed prospect. Now, the taboo is a relic of a bygone era. It's open season on all commits until the ink has dried on the official letter of intent.

"These days in recruiting it's a little different than when I came out," said Ross, who played cornerback for FSU from 2002-05. "These days you almost can't blame the kids for trying to find a school pretty early and finding themselves a spot, because you can't oversign anymore. At the same time, the coaches almost have to stay on those kids who do commit early. There's a window when that kid might flip.

"Back in the day when a kid committed, that was pretty much it. That's where he was going. But nowadays, college football is becoming a business."

A business in which coaches move frequently for new jobs, often shaking up recruiting classes in the process.

It's something Florida has experienced on both sides -- from losing recruits when former coach Urban Meyer retired (twice) to cherry-picking players like Harkless, who found himself far from home and without a coach.

"That's recruiting, you know?" Harkless said from Louisville in early January, just before he left for Florida. "I still have respect for Coach Strong, because he has to go where it's best for his family. I'm just doing the same."

After announcing Harkless among his nine early enrollees in January, Muschamp talked about the increase in drama and decommitments on the recruiting trail. This rockier road, he said, is here to stay.

"The earlier and earlier recruiting goes, you’re going to continue to see this. That’s not stopping," Muschamp said. "I think the earlier it is, young men are making decisions before maybe they have the information or they’re sure of what they want to do or how they’re going to do it. I think you’re going to continue to probably see this."

Translation: Beware the Flipper.

Like a song stuck in your head, Muschamp isn't going to stop anytime soon.

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