Football's recruiting race
For high-profile new coaching hires, there's no time to waste before signing day
There were fewer than 24 hours to go before six distraught high school seniors and their parents flooded Tulsa's campus demanding answers. The school was without a football coach and a half-dozen official visits were scheduled to begin the next day.
The few remaining assistant coaches pressed the athletic director to cancel the visits, but he insisted a coach would be named the next day. So during a brainstorming session, running backs coach Bill Blankenship formulated a plan.
Then-athletic director Bubba Cunningham delivered on his promise, and the next day, Blankenship was named Tulsa's head coach. And he had 19 days to put together a recruiting class.
A similar story with even higher stakes is poised to shape signing day 2014. Three of the schools that hired new coaches less than a month before the Feb. 5 signing day -- Texas, Penn State and Louisville -- have combined for eight BCS bowl appearances since 2005.
There haven't been so many high-profile jobs filled so late in recent memory. Chip Kelly left Oregon in January 2013, and Tennessee was left scrambling in 2010 when USC hired Lane Kiffin away from the Vols in January. But for multiple programs like Texas and Penn State -- despite the continuing NCAA sanctions for the Nittany Lions -- to have coaching jobs open this late is nearly unprecedented.
So how do coaches go about putting together a class at the last minute?
"It's very difficult to start the process so close to the end," Blankenship said. "If we were going in on players who had not seen a Tulsa coach, that hasn't been on campus ... you're selling a vision and nothing tangible. That's the toughest part."
Blankenship at least had the benefit of being promoted from within. Of the seven January hires from 2011 to 2013, only two were from outside the program. But James Franklin, Bobby Petrino and Charlie Strong are all being forced to adjust to new environments and assemble staffs. An incoming assistant has to pack up and depart for his new city, assess the commits he will inherit at his position and then is expected to close the deal with a few more pivotal pieces. Sometimes, the new coaches don't even know what to sell to recruits.
"They had to get together and learn about Tulsa," Blankenship said. "It's a whirlwind. You're trying to swim as fast as you can."
Flood says he had it easier in some regards, since it was his job to just keep Rutgers' strong class together rather than make late additions and subtractions. Sometimes, a coach inherits recruits who are not a fit for his system and he needs to pull a scholarship or suggest a player look elsewhere.
"The challenge is which of those recruits do you bring and which fit and how do the players committed to the school fit," Flood said. "Those are gonna be some of the tough decisions."
Athletic directors often feel the heat from recruits and their families until a hire is made, which makes the AD an important piece in keeping a class together. Recruits who are left in the dark about potential hires can get anxious about whether their scholarship offer will be honored. Athletic directors can be designated as a coach who can call recruits, and former Rutgers athletic director Tim Pernetti was active in helping Flood keep the Scarlet Knights' 2012 class intact.
"That helped being able to get a direct message from a person in charge," Flood said. "There are only so many questions I can answer and some I don't have the authority to answer."
The NCAA extended the January dead period -- the time when no in-person recruiting is allowed -- a week in 2014, so Franklin, Petrino and Strong were able to build a staff and begin building relationships before they are allowed to hit the road or host visitors. The dead period ends Thursday.
The sleep cycle of the new coaches ends the same day.
"We've got a lot of work to do in a very, very short period of time," Franklin said at Saturday's introductory news conference. "... [W]hen we leave here probably at 2 in the morning and we'll be back up at 3 or 4 in the morning getting going again.
"Luckily, I'm fortunate I'm not a guy that needs a whole lot of sleep."
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