National Signing Day – The Last Day the Players Have Any Power or Freedom

by Kent Sterling

Families gather under the spotlight to see which hat and school a kid will choose.  They should enjoy that moment.

Families gather under the spotlight to see which hat and school a kid will choose. They should enjoy that moment.

The thousands of high school seniors signing their letters of intent today to play football at FBS schools across the country need to smile broadly and feel very good about their decision today because once the letter is faxed, their lives will change forever.

Once today is over, the schools and coaches hold all the cards.  They call the shots, and the players need to do what they are told.  If they don’t, scholarships are pulled and transfers are in order – along with a potential temporary loss of eligibility.

Up until today, the coaches were the sellers in the recruiting relationship and the players the sellers.  Today, the roles flip, and all the power shifts to the coaches.

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I remember watching Indiana Basketball coach talk to Damon Bailey after an IU game when Bailey was a junior at Bedford North Lawrence High School.  Knight had his arm around Bailey in the corner of Assembly Hall as the two shared a laugh about something.  I thought, “Don’t get used to being the Bobber’s buddy, Damon.”

All though friendly chats on the phone end today.  Tomorrow, the future of all those coaches’ careers will rest upon the work ethic, dedication, ability to listen, and athletic ability of the soon-to-be college football players.

These coaches aren’t being paid millions of dollars to serve as a camp counselor, leading everyone in a rousing version of “Michael, Row Your Boat Ashore.”  They are paid to win, and more importantly they are fired for losing.  The relationship between the player and coach is driven by the coach’s desire to either keep his job or bounce upward to a more prominent and financially flush program.

That’s not only true for the head coach, but for the coordinators and position coaches too.

The coach is more drill sergeant and less mentor.  That’s the reality of football.  The winner of each play is most often the guy willing to do what his opponent was not.  Putting your body in harm’s way is not a natural act, and fear is a reasonable motivator not only for making a great play, but for investing the time and effort needed to prepare to make the great play.

Recruits don’t get to see that side of the coach during their official visits, the lengthy phone calls, and the genial home visits when the decision to attend a school is made.

Sadly, the chances of a head coach remaining with a program through the entirety of a players college career is less than 50%, and the odds of a coordinator or position coach bolting for another gig are even greater.  That renders moot the comfort a kid and his family forge with a coach whom they believe will stick around for the next five years.  But they don’t realize that at the time.

They are made to feel coveted by the coach, who when presented with a better opportunity to provide for his family will leave the current school for another often without any thought, regret, or goodbye.  It happens all the time, but it always shocks the players left to fend for the respect of the new coach.

One of the most valuable lessons young men learn from participating in college football and basketball is that bosses rarely screw around.  When they ask for effort and it’s not given, consequences occur.  There are no consequences for recruits, but they are coming soon enough.

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Recruiting is a fool’s paradise, and all those fools are about to be presented with the shock of their lives.  The men who just gave them a hug are about to show them a very different side of themselves.

College football is a man’s world, and after today all those former recruits will learn that.  So go ahead and sit there at a table covered with hats. Pick one, and then wipe that smile off your face and go to work.

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