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December 6, 2005

Flux time is upon us

In the world of college football recruiting, there are many different periods in which there are many different rules. There's a quiet period where schools can only have face-to-face contact with a recruit on their campus, a dead period where schools can only call a recruit but cannot have any on or off campus contact and an evaluation period where schools can take part in activities where athletic or academic evaluation is possible to a limited degree.

To the recruits themselves, they represent visit time, phone time and showtime respectively. However, perhaps another period in recruiting should be defined, at least by those of us who cover this intriguing process. Call it flux time.

Flux time occurs right around the end of the football season and usually continues into mid-January. What is flux time? It's the time of year where coaches get fired and hired and the recruiting process gets turned upside down for recruits.

Imagine if you will that an assistant coach has been recruiting you for at least six months and more likely for over a year. You e-mail and text message with this coach, you talk to him weekly when NCAA rules allow. Heck, you might have already take an unofficial or official visit (or both) to this coach's school to get a feel for it and the players. Then, one day in late November or early December, you read that this coach has been fired. You may or may not get a call from this coach to alert you as he obviously has more important things on his mind. You may not hear from the school that fired him for a few weeks or longer. Or you may hear from his replacement down the line and the whole process of getting to know your recruiting coach begins again.

Even worse, the head coach at this particular school gets fired and the remaining assistant coaches await their fate at the hands of the new head coach, a head coach that takes a bit of time to hire. Your recruiting coach continues to contact you weekly, but can you really count on him being there if that's your school of choice? This same scenario can play out with the assistant coach who would be in charge of your position in college or in regards to an offensive and defensive coordinator. Once any of this goes down, your situation with this program settles into flux time and sometimes it's hurry up and wait.

We've seen these scenarios at many large universities over the last few years. Major college football programs like Notre Dame, Florida, Alabama, South Carolina, Nebraska, Washington and others have had head coaching changes to deal with and many recruits stuck in flux time in the interim. At many other schools, it's the shifting of assistant coaches despite the stability of the head coach position that slows it all down. Texas A&M, Maryland and Tennessee are a few examples for this year.

And don't forget, anytime there's a coaching change that means there's a coaching opening as well. Kansas State is searching for a head coach, likely from the college ranks, which will leave another school with a slot to fill, which in turn could force another school to make a change. All of this shuffling, which gets worse as December wears on, affects the recruiting process greatly. To us, it's interesting to see what effect a new coach or the loss of an old coach will have on a recruiting class. To the recruits themselves (and the coaches no doubt), it's a downer - big time.

Sometimes these changes can affect a player's entire college career and the look of a team. Let's take a look at Notre Dame as the most notorious example in recent years. The Fighting Irish have made three coaching changes in the last four years. From Bob Davie to George O'Leary to Ty Willingham to Charlie Weis. A player who fit into Davie's system and was recruited by Davie might be an awful fit for Weis' system or might not have hit it off with Willingham's way of thinking.

New Jersey quarterback Chris Olsen committed to Davie, watched O'Leary take the job and lose the job and then saw Willingham get hired. After committing to Davie, Olsen waited a few anxiety-driven weeks after Willingham was eventually hired before hearing from the new head coach. In the meantime he looked at a few other schools including NC State, but decided to stick with Notre Dame. His younger brother, Greg, was a five-star tight end recruit the next season and also chose Notre Dame, his brother being a huge part of that decision. After a solid first spring, Chris Olsen was demoted down the depth chart because he wasn't what Willingham was looking for in his West Coast offense and both he and his brother decided to transfer, Chris to Virginia and Greg to Miami.

Greg was second in receptions for Miami this past year as a sophomore and has landed on his feet. Chris? He's currently listed as the backup to Marques Hagans as a junior and will battle next season to start during his last year of college football. What if Davie had remained as the head coach at Notre Dame? What if O'Leary hadn't lied on his resume? What if Olsen decided on NC State, a team with quarterback issues in each of the last two seasons, when he didn't hear from Willingham right away? Was the lack of contact a hint that he wasn't Willingham's guy? These kind of questions can haunt a player for years because of flux time.

At the end of Willingham's tenure there was the story of defensive back Brandon Harrison. Harris, a 5-foot-8, 190-pounder with super speed, committed to Notre Dame and Willingham fairly early in the process. He felt that Notre Dame was the perfect fit for him academically and athletically, choosing the Irish over Michigan, Florida, Tennessee and others. However, as soon as Willingham was fired, Harrison began to look elsewhere. Willingham was the coach that Harrison wanted to play for and when he heard about his firing, in seventh period at school, he felt physically ill and went home early. The news came just three days before his official visit to Notre Dame, a visit he never ended up taking.

Harrison ended up taking an official visit to Iowa and then to Michigan before deciding on the Wolverines. Florida was also in the mix, but they didn't have a coach either as Ron Zook had been fired. Weis, who had been hired after the O'Leary debacle, made a last second pitch to Harrison the night before he announced his decision on national television, but the love for Notre Dame was replaced with a bit of bitterness.

Harrison has had a successful freshman season for Michigan, playing in all 11 games and tying for the lead in interceptions despite playing a bit out of position at safety. He's expected to fight for a starting job next season. And while he is very happy at Michigan and seems to have a solid career ahead of him, he has to wonder "what if?". What if he stayed with his commitment to Notre Dame and played under Weis this year? Would he have played less, more or at a different position? How would it feel to play in a BCS bowl?

There are stories like Olsen's and Harrison's all over the place in the recruiting world. With even more impatience when it comes to winning football, there are more and more coaching changes to the point where it is beyond rare for a prospect to play his entire three, four or five years with the entire same coaching staff. The recruiting process is grueling enough and the decision-making process hard as it is without flux time. With it? That's when more and more "what ifs" come into play.

Mike Farrell is the national recruiting analyst for Rivals.com. E-mail: mike@rivals.com








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