In the FCS Huddle: Recruiting season introductions
By Craig Haley, FCS Executive Director/Senior Editor
Philadelphia, PA (SportsNetwork.com) - College recruiting could be so easy: Player A wants to attend School B, School B wants Player A to become a part of its program, and their pairing becomes as easy as A-B-C.
A funny thing has happened along the way to Wednesday's start of the national letter of intent signing period at FCS programs. Actually, make that a not-so- funny thing.
The coaching staffs that many high school seniors were expecting to play under at so many different schools have changed in complexion.
While recruiting is never an exact science on either side of the process, the 27 head coaching changes since just before the 2013 FCS season - more than a quarter of all the programs in the division - created considerable uncertainty during the recruiting process.
In one way, recruiting at some of these schools became like an arranged marriage. The recruits and new coaching staffs were getting to know each other at the 11th hour before taking a leap of faith together.
That doesn't mean it won't work out for everyone, it's just that it is not the same situation when so many of the recruits first got involved with the schools, and vice versa.
"There are some challenges when you come in this late, but the staff has done a phenomenal job," said K.C. Keeler, who was named Sam Houston State's head coach on Jan. 23 and is one of the most recent hires in the FCS. "I am blessed to be able to retain four staff members. This staff has played for two national championships, so I inherited four guys and it is just like I hired them. I feel really good about them and I think they have done a good job keeping this (recruiting) class together."
The retention of four assistants at Sam Houston is an exception. After a head coach is fired or resigns following a season, many of the assistant coaches usually stay on and continue to handle the recruiting, even though they are unsure they will be retained by the new coach. Most of them aren't kept on, either, and that leads to an awkward exchange of the recruiting process.
There can be some smooth transitions, however. Assistant coach Greg Gattuso was elevated to head coach at Albany after Bob Ford's retirement, Dan Hunt succeeded Dick Biddle at Colgate, Chris Klieman replaced Craig Bohl at North Dakota State and Rick Fox stepped in for Chris Creighton at Drake. Such changes increase the chance of a coaching staff remaining relatively together.
Quick hires after a season also aid the recruiting process. Grambling State named Broderick Hobbs on Dec. 4, just four days after the Tigers ended their season, and it gave him two full months of recruiting.
Similarly, Valparaiso hired Dave Cecchini on Dec. 11. A day later, Rich Skrosky came on board at Elon and Weber State tabbed Jay Hill as head coach.
But it's not that simple at a lot of schools. A year ago, Carroll McCray didn't become Gardner-Webb's new head coach until Jan. 28, and that gave him only one week before National Letter of Intent Day to get a handle on his recruiting class at the Big South Conference school.
"Our approach to the process was simply getting on the road and visiting schools in the region and with the student-athletes who had already committed," McCray recalled. "We had to make sure the young men were comfortable with our staff and remained comfortable with the school. We were very fortunate to retain a large majority of the class and build upon that heading into the season."
The comfort level of the recruits should be the first priority of the new coaches. While high school seniors should be keeping the school and their academic careers high on their list of reasons during the recruiting season, the truth is they want to be wanted, and they often base much of their decisions on the coaching staff, how they believe they might fit into the playing system and the roster depth at their individual position.
Those reasons may not remain valid because those same coaches may not be at the school by the time the high school seniors arrive on campus, let alone be there their four or five years.
"It is still difficult because you are trying to get over a year's worth of work done in a very short period of time," Skrosky said. "I believe a big part of the evaluation is getting to know the prospects a lot more than what shows up just on the tape."
Eastern Illinois' Kim Dameron, who was introduced as the Ohio Valley Conference school's new head coach on Jan. 10, felt as though he had to re- recruit the current players on his team's roster to re-establish their comfort level first.
"The next step," he said, "was to evaluate and make contact with the players that Eastern Illinois had recruited to its football program during the fall. ... (Then) the next step in the process is to use the connections that members of this Eastern Illinois staff have across the country to identify and make contact with potential new prospects to play for the Panthers."
One of the added twists to this stranger season of recruiting within the FCS was two head coaches moving to a different school within the same conference. Rick Comegy didn't have a choice after he was fired at Jackson State, and then he moved only 100 miles away within the Southwestern Athletic Conference to rebuild Mississippi Valley State's program.
Even more unique was Clint Conque leaving Central Arkansas within the Southland State for a higher-paying position and a bigger recruiting budget at Stephen F. Austin. He had long recruited within Texas, so he is ready to bolster plenty of inroads across the state.
"Texas was a significant part of our footprint at Central Arkansas and a significant part of our long-term success there. We have a lot of relationships that were already fostered," Conque said.
"We had so much success in Texas. I mean, our entire starting offensive line at UCA last year (and) just about every year, you could look at it, we had a strong Texas flavor from A to Z throughout our football team. This is a real opportunity now to come and tap into even more resources in the state of Texas and cultivate what was there."
The most recent change involving an FCS head coach was just last Thursday when Kevin Kelly resigned at Georgetown. Assistant head coach and defensive coordinator Rob Sgarlata was named the interim head coach, but the Patriot League program announced it will conduct a national search for its next head coach.
So as the Hoyas' non-scholarship recruiting class reaffirms its intentions on Wednesday, its members won't even know who the head coach will be moving forward.
No, A and B doesn't necessarily move directly to C.
02/04 12:13:57 ET