Friday February 1st, 2008

With national Signing Day on Wednesday and 24 states holding presidential primaries on Super Tuesday, mudslinging could reach an all-time high this weekend. Some coaches will trash rival schools as part of their final recruiting pushes, while candidates certainly will trash one another to win delegates. What's amazing is how the negative campaigning seems to parallel negative recruiting.

Don't sign with/vote for my conference/party rival. He/she is a sleazy, inexperienced loser who will never win a national title/balance the federal budget.

The race for the Democratic nomination almost mirrors the recruiting race in the SEC. Coaches routinely rip conference rivals to recruits and then spend late November and early December preaching that because of the quality of players and coaches in the league, the SEC champ deserves a place in the title game. Ditto for Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama, who have spent the past few months trading barbs with one another, even though the loser will likely sing the praises of the winner prior to the general election.

But does the negativity work? One player who committed to an SEC school said that shortly after he announced his commitment, an SEC and an ACC coach trashed his future coach.

"They'll make up information," the player said. "They'll tell you stuff about your coach. It kind of gives you a sour taste."

Still, the ploy occasionally works. Last year, Alabama coach Nick Saban dropped in on West Monroe, La., defensive lineman Luther Davis, who had committed to LSU, where Saban had previously coached. "He was saying that the coaching staff he has at Alabama is pretty much the same coaching staff he had at LSU when he won a national championship," Davis told LSU fan site TigerBait.com. "He said that there is no way that the coaching staff at LSU can compare to the coaching staff he has at Alabama right now."

Intrigued, Davis visited Tuscaloosa. When they learned of the visit, LSU coaches yanked Davis' scholarship offer, according to reports. Davis signed with Alabama.

You don't want to sign with/vote for that guy. He's so old that he won't be around for your senior year/a second term.

Republican candidate John McCain, 71, can identify with Penn State coach Joe Paterno, 81, Florida State coach Bobby Bowden, 78, and Kentucky coach Rich Brooks, 66. McCain has spent time on the campaign trail trying to assure voters that, despite his age, he can handle the stress and pressure of the office. Meanwhile, Penn State, FSU and Kentucky assistants have spent months trying to convince recruits their bosses can still get the job done.

Should McCain win the party's nomination, he could bolster his campaign by choosing a dynamic, younger running mate. That's exactly what Bowden and Brooks did when they designated offensive coordinators Jimbo Fisher and Joker Phillips as their successors. In Tallahassee, the plan seems to have worked. FSU recruits have raved about Fisher. Brooks hopes the same thing happens in Lexington.

"I don't want any insecurity by parents and players that all of a sudden, if their son comes here, somebody will come in and change the whole program if I step down," Brooks told The Lexington (Ky.) Herald-Leader last month. "Coaches will always insinuate, 'Why do you want to go to Kentucky? He's old and isn't going to be there that long.'

"This will hopefully clear up any continuity issues ... It's my hope he'll take it to an even bigger level after I leave."

Are you sure you want to sign with/vote for that guy? You know his school/he is Mormon, don't you?

Coaches at Brigham Young should understand the plight of Republican candidate Mitt Romney. He belongs to a faith (The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints) that many voters don't understand, and he would have to clear up plenty of misconceptions if he wins the nomination. If he does, he should consult BYU coaches, who deal with those issues every year.

BYU is run by the Mormon church, and as such, players there must adhere to an honor code much stricter than any they would have to abide by at State U. Students at BYU are forbidden from consuming alcohol, even if they are of legal drinking age, or caffeine. Premarital sex can get a student expelled. Rival coaches have made sure to point out those facts to non-LDS players considering BYU, painting the school unfairly as a place where fun simply isn't allowed.

Rivals also have extra ammunition when recruiting against BYU for black players. The school's namesake preached more than 150 years ago that blacks were cursed because they were descendants of Biblical villain Cain. Blacks were also banned from the church's lay priesthood until 1978, when, according to a 2004 Salt Lake Tribune story, LDS church president Spencer Kimball announced he'd had a revelation to end the ban.

Why would you sign with/vote for that guy? He has no chance to win the national title/the presidency?

Republican candidates Ron Paul and Mike Huckabee can empathize with the coaches at every non-BCS conference school. Like the schools in the five non-BCS conferences, Paul and Huckabee have some passionately devoted supporters, but neither seems to have the sheer numbers or the mainstream appeal. Their opponents understand that. Coaches of BCS conference schools who clash with their non-BCS brethren for recruits feel the same way.

Case in point: Greenwood (Ark.) quarterback Tyler Wilson was surprised that no coaches ripped Bobby Petrino after Wilson switched his commitment from Tulsa to Arkansas in December. More surprising, the only negative recruiting Wilson could remember came when he committed to Tulsa in September. Wilson said he would have loved playing at Tulsa for offensive coordinator Gus Malzahn, and he only switched schools because he has wanted to play for the Razorbacks since birth. But before Arkansas entered the picture, one of the BCS-conference coaches recruiting Wilson couldn't believe Wilson would rather play in Conference USA than at a power-conference school.

"He had some choice words for me," Wilson said of one Big 12 coach, whom he declined to identify. Wilson said the coach wanted an explanation why Wilson would turn down a school with a feasible chance to compete for a national title to go to a school that probably would go only to the Liberty Bowl after winning a conference title. Wilson explained that he chose the school that fit his skill set and values.

Paul and Huckabee supporters, who probably will have to spend the next few months deciding who they'll vote for in the general election, would have been proud.

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