The end of National Signing Day as we know it—and why that’s good; Punt, Pass & Pork

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Monday January 23rd, 2017

When football recruits put pen to paper next week, it could be the last time the first Wednesday in February carries so much meaning for the nation’s college football programs. If the NCAA’s Division I council approves a sweeping package of recruiting reforms at its meeting April 13–14, most of the class of 2018 will sign in mid-December. So get your fill of hat switcheroos and fax machine-related humor. It probably won’t be the same next time.

The new signing period, a three-day window that matches when junior college players are allowed to sign now, wouldn’t replace the period that begins with National Signing Day in February. But given how early most recruits make their college choices, the bulk of the signing action likely would move to December, just as most of the National Letters of Intent for basketball are collected in November instead of the also-available April period.

The changes would do more than change when players sign, though. They could fundamentally alter the way the Recruiting Industrial Complex does business in ways that could help the high-schoolers and some of the coaches chasing them. They also might change the way athletic directors decide when to fire and hire coaches. “It’s the most wholesale change to recruiting in the 11 years since I started working in college football,” said Matt Dudek, who serves as Arizona’s director of on-campus recruiting and player personnel.

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Besides the new signing date, the package also contains the following changes:

• Schools would be allowed to bring in recruits on official visits (paid for by the school) between April and June of the recruit’s junior year of high school. Currently, schools can’t bring in a player on an official visit until Sept. 1 of the player’s senior year of high school. This could offer a boost to schools that aren’t close to recruit-rich areas.

• The package also would create a window for camps in June that would allow coaches to work camps in conjunction with other four-year universities but ban them from camps that don’t take place on a college campus. This is the most sensible way to settle last year’s argument over “satellite camps.” It keeps the best part of coaches leaving campus for camps—all the staffs in the MAC can work Ohio State’s camp, for example—and eliminates the opportunity for schools to pay exorbitant sums to high schools (which almost always happen to regularly produce great players) to serve as satellite camp hosts.

The earlier signing date remains a half measure that doesn’t address as many issues as the elimination of signing day entirely would, but that idea remains a bit too drastic for mainstream acceptance. The oversight committee’s decision to ditch a proposed June signing period was a good one because that would have only sped up the offer/commitment process more. Allowing for signing less than two months earlier probably won’t accelerate the process much but will allow longtime commitments to end their recruitments as well as force coaches to declare whether their “offers” are actually backed up by real scholarships. That could help mitigate some uncomfortable situations.

Jessica Hill/AP

For example, new/old Connecticut coach Randy Edsall wouldn’t have made news last week for dropping a long-committed player less than a month before signing day. Had the December signing period been in effect for this recruiting cycle, New Jersey linebacker Ryan Dickens—committed since June 2016—would have signed a National Letter of Intent before Connecticut AD David Benedict fired Bob Diaco, the coach who recruited Dickens. (Diaco was fired effective Jan. 2, which, conveniently, was a day after his buyout dropped by $1.6 million.) Edsall wouldn’t have had the option to stiff a high schooler under the new rules, though it’s possible Benedict may have made his decision sooner.

Most firings now come in November or early December. Most new coaches get hired in the first two weeks of December. Hiring a new coach days before signing day could create high drama. But when SI asked several Power 5 athletic directors last week if the new signing period would change when the firing/hiring decisions got made, most respondents said it would not. They reasoned that the decision to change coaches is too big to allow the possibility of a few players being signed to change the timetable.

One AD wasn’t so sure, though. “If a school has some high profile commits but a poor record, the early signing day may save a coach his job more so than with the current calendar,” the AD said. “Or schools may try to poach a coach mid-season, which I'm sure would be well received by all.” (That last line dripped with sarcasm.)

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The earlier date also could force coaching staffs to declare whether a scholarship offer means what they say it does. Every year, a few players learn shortly before National Signing Day that the “offer” they thought they had either evaporated or was replaced by an offer to “grayshirt,” to delay enrollment a semester and go on scholarship in January of the following year. “Everybody’s going to have to show their cards two months earlier,” Dudek says. And the players left without an offer would have two months to find another scholarship instead of a few weeks. Meanwhile, recruits stringing along more than one staff also would have to declare their intentions earlier.

The change in official visit dates also could help level the playing field for schools such as Nebraska, Oregon State and Syracuse that aren’t located in recruiting hotbeds. With more players choosing a school during the summer between their junior and senior years of high school, those schools faced a distinct disadvantage. It’s much easier for Auburn to convince a recruit to drive two hours from Atlanta for an unofficial visit than it is for Nebraska to convince that same player to drive 15 hours or shell out hundreds of dollars for a plane ticket. Now, the Cornhuskers may have the option to bring in players before the frenzy of summer commitments hits. If those players like Lincoln, they may be willing to pay their own way for an unofficial visit during camp or during football season.

Dudek, whose Wildcats are also reliant on recruits from far away, said staffs will have to be careful with the early official visits. They may wow recruits, but they also may get forgotten after a summer attending camps and official visits to other schools on game weekends in the fall. “It’s good that you can get the kids who can’t afford to get to Tucson in there early so you can get them excited,” he said. “But the Catch-22 of it is if a kid visits April 1 and doesn’t sign until Dec. 15, that’s eight months that he hasn’t been on your campus. He hasn’t been engulfed in it. He hasn’t been to a game.”

The earlier official visits and earlier signing day may also lead to slightly earlier offers, but that might not be as terrible as initially projected. This may force programs to make more offer decisions based on junior film and the spring practice between a prospect’s junior and senior years rather than based on performance in camps and at seven-on-seven tournaments. “The less of the underwear warrior offers there are, the better you’re going to be,” Dudek said.

Will the changes actually improve the recruiting process for players? They should. The official-visit flexibility should allow prospects to see more places without spending so much money. The choice of signing date should allow them to sign sooner with a school they’ve fallen in love with or narrow their choices after the first wave has signed.

It feels unusual to use this phrase with regard to the NCAA’s legislative process, but an awful lot of common sense was used to create these proposals. Here’s hoping it’s the start of a trend.

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A random ranking

In honor of the Atlanta Falcons making the Super Bowl, we’re going to re-rank the top 10 songs from the last time the Falcons played in the Super Bowl. But since the Goo Goo Dolls’ “Slide” isn’t making any top 10 list I produce, all the songs that were on the Billboard Hot 100 on Jan. 30, 1999 are eligible.

1. “Rosa Parks,” Outkast

Original rank: 60

Aquemini is Andre and Big Boi’s best album. This is not up for debate.

2. “Changes,” 2Pac

Original rank: 34

From-the-grave Tupac and Bruce Hornsby got a lot of spins in the CD player of my Toyota Corolla.

3. “Too Close,” Next

Original rank: 43

Perhaps the finest—and possibly the only—song ever recorded about that particular moment when dancing at the club.

4. “Doo Wop (That Thing),” Lauryn Hill

Original rank: 12

Still waiting for that next Fugees album.

5. “Inside Out,” Eve 6

Original rank: 30

I went to a festival concert in May 1999. Eve 6 was on the bill. It seemed every fifth woman who walked past wore a shirt that said “Tie me to the bedpost.”

6. “Ghetto Cowboy,” Mo Thugs Family featuring Bone Thugs-N-Harmony

Original rank: 22

This song is objectively terrible but also incredibly catchy. Why do I have it ranked? At the turn of the century, one of the best ways to determine compatibility was to examine a potential love interest’s CD collection. Upon my first flip through my future wife’s CD case, I discovered that she was the other person who bought this CD single. At least I assume we were the only two.

7. “This Kiss,” Faith Hill

Original rank: 32

Don’t even try to lie. You know you love it, too.

8. “I’ll Be,” Edwin McCain

Original rank: 35

This song got played at so many weddings from 1999–2003. Not mine, though. We fulfilled our Edwin McCain requirement with “I Could Not Ask For More.”

9. “Celebrity Skin,” Hole

Original rank: 92

The best guitar riff of any song in that Hot 100.

10. “These Are The Times,” Dru Hill

A year later, lead singer Sisqo would soundtrack spring break singing about thongs.

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First-and-10

1. David Reaves didn’t last a week as Oregon’s co-offensive coordinator. Reaves, who came with new Ducks head coach Willie Taggart from South Florida, will be fired following his arrest early Sunday morning on a charge of driving under the influence. Reaves was officially hired by the Ducks on Jan. 17, and Oregon athletic director Rob Mullens announced Sunday that Reaves has been placed on administrative leave and the termination process has begun. Reaves, who coached tight ends, was supposed to share coordinator duties with offensive line coach Mario Cristobal, whom the Ducks just hired from Alabama.

The dismissal of Reaves is just the latest calamity for Taggart’s administration. Last week, strength coach Irele Oderinde was suspended for a month without pay after three players wound up in the hospital following a workout. The three players have since been released, and Oderinde will report to Oregon’s director of performance and sports science instead of Taggart when he returns to work.

 

2. Auburn’s search for an offensive coordinator landed on a familiar face. Chip Lindsey, who served as an offensive analyst for the Tigers’ 2013 SEC title, left the offensive coordinator job at Arizona State to rejoin Gus Malzahn’s staff. Lindsey, who coached at the high school level in Alabama before moving to the college game, called the move to Auburn a “dream come true.”

After turning over playcalling duties to Rhett Lashlee midway through last season, Malzahn said he wanted to replace Lashlee, who took the offensive coordinator job at Connecticut, with a coordinator who would coach quarterbacks and call the plays. That is the plan for Lindsey. “Everybody's got their own spin on offense,” Lindsey told reporters Saturday. “We all have our own personality that comes out when you design an offense. The bottom line has never changed. The most important thing is find ways to get the ball to your best players. It's really that simple. That'll be our goal every day.”

The question is whether Lindsey is an upgrade over Lashlee, who took a pay cut to go to UConn. The Tigers averaged 6.1 yards a play (tied for 37th in the nation) last season and led the SEC in rushing yards per game (271.3). After Lindsey replaced current Memphis coach Mike Norvell in Tempe, Arizona State’s offense averaged 5.2 yards a play (102nd in the nation). The Sun Devils dealt with quarterback injuries and had to play opposite a horrendous defense, but the numbers don’t look great even with those mitigating factors.

That said, Lindsey had an excellent season at Southern Miss in 2015, when his offense broke school records for completions, passing yards, total yards, touchdowns and points. That offense gained 6.9 yards a play, good for ninth in the nation.

3. Tennessee also found its offensive coordinator. Coach Butch Jones promoted tight ends coach Larry Scott to run the offense in place of Mike DeBord, who left for Indiana earlier this month.

When Jones plucked DeBord from a non-coaching job at Michigan, it was to ensure the Volunteers ran the Butch Jones offense. That seems to be the aim here as well—for better or for worse. Scott has only called plays at the high school level, but he did go 4–2 as the interim coach at Miami following Al Golden’s firing in 2015.

4. Speaking of staff changes for coaches who will start the 2017 season on the hot seat, UCLA’s Jim Mora announced Saturday that Hank Fraley will coach the offensive line and former Bruins star DeShaun Foster will coach running backs. Fraley, an 11-year NFL veteran, has spent the past three seasons with the Minnesota Vikings as an assistant offensive line coach. Foster, a seven-year NFL veteran, returns to Westwood after spending a season as Texas Tech’s running backs coach. He had previously served as UCLA’s director of player development.

Fraley will replace Adrian Klemm, who was fired last week. Klemm was hit with NCAA sanctions in September for arranging training services and housing for two recruits. Klemm was one of the Pac-12’s highest paid assistants because of his recruiting acumen. But with UCLA required to go before the committee on infractions to explain why Klemm shouldn’t face further restrictions and the fact that UCLA’s offensive line has been a weak spot in recent years, he became expendable.

5. The College Football Playoff selection committee will have three new members next season. Ohio State athletic director Gene Smith, former Virginia Tech coach Frank Beamer and Robert Morris University president Chris Howard will join. Smith replaces Wisconsin athletic director Barry Alvarez. Beamer and Howard replace former Michigan coach Lloyd Carr and former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. The CFP also extended the terms of Texas Tech athletic director Kirby Hocutt and former Vanderbilt coach Bobby Johnson. Both had joined the committee as replacements for members already serving terms.

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6. Two quarterbacks who redshirted in 2016 will spend spring practice competing for the starting quarterback job at Florida. Incumbent Luke Del Rio, who was no sure thing to win the job if healthy, had shoulder surgery last week and will miss the spring. That will leave Felipe Franks and Kyle Trask to take the snaps and compete for the job. Franks, from Crawfordville, Fla., was a highly touted high-schooler who flipped from LSU to Florida late in the recruiting process. Trask backed up current Houston receiver D’Eriq King at Manvel (Texas) High and wowed coaches on the camp circuit to earn a scholarship offer.

7. Washington State coach Mike Leach had some choice words for the SEC this week while discussing how new Ole Miss offensive coordinator Phil Longo will fare with Antonio Morales of The (Jackson, Miss.) Clarion-Ledger.

Leach, discussing whether Longo could successfully transition from FCS Sam Houston State to the SEC, didn’t pull punches. “I’ve got bad news for all these levels people,” Leach, who once moved from Division II Valdosta State to Kentucky as an offensive coordinator, told the paper. “Your level isn’t special, your conference isn’t special. All this 'different level this, different level that.' That’s crazy.

“How is it better? Somebody coaches better athletes, somehow they morph into something smarter? That’s crazy. I mean, you still have problems, you still have 11 parts you can wiggle around to counter the other 11 parts.”

Later, Leach critiqued the SEC’s current offenses. “First, it becomes it won’t work,” Leach told the paper. “Second, they basically say, 'oh it’s a system,' suggesting that people who don’t do it that way—who just run it up the middle, stick all your asses together so one hand grenade can kill everybody—that’s the right way to do it. Since they do it the right way, they’re O.K. with the fact they lost.

“This is a great time to be in the SEC; everybody’s got the same offense: run right, run left, play action. And they tease themselves and say we threw it four more times a game this year than we did last year.”

The SEC is quite a bit more schematically diverse than Leach implied, but those were the attitudes he encountered when he arrived in Lexington in the late ’90s.

8. Speaking of Ole Miss, file this one under Local, All Politics Are. Mississippi representative and former Ole Miss football player Trey Lamar, R-Senatobia, has introduced a bill in the state house that would require the NCAA to finish its investigation and render a final decision within nine months of a school’s response to an NCAA letter of inquiry. If passed, the law would require the NCAA pay $10,000 to the institution in question for every day beyond the nine-month deadline. The NCAA has been investigating the Ole Miss football program for the past four years, and it remains unclear as to when that investigation will reach a resolution.

9. The callers to Paul Finebaum’s radio show weren’t the only people concerned Nick Saban would leave for Texas after the 2013 season. So was Alabama athletic director Bill Battle.

"Well, they were very intense," Battle told reporters Thursday when discussing the days between the Kick Six and Saban’s assurance that he was staying. "He never told me that he had any interest he was going. But I was reading he was offered $10 million and a percent of the Longhorn Network.”

Battle announced his retirement last week. He’ll be replaced beginning March 1 by Greg Byrne, who has spent the past six years at Arizona.

10. Byrne knew exactly what to say in his first press conference at Alabama.

What’s eating Andy?

Jim Harbaugh’s Spring Break Extravaganza will not get a second year after Power 5 members voted Friday to ban teams from holding off-campus practices during off-season vacation periods. But according to a report from The Wolverine of the Rivals network, Harbaugh might have even more ambitious plans. The site reported that Harbaugh is considering taking the Wolverines to Italy to close spring practice in April after classes have ended.

Rich from Ontario, a regular caller to my Sunday night show on SiriusXM’s College Sports Nation, suggested that only his beloved Notre Dame should be allowed to practice in Rome. This would be wrong. The Fighting Irish probably would be the only team allowed to practice at the Vatican, but I’m all for covering a Michigan practice at The Colosseum.

What’s Andy eating?

In my younger days—or maybe just a few months ago—I would have solved the dilemma I faced at Pensacola Cooks Kitchen by not choosing at all. But as the gray hairs have begun to sprout from my head, I’ve started thinking more about the future. It simply isn’t in my long-term best interests to eat meatloaf with gravy and two sides as well as a BLT on Hungarian fried bread with potato chips and an additional side in one sitting. That might make for an epic meal and a beautiful photo, but it might also take several hundred future meals off my proverbial plate.

So I compromised. Since Langos, the aforementioned Hungarian fried bread, is ostensibly available as a wrapper for any sandwich on PCK’s menu, I ordered a meatloaf sandwich with brown gravy on that glorious golden dough with a side of macaroni and cheese and those homemade potato chips.

What? You thought I would order a salad instead? I’m trying not to die, but I’m not trying to stop living*.

*There is nothing wrong with ordering just a salad. I do that quite frequently when not eating at places I plan to review here. Remember, there are 20 other meals each week that don’t get reviewed. They’re usually pretty boring and mostly healthy.

Andy Staples

This was the second deal I made with myself while holding the PCK menu. Earlier, I decided I’d try chef Frank Woolfolk’s chicken adobo on a later visit. Woolfolk’s mom is Filipino, and sitting at the counter watching him make one of the most popular dishes from her native country caused a genuine comfort food crisis in my stomach.

This is not a place that serves churched-up versions of family dinner staples. In fact, every dish I saw Woolfolk send out seemed crafted from a specific memory of some relative’s table. There are flourishes—the BLT on fried bread, for example—but for the most part the dishes stay faithful to what made them classics in the first place.

The meatloaf in the monstrosity I created mixed pork and beef and very little filler. It didn’t fall apart when poked by a fork. Instead, it soaked up that brown gravy until I could scoop out hunks of meat coated in the product of the union of pan drippings and love.

Alas, my “sandwich” could never truly come to fruition. A giant slab of meatloaf covered in gravy can’t be contained by a round fried flatbread. My attempt to create the world’s deadliest chalupa failed, but after I ate the meatloaf, the gravy provided the ideal dipping sauce for the bread.

Andy Staples

The bacon mac and cheese, meanwhile, was exquisite. I usually steal the recipe from Michigan’s Clarkston Union when cooking mac and cheese for family gatherings, but I might have to try to learn to make this version. It features a five-cheese sauce that envelops each noodle. Once cooked, it’s as if the pasta never knew a life without a cheese and bacon coating.

Andy Staples

Even the potato chips were great. Usually, when a restaurant brags about making its own, I wonder why the staff wasted its time. Not at PCK. The chips were at once crispy and soft a boasted a richness that probably wears off after a few hours out of the kettle.

So now I need an excuse to get back to Pensacola. Because that chicken adobo awaits. And the pork schnitzel. And the oxtails. And the spaghetti and meatballs. And the meatball sandwich. Every one has to be someone’s favorite dish dating back to childhood. I’ll need to do more research to figure out mine.

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