South Sumter safety Keanu Neal listed a recruit’s usual reasons for why he orally committed to Florida.
The proximity to home. The tradition. And, of course, the coaches.
“It’s not about the buildings and the facilities,” said Neal, an Under Armour All-American and Rivals’ No. 81 overall recruit. “It’s about the people inside of them.”
Even if it’s unlikely that the people inside of them on signing day Feb. 6 won’t be there when Neal graduates.
Of the 119 Football Bowl Subdivision head coaches on signing day 2008, only 31 remain at the same school. That means three out of every four schools have different coaches now than they did when last fall’s redshirt seniors signed five years ago.
No Big East program has the same coach now as it did then. And of the coaches at the state’s seven major programs, only one — UCF’s George O’Leary — was leading his current program in February 2008.
Twenty-nine schools changed coaches this offseason, including USF, which fired Skip Holtz and replaced him with Western Kentucky’s Willie Taggart.
“At the time it was crazy,” Pasco three-star athlete Janarion Grant said recently. “I was like, ‘Dang, what’s gonna happen now?’ ”
As an uncommitted prospect and one of Tampa Bay’s most dynamic talents, Grant has seen coaching changes alter his recruitment.
USF gave him his first offer, in January of his junior year, and receivers coach Jerome Pathon became one of Grant’s top suitors. But when the Bulls changed their coaching staff, Grant didn’t hear from Taggart’s regime for a month, until USF reopened communication last week.
Grant scheduled a visit to Oklahoma State on Jan. 11 but changed his plans after the coach recruiting him, Doug Meacham, became the new offensive coordinator at Houston. An offer from the Cougars quickly followed, and Grant visited there this weekend.
“You don’t make a decision solely on coaches,” said quarterback Shane Morris, a five-star Under Armour All-American and a Michigan commit. “You shouldn’t do that. You never do that. It’s somewhere you want to be, even if a coach leaves or he’s not there.”
That’s because the national letters of intent recruits sign bind them to schools, not coaches. Recruits are still tied to the school, even if a coach leaves.
And colleges have famously placed tough restrictions on players who want to transfer. Miami initially wouldn’t let Plant High product Robert Marve transfer to any ACC, SEC or in-state school. He eventually landed at Purdue.
Recent UM recruits have also had to deal with other factors outside their control — the threat of possible NCAA sanctions from a scandal stemming from a rogue booster.
“You kinda hope and pray that the coaches are telling you the truth,” said four-star New Jersey quarterback Kevin Olsen, a Hurricanes commit. “You’ve got to kind of roll with it and see what happens down the road.”
When Neal tried to look down the road this month, during a break in Under Armour practice, he saw an intact UF staff sticking with him through his career in Gainesville.
“The Florida coaches are staying,” Neal said then. “I know that for a fact.”
Two weeks later, the coach Neal would have played for — defensive coordinator Dan Quinn — left the Gators for the Seahawks.