Every December and January, the college football coaching carousel spins wildly, with head guys and assistants changing jobs and positions at dozens of schools across the country.
As the ride dizzyingly whirls, there is a residual effect to the hirings and firings because they coincide with high school recruits making a decision as to where they'll spend the next three, four or five years of their lives.
When a coach comes or goes, it can dramatically impact one prospect's choice — or, in some cases, the complexion of an entire recruiting class at a given school.
“You're going to have attrition,” said Tom Luginbill, ESPN's national recruiting director. “It could be one guy, could be five. But I think that's part of it. It's the natural course of things. I think coaches expect it.”
The impacts, though, aren't always negative. It's not always attrition. Sometimes a kid might be enticed by a new coach, or he could follow a coach to another school.
With Wednesday's National Signing Day rapidly approaching, consider the ripple effect — the resulting fall of dominoes — of Mike Stoops' firing as head coach at Arizona and eventual hiring as defensive coordinator at Oklahoma.
Heritage Hall defensive end Quintaz Struble had an offer from Arizona. It was probably his best offer. And it dissolved once Stoops was gone. Same thing happened at Colorado State. The Rams had offered Struble, but Steve Fairchild was let go.
Struble committed Saturday to Gus Malzahn and Arkansas State. It was a great place for a soft landing after his whole focus shifted in the wake of the firings.
Mike Stoops was officially rehired January 13 by his brother Bob. The plan was for Mike Stoops to share the defensive coordinator title with Brent Venables, just as they had during OU's recent defensive heyday from 1999-2003.
The corresponding move to Mike Stoops' return, though, was the firing of Willie Martinez. Out of respect for Martinez's future, the school classified it as the second-year secondary coach leaving to pursue opportunities. But there was no secret with other schools what had happened.
Recruits were also aware of the situation in one way or another.
The weekend before OU's announcement about Mike Stoops and Martinez, cornerback commitment De'Vante Harris abruptly decommited from the Sooners, though he had been solid since April.
Martinez's ouster might not have been official then, but the smoke was billowing enough for Harris to include that in his decision-making. Martinez was his primary recruiter. Harris eventually committed to Texas A&M.
Five days after Mike Stoops was back on staff, Venables left for Clemson. Recruits, of course, noticed that, as well.
Based on Martinez's firing and Venables' move, another OU cornerback commit, Kevin Peterson, scheduled a visit to Oklahoma State. He switched to the Cowboys soon after the visit. “Martinez was the guy that clicked with Kevin way back in the spring,” said Peterson's father, Kevin Sr. “Coach Venables was there some, especially in the end, but it was Martinez that really kept in contact with Kevin and was a big reason he chose OU in the first place.”
The news hasn't been all bad for the Sooners. The Stoopses last week hired former Arizona assistant Tim Kish to coach the OU linebackers.
Kish is known as a solid recruiter, further opening doors for the Sooners in the Southwest and California — areas that are becoming more and more important for the program's sustenance.
He had barely walked in the door when the Stoops brothers sent him back where he had come from to speak with highly regarded prospect Davonte Neal. Kish had a great relationship with Neal and his family. Why not see if he would be interested in a big-name school such as OU?
Neal, a Phoenix-area product who has said he will make a decision in mid-February, is rated as a top-10 overall prospect by ESPN. He could play receiver or cornerback in college.
The Sooners were not in the conversation with him; now, because of Kish's hiring, they are.
“Kish has been one of the top recruiters in the country for some time now,” said JC Shurburtt, the national recruiting director for 247Sports. “He does a great job building relationships with prospects and families and I've heard nothing but great things about his ability as a closer. I thought, from a recruiting standpoint, he was an excellent addition.”
Laughing, Kish said he never imagined being on the road that quickly after being hired. But he was up for it. You have to, as a coach — and especially a new one.
“I think for all of us, (change) is just the nature of the beast when you're a coach at this level,” Kish said Friday. “I wanted to come in here and be a team guy.”
Should commits be making that choice based on the school, the coaches, both? It's subjective, differing from case to case, but the amount of turnover at least has to be taken into account by recruits and those helping them in the process.
“The likelihood you'll play for the guy who recruited you — your position coach, your head coach — for four years, the percentages aren't very high,” Luginbill said. “I don't know that young people think about that as often as they should.
“I'd like to think and hope that kids make decisions for a lot of different reasons, but, yeah, coaching shake-ups change the landscape. It can create doubt in 17-year-old kids.”
Some heed Luginbill's advice, choosing the school over the coach. Perhaps more should.
“If they were to leave, I would still be solid with Oklahoma State,” said Texas native Ashton Lampkin, referring to primary recruiter Doug Meacham and position coach Jason Jones. Lampkin was one of OSU's earliest commitments.
Recent OU running back commit David Smith had a similar approach.
“I told myself to never choose a school off of coaches,” he said, “and that's exactly what I did.”
Once the dust settles in February, take a breath. We'll do it all again in December.