Commit to the school, not the coach.
It's the most common refrain bellowed toward recruits from those outside the recruiting process. On the surface, it would make the coaching carousel far less dizzying for recruits. It's a simple enough thought that becomes far messier when applied to real-world recruiting situations. While prospects are mostly in agreement with the idea, it's tough to follow it to the letter.
"I think the whole committing-to-the-coach thing is pretty inevitable," said Marcus Williamson, an ESPN 300 cornerback committed to Ohio State. "The coaches recruit you. Those are the people you build a relationship with and I think it's really hard to separate those two."
"I've always been told to love the school first and don't let a coach affect where you go because they could be gone in a year or two," said David Adams, an ESPN 300 linebacker committed to Notre Dame.
That difference and numerous coaches on the move are what can crank up the decommitments this late in the process. Among 65 Power 5 programs, there are just five schools set to enter the 2017 season with the same coaching staff for the third year in a row. Florida State, Kansas State, Michigan State, Northwestern and Oklahoma State are the only Power 5 programs able to tell recruits this year that their juniors are playing for the same staff they committed to as high school seniors in the 2015 class. And who knows what that list will look like after the completion of the NFL season and signing day?
Coaching changes don't account for 100 percent of decommitments, but it's telling that when the season ends and coaches start moving, prospects start flipping. From Dec. 30 through Jan. 23, there were 137 total flips and decommitments from FBS prospects and that number will rise before signing day ends. With one week still to go, it wouldn't be shocking if this year closes in on the 189 flips and decommitments that took place in the final month of the 2016 cycle.
For some programs, head coach stability alone is enough to keep a class locked up. Ohio State and Alabama have landed elite recruit after elite recruit in this class thanks to big names as head coaches and marquee names painted in the end zones.
"Ohio State is always going to be Ohio State," Williamson said. "They've been doing it for decades and decades. Even if my position coach left, I think I'd still want to be a Buckeye."
But the head coach takes a back seat to the position coach for a majority of prospects, as 69 percent of prospects at the Under Armour All-America Game said their position coach -- not head coach or recruiting coach -- was the most important college coach when it came to their decisions.
Every year it seems prospects are more and more aware that coaches won't be at their school of choice for the long haul and have heard the guidance about choosing a school over a coach.
"The cliché is, 'If you got hurt the first day of school and couldn't play football again, where would you want to go?'" said Robert Hainsey, an ESPN 300 offensive guard and Notre Dame commit. "I think you have to pick the school you're comfortable with outside of football, even though it's tough for us to think of ourselves as not a football player, because that's how a lot of us identify ourselves."
But even Hainsey, who said he was dead set on Notre Dame, allowed for some gray area in the school-vs.-coach debate.
"If you're committed to the school, the coach can also be a part of that," he said. "You have to find that happy medium and hope the coach is still going to be there."
Some prospects can dip into both sides of the conversation in back-to-back thoughts, illustrating how blurred the line truly is for many.
"You have to get used to the idea that it might not be the same coach who is going to be there," said ESPN 300 lineman and LSU commit Austin Deculus, after saying the game-day atmosphere at LSU was a huge reason for his commitment and that he loved Ed Orgeron taking over for Les Miles.
"You have to see who comes in and you have to be patient about it," Deculus continued. "If it was where I didn't know who the coaching staff was around this time or when I was going to enroll, I probably would have delayed my enrollment until I saw who the offensive line coach and offensive coordinator were."
Not to be lost in the discussion is that loyalty isn't mutually exclusive. Just look at Connecticut recently pulling the scholarship offer to a commit two weeks before signing day. Or look at Todd Sibley, who committed early to Ohio State only to see Ohio State delay his enrollment until the following year.
"I fell in love with all the trophies and Urban Meyer and all that as soon as I stepped on campus," Sibley said. "It's hard not to get caught up in all that ... And then they learn as they go through the process."
ESPN 300 cornerback Thomas Graham thought he found the perfect situation with USC when he committed to his dream school as well as his favorite coaches in defensive backs coach Keith Heyward and defensive coordinator Justin Wilcox in July of 2015. When both coaches were replaced, USC stopped constant communication with Graham and he eventually landed at Oregon, where Heyward is now the defensive backs coach.
With his dream school out of the picture and an understanding that stability is not going to happen among college coaching staffs, Graham took a shot at what passes for longevity in the coaching ranks.
"I feel like you should commit to an assistant coach that's at least going to be there for two years so you can learn the basics," Graham said. "I feel like that's best, to commit to a coach that just started at a school rather than to a coach that's been there for a few years."