Recruiting often impossible for coaches on hot seat

Whispers about the job security of Ty Willingham and Greg Robinson have trickled down to the recruiting trail. Washington has only five commitments while Syracuse has just four. Icon SMI/AP Photo

A direct correlation links having good players to winning in college football. For many Division I coaches, that makes job security tenuous at best.

As the season progresses, it becomes apparent that certain coaches who are on the hot seat end up doomed to clean out their lockers. As that happens, the existence of stability in their teams' recruiting process ranges from doubtful to nearly impossible.

Recruits assess such situations. Staffs of college teams that undergo significant coaching turnover fight to land and maintain verbal commitments, and they have trouble locking in official visits. The recruits no longer seem as anxious to talk or even pick up the telephone. Harsh realities about Division I college recruiting move to the forefront as a program and the stability of its head coach come in question.

1. Verbal commitments waver
It's not unusual for a recruit to decommit once the head coach's job is in question. This is especially true if the athlete is a nationally ranked recruit who has many options.

The University of Washington is struggling in terms of recruiting thanks to its 0-5 start and the insecurity of head coach Ty Willingham. The Huskies have only five verbal commitments so far, and their top prospect, in-state defensive tackle Deandre Coleman (Seattle/Garfield), decommitted last week. Washington needs a very strong finish to jump-start its recruiting efforts.

Even if a player in question doesn't decommit, his promise to the school often goes from a "solid verbal" to a "soft verbal," which often means that he will make other official visits elsewhere. The recruiting door once again swings open.

Syracuse is off to another disappointing start that has put head coach Greg Robinson's job in jeopardy. Another effect of the team's 1-4 record is that one of its four commitments, outside linebacker Raheem Cardwell (Hyattsville, Md./DeMatha), has changed his commitment to a "soft verbal."

2. Official visits come to a standstill
College coaches on an insecure staff find it difficult to lock up recruit visitations. They are lucky if they keep the official visit calendar intact. Recruits are more likely than not to hold off visiting a campus where coaching instability exists. It's even common for players to cancel official visits that have already been set.

3. Negative recruiting rears its ugly head
Survival of the fittest certainly applies to college football recruiting. Many staffs still go after athletes who have made verbal commitments elsewhere, and these same staffs often hammer away at programs and opposing staffs that struggle to survive. It's no-holds-barred until the player signs on the dotted line in February. That's why sharks start circling in the water looking for wavering recruits as the heat rises for specific football staffs.

4. Recruiting emphasis decelerates
It's tough for a coach and his staff to keep up the intensity needed to land quality recruits once their livelihood is in question. They spend the vast majority of their time trying to find magical answers on how to win enough games to survive. Staffs that cannot prolong the inevitable use their limited time on the telephone trying to find their next job.

Take the previously mentioned Washington and Syracuse programs. The Huskies haven't picked up a 2009 verbal commitment since Sept. 9, the Orange since Aug. 15.

A program's silver lining
The negatives of an impending coaching change often threaten recruiting. But situations exist when the fallout for certain programs isn't disastrous even if the coach is relieved of his duties.

1. Quick transition
Athletic directors and college presidents with foresight usually have a short list of candidates for the head-coaching position at all times. When the move is made and the head coach is removed, time becomes of the essence. If the new coach is in place quickly, the recruiting fallout is typically not as much of a problem. Though the rhythm of recruiting may be interrupted, it's often regained when a relatively fast transition takes place.

2. Program tradition
There's no doubt that football programs with a rich and winning tradition fare much better when a coaching change is about to take place. Recruits are confident that the program will rebound quickly and that they'll be able to accomplish their goals. In fact, many players choose a school because of its football history, not because of its current coaching staff.

Tennessee has been able to land recruits despite a mediocre start to the season. Though head coach Phil Fulmer is on the hot seat because the Vols have only two wins, more than a dozen recruits have committed because of the hard work and great tradition of the Volunteers.

3. Coaching change is handled with class
When a coaching change becomes an ugly situation, recruits and parents often are turned off. Bad publicity typically is tough to overcome, especially if the team has been suffering for a while and negatives already surround the program. Parting between a school and coach isn't always an easy process, but everything should be done to keep the situation from becoming nasty.

4. Assistant coach carryover
New head coaches often retain a few coaches from the previous staff. They know that it's easier to keep recruits in the fold if familiar faces stick around. It becomes very difficult to start over in terms of recruiting with a completely new staff, and the odds of having a solid class are nearly impossible when there's significant staff turnover. This was one reason Rick Neuheisel retained defensive coordinator DeWayne Walker when he took over at UCLA.

Bill Conley is a recruiting coordinator for ESPN Scouts Inc. He previously worked at Ohio State for 17 years as an assistant coach and recruiting coordinator.