Recruiting: Thoughts on the chaotic final week before the early signing period

Jon Santucci
The Daytona Beach News-Journal

With a handful of exceptions each year, national signing ceremonies tend to be mostly uneventful as most of the top players already have announced where they’ll play.

That’s not the case this year.

In response to one of the most turbulent coaching carousels in memory, six players on the USA Today Florida Network’s top 100 list have flipped or decommitted in recent days.

Eight of the top 20 players are uncommitted heading into the early signing period, which begins on Wednesday.

Jon Santucci and Chris Boyle, hosts of the State of Florida Recruiting H.Q. Podcast, gave their thoughts on the past few weeks and what could happen during the next week.

Do you remember a time when it was this chaotic right before signing day?

Santucci: No. I don’t remember a time that there was this much turnover, but I also don’t remember a time when so many high-profile coaches are moving around either. Usually, Oklahoma and Notre Dame are destination jobs for coaches and the turnover you do see is more what happened at Florida where a coach is fired and an elite Group of Five coach gets his opportunity. But the coaching chaos has created uncertainty for recruits and this is what happens as a result.

Boyle: Me personally, no I don’t remember it being this unpredictable, just because of the magnitude of coaching changes. You’re always going to get coaching changes and the shakeup because of it. But you rarely see coaches going from one major program to another where it really creates an almost seismic shift and resets the board for a lot of teams. You’re talking about changes at super desirable places in the space of a month — Florida, Miami, LSU, USC, Oklahoma, etc. I can’t’ remember a time with that many significant moves in a space of a few weeks.

Helmets from the University of Georgia, Unversity of Florida and University of Alabama are set out on the table in front of St. John Paul II Catholic High School's Terrion Arnold before he announces his signing on National Signing Day Wednesday, Feb. 3, 2021.

Considering the amount of coaching changes, are you in favor of eliminating the early signing period and going back to just February?

Santucci: Yes. Obviously this could hurt the number of players who want to enroll early (it wouldn’t eliminate it, but it would make it more challenging), but I think it would be better for the seniors who are making life-changing decisions. You have players who have been committed to a program and a school for months and now are trying to figure out their future in a week? That’s not enough time. Let everyone take a breath, figure out what the coaching staffs are going to look like and then make a decision in February. I’m also in favor of altering the official visit rules. It’s not good for a kid to take five official visits during the summer and then have all five of those coaches leave in December.  

Boyle: I liked the idea originally to allow early enrollees to get in there and there are certainly benefits to it. Now, with the issues stemming from coaching changes, NIL rules and the transfer portal, I think if everyone had two extra months it might be a bit of a blessing. Almost assuredly you would have an idea by February of what a coaching staff would look like, what direction a program is going and what schools are in it for the long haul. Signing day should be a time for celebration, not chaos.

Okay, let’s say the NCAA eliminates the early signing period, are you in favor or altering the transfer portal as well. Maybe players could enroll early but wouldn’t be allowed to work out with the team or practice until June to make it an even playing field with high school recruits?

Santucci: I’m not a big fan of the portal and I definitely worry about how moving back signing day to February will force schools to go even deeper into the portal (if that’s possible) for immediate benefits. Moving signing day only works if you almost limit the portal in some way. I get that some kids need to transfer for different reasons, but the sheer number of kids in the portal isn’t a good thing and I worry about policy changes that further damage high school recruiting.

Boyle: That’s the one argument I’m concerned about. Do colleges just go to the portal saying, ‘We can get a transfer in immediately.’ But you also have to take these athletes' feelings into consideration, too. We can't just minimize their opportunities to benefit the high school kids.

University's Noble Thomas (1) gets the interception during a game with Monarch in Deltona, Thursday, August 19, 2021.

Back to the class of 2022. Which decommit has surprised you the most?

Santucci: For me, it’s got to be Gabriel Brownlow-Dindy (Lakeland), who is the No. 1 player in the state on our list. It’s not so much that I’m surprised that he picked Texas A&M as much as he opted not to go to Oklahoma. Throughout the year, even before he announced, most people assumed (I know what happens when you do that) that Brownlow-Dindy would be a Sooner. Both of his parents went to Oklahoma and he grew up a fan. When he committed, it seemed inevitable. Even after Lincoln Riley left, I didn’t expect this.

Boyle: Honestly, you’re almost numb to it most of the time. When a coaching change happens you expect multiple decommitments. I’m not surprised by any one particular decommitment that’s a result of the changes. The ones that surprise me is when it doesn’t involve a coaching change, like Noble Thomas (Orange City University) flipping from Iowa State to Oregon State. He visited both schools in the summer, targeted a commitment date before the season and stuck to it. The change of decision was fairly abrupt, so it caught me off guard.

Naples' Devin Moore (3) catches a pass during the warm-up of the de facto Florida 6A District 14 championship between South Fort Myers and Naples, Friday, Oct. 22, 2021, at Naples High School in Naples, Fla.

Which decommitment surprised you the least?

Santucci: De’Carlo Donaldson (Gulliver Prep), hands down. Anyone who watched him this year knew that he was a Power 5 pass-catcher. He was committed to Tulane since the spring, but I felt it would be very difficult for the Green Wave to hold on to commits like Donaldson and Gabe Jacas (Fort Pierce Central).

Boyle: I can totally understand it from the perspective of Devin Moore (Naples). Brian Kelly, for me, was the most surprising coaching change. Reports circulated he tried to bring Marcus Freeman and most of Notre Dame's staff with him to Baton Rouge, but that did not materialize. Then Florida sent Jules Montinar down for an in-home visit and let him go the same week. Not hard to see why Moore wanted to take a step back before deciding between those two schools.

Dillard's Nyjalik Kelly goes through drills prior to a game against St. Thomas Aquinas on Oct. 22, 2021. St. Thomas Aquinas defeated Dillard 23-13.

Who are you most interested to see where they end on Wednesday?

Santucci:Nyjalik Kelly (Dillard). He was the lone player to move into the top 10 on the top 100 list and I he’s one of the best defensive players I’ve seen live this season. He has a teammate, Devaughn Mortimer, heading to Florida State and he tweeted out an FSU picture early in the week. Then Mario Cristobal arrived at Miami and he’s putting on the full-court press. I think it will be Miami, but I won’t trust any predictions until he signs.

Boyle: Assuming these guys all sign on signing day and I don’t know this for a fact, but what’s the interest level for Terrance Gibbs (Winter Park) after his injury history? Sounds like Ole Miss, Texas and South Carolina are in the hunt. And what is Shemar Stewart going to do? Shemar is, in some circles, regarded as the No. 1 commit in the state. Texas A&M is still pushing hard and might close with an unbelievable haul. That intrigues me.

Florida and Miami both changed coaches. Who closes better in the state?

Santucci: I think Cristobal is going to close well. I think a win for him would be landing two or three players in South Florida, something Manny Diaz was struggling to do. He also could grab a player or two who had been committed to Oklahoma. Miami’s previous coaching staff had just eight commits. I could see that number grow closer to 13, which would be a great first week for Cristobal.

Boyle: On Wednesday, Florida probably has the better day. That would be my guess. We’ve known about Billy Napier for a little longer than we’ve known about Mario Cristobal. The Gators have several assistants in place, while we still don’t know much of Mario Cristobal’s staff. Both schools will certainly be worth watching in February, though.

Florida State Seminoles head coach Mike Norvell tosses his hat to a fan after the Seminoles' victory. The Florida State Seminoles defeated the Miami Hurricanes 31-28 Saturday, Nov. 13, 2021.

What about Florida State, which has done a great job holding onto its class?

Santucci:Mike Norvell’s photos are on so many players timelines that it feels like he’s handing out cardboard cutouts. He’s done a great job this cycle and he wasn’t losing kids when the Seminoles struggled badly early in the season. As long as players like Travis Hunter and Sam McCall don’t surprise anybody, this is a really good job.

Boyle: I don’t know if I’m that surprised, to be honest. FSU always recruits well. You look back at their history and there’s not a lot of years that they’re not in the top 15. They’re still able to pull things together because of their history and prestige of the program. They’re still able to find upper echelon players no matter the circumstances.