Gophers recruits in limbo during coaching search

Andrew Baker

Nothing throws a wrench in the high-stakes, volatile game of Division I football recruiting like a head coaching change. Particularly when the guy on his way out is known, for all the flak he took about losing, for his ethic on the recruiting trail and rapport in prospectsâÄô living rooms. The Gophers have 15 verbally committed, unsigned recruits for next year, and with head coach Tim BrewsterâÄôs firing Sunday and no replacement lined up, all bets are currently off. Regime changes are precarious for recruits because often they committed foremost to a coach, who sold them on a specific system and organizational style. Most have other Division I offers on the table, and whatever factors made them forego those other options are now gone, or at least in serious question. Offensive coordinator Jeff Horton will serve as interim head coach the rest of the season, and while he is a candidate for the long-term job, the Gophers have no timetable for naming a definite replacement. âÄúThose kids are obviously going to have to open up their options and look around, because they have no idea what kind of system the [new] head coach will bring.âÄù recruiting expert Zach Johnson, who runs the Minnesota branch of Rivals.com, GopherIllustrated.com, said. âÄúThey have no idea if the head coach will want them. ThereâÄôs nothing that says the head coach that comes in will have to keep those commitments.âÄù Horton indicated Sunday that until a new coach is hired, recruiting activities will essentially be put on hold, aside from trying to convince the already-verbally committed athletes to stick with their decision. âÄúI donâÄôt think it would be wise to [bring in recruits for campus visits] without knowing what a new coachâÄôs philosophy [is] or the kind of players heâÄôs looking at,âÄù Horton said. Upon hearing the news of BrewsterâÄôs firing, three-star linebacker Quinn Bauducco told GopherIllustrated.com that heâÄôll wait and see who Minnesota hires to replace Brewster before deciding whether heâÄôll stay committed. Mahtomedi offensive lineman Tommy Olson, MinnesotaâÄôs second-highest ranked recruit on Rivals, told the site that that the firing wonâÄôt affect his commitment, while fellow in-state recruits Peter Westerhaus and Devin Crawford-Tufts said they were not sure. âÄúWeâÄôll encourage the kids to stay with their commitment,âÄù Horton said, âÄúbecause hopefully [when] you talk to kids when they choose universities, [they realize] you canâÄôt really choose it all the time because of the coach, because the coach might not be there the whole time youâÄôre there.âÄù Recent history indicates that when big-name schools fire coaches mid-season, the quality of the following seasonâÄôs recruiting class usually takes a hit. In 2008, Kansas State fired coach Ron Prince after a 4-5 start (though unlike Brewster, Prince was allowed to finish the season, going 1-2 in the final three games). Rivals ranked the WildcatsâÄô 2008 recruiting class 27th in the nation, and the 2009 class didnâÄôt even crack the top 50. Clemson ousted Tommy Bowden after a 3-3 start the same year and the Rivals ranking of the TigersâÄô recruiting class dropped from 12th in 2008 to 37th in 2009. In 2004 Florida coach Ron Zook was fired with four games remaining in the season and, like Prince, stayed on for the remainder, going 3-1. The GatorsâÄô recruiting class dropped from No. 7 in 2004 to No. 15 in 2005. The Gophers must act quickly if they want to avoid a similar decline. âÄúI still think thereâÄôs every chance of having a solid recruiting class,âÄù team spokesman Andy Seeley said. âÄúIt will all depend on when they get a new staff and a new head coach lined up.âÄù Even if all the 2011 recruits stick to their commitments, the GophersâÄô next coach is not obligated to keep them. Johnson said about half of the recruits committed to Minnesota for next year had no other bowl championship series schools courting them, and therefore will hope to remain Gophers. âÄúThe kids who had multiple BCS offers, theyâÄôll be the ones thatâÄôll probably look at other options,âÄù Johnson said.