National Signing Day is almost a universally celebrated holiday for college football fans. Even if you didn't land that last top prospect you wanted, or if your signing class is small, or you didn't get everyone on your wish list, it's almost impossible not to find the day to be one of hope. Maybe everyone just overlooked your guys, maybe you've got three first rounders in your group, maybe this is the collection of guys that will put you over that hump you've been struggling with for the better part of a decade! That song and dance got a lot harder to pull off in Piscataway in February.
A year removed from pulling off a 9-4 rookie season that almost saw them knock highly ranked Louisville out of the BCS, Kyle Flood had quite a bit of momentum. As I've discussed ad nauseam around these parts, recruiting is all about momentum. So to anyone paying attention, it was no surprise when Rutgers picked up commitments from the likes of 4* S Kiy Hester, 4* WR Adonis Jennings, 4* WR Saeed Blacknall, 4* QB Tyler Wiegers, 4* RB Jonathan Hilliman and plenty of other high level talent. It looked like Rutgers was stocking up on firepower for their impending move to the B1G, and things were all smooth in Jersey.
And so just as the law of momentum giveth, the law of momentum taketh away. And hoooooo boy did it take from Rutgers. What would have been a historically talented class ended up being a nightmare for Kyle Flood and his staff. It all started in early November, before their season even began to fall apart. Sitting at 5-3 on their off weekend might not have been where the coaching staff envisioned being, but the three victors (Fresno State, Houston, Louisville) weren't so untalented themselves. So it must have blind-sided the staff a bit when three of their top potential signees all phoned it in during a disastrous 2-day span.
The man who got it all started was the aforementioned 4* WR Adonis Jennings, who abruptly tweeted that he had decommitted from Rutgers on Sunday night, after having taken trips to Pitt and Iowa during the past month. Jennings would eventually sign with Pitt in February, and is expected to have the inside track on a starting spot, or at least serious playing time. If Flood thought a good night's sleep would shake off the loss, he was wrong. In the morning, 4* S Kiy Hester called and told the staff that he, too, would like to explore his options. Although the top 250 in-stater fully intended to keep Rutgers at or near the top, Flood would put the kibosh on that.
"I called coach Flood, and the way the conversation went, they basically closed the door," Hester told NJ.com. "That's the way it sounded to me. That's how the conversation basically ended. He was just like, 'There is nothing left to say.' And that was the end of the conversation."
Hester would eventually sign with Miami (YTM), where he's expected to add depth behind returning starters Rayshawn Jenkins and Deon Bush. The day would end with the news of another highly touted DB defecting for greener pastures- 3* DB Lamont Simmons would call the staff later that day and explain his decision. The late riser out of Florida seemed to be attracted by the offer he had just received from USC, where he would eventually sign.
And with that two day span, the Flood gates (pun completely intended) were open. Below, I've done my best to assemble the most accurate timeline I could conjure of the devastation.
10/1/13: 3* CB Deion Hallmon [Signed with Northern Illinois]
11/10/13: 4* WR Adonis Jennings [Signed with Pitt]
11/11/13: 4* S Kiy Hester [Signed with Miami]
11/11/13: 3* CB Lamont Simmons [Signed with USC]
11/17/13: 4* QB Tyler Wiegers [Signed with Iowa]
12/15/13: 4* RB Jonathan Hilliman [Signed with Boston College]
12/18/13: 3* TE Jordan Fuchs [Signed with Indiana]
1/8/14: 4* LB Skai Moore [Signed with South Carolina]
1/19/14: 3* DB Waynedriko Smith [Signed with Indiana]
1/24/14: 3* DT Pete Mokwuah [Signed with Notre Dame]
1/26/14: 4* WR Saeed Blacknall [Signed with Penn State]
1/30/14: 3* MD OT Justin Herron [Signed with Wake Forest]
Even writing that now, I'm somewhat in shock. If any school just signed those 12 players, they would have a pretty damn good class. I mean, look at those schools that poached these kids- USC, South Carolina, Notre Dame, Penn State, Miami. There are schools who have had the very existence of their football program in doubt and lost fewer players. So, what happened? Where did all of this come from? I have a few theories on that.
1. I SAY SOMETHING ABOUT MOMENTUM AGAIN. Yeah, kids are kids, man. Jennings made up his mind at some point when he was visiting Pitt, I'd reckon. But would Hester or Wiegers have jumped ship if he hadn't decommitted first? At the very least, it seems like they would have had a fighting chance to keep Hester. But once all these chips start falling, your problem becomes two-fold. (1) Can we keep the rest of our guys from joining them? (2) What kind of recruit is going to be gung ho about joining a school everyone's running from? From Hilliman..
What would you say played the biggest role in your decision to de-commit from the Rutgers program?
Well, I'd be lying to you if I didn't say the de-commitments. That was definitely concerning for me. Talking to them -- I know them personally -- they expressed their concerns, and it kind of made me look into it.
Sometimes a highly touted kid will change his mind and all of the sudden Laremy Tunsil, Laquon Treadwell and Antonio Conner are lining up to sign with you. Sometimes, the opposite happens, though I've never seen it happen this hard. Part of that may have to do with the...
2. THE LATTER HALF OF THE SEASON KIND OF FELL APART. Rutgers won 2 of their last 7 games, and those victories came over USF and Temple, who combined for only 4 wins themselves. They got shellacked by Houston, Cincinnati and UCF, while also losing slightly tighter games to UConn and Notre Dame in the Pin Stripe Bowl. Whatever positive momentum they had gotten from Flood's rookie season began to fall apart. Kids notice, especially when next season's schedule should be significantly more difficult than the AAC..
The No. 1 recruiting factor is winning, period," Farrell said. "Kids are looking at [Rutgers'] struggles this year - at least that's what they're telling me - ‘Hey, they're moving from a horrible conference to a really good conference, and they're not going to be able to compete.'
3. SCANDAL. In case you hadn't been paying attention, Rutgers has been in the news for a lot of the wrong reasons lately. The football program was tossed into that pile, when defensive back Jevon Tyree alleged bullying on the part of Defensive Coordinator Dave Cohen. This came only 7 months after Men's Basketball Coach Mike Rice was found to have abused many of his players during his tenure. To make matters worse, new AD Julie Hermann allegedly lied about contact she had had with Tyree's father regarding coaching decisions (he asserts he never spoke to her office) and supposedly abused some of her own volleyball players at the University of Tennessee. And as a result...
4. A LOT OF COACHES LEFT/WERE FIRED. Among them was aforementioned DC Dave Cohen, QB Coach Rob Spence and OL Coach Damian Wroblewski. OC Ron Prince left of his own accord. Flood made these staff changes quickly after the season in order to mitigate the damage it did to the recruiting class, but that kind of thing will still hurt the kids who have been recruited by the same coach for a year or more. Again, from Hilliman..
Obviously, I know coach (Dave) Cohen and he was one of my recruiters. And I know he's not that type of guy. But just the negative attention RU was getting brought a lot of drama to it. And the firings of the coaches definitely brought more discomfort for me. And I just needed to see what else was out there to give myself a safety net.
5. RUTGERS KEEPS RUTGERSING ALL OVER THEMSELVES. Part of this could fall under part 3, but Rutgers has really not handled any of this well, and both prospects and coaches have noticed.
The firing of well-respected athletic director Tim Pernetti also angered New Jersey coaches who thought the school was "throwing him under the bus," Lemming said. And Cohen, quarterbacks coach Rob Spence and offensive line coach Damian Wroblewski were fired this month, adding to the sense of instability
Did Pernetti have to go? Perhaps. But aside from abuse allegations, the new lady in town hasn't helped things much, either.
Athletic director Julie Hermann offered only the most tepid vote of confidence for her coach while he was twisting in the wind, and only did that grudgingly after a final-game victory over South Florida clinched a bowl bid. She sent a message to the world that Flood was a Dead Coach Walking.
The first and only job of the AD at a Division 1 football school: Give everything the head coach needs to succeed, from facilities to money to - at the bare minimum - unwavering public support until the day you decide to fire him. Instead, Hermann loaded the guns and handed them to any opposing coach recruiting against her football program.
When the alternative for some of these prospects (like Blacknall) is a high-falutin James Franklin with lots of momentum and an outstanding reputation, the choice comes pretty easily. But the fault hasn't only been with the athletic department. The coaching staff itself has made some questionable decisions along the way..
Jennings' rift with the coaching staff began when he reportedly was told there was only one spot remaining at receiver, leading to his early commitment. Then in August, Blacknall committed.
In the meantime, Rutgers did not want Jennings taking visits.
"When a high-level kid from a big-time in-state program who everybody knows feels he wasn't told the truth by the staff - that word can get around pretty quickly," Farrell said. "He said he just felt he lost trust."
They lost a talented WR due to their lack of transparency. He wouldn't be the only one, however. Regarding Indiana commit Jordan Fuchs...
"Coach (Rob) Spence recruited Jordan," said Michael Fuchs. "And while we are on our official visit, they fire him? No one cares to explain it to us or even let us know it was happening? We found out from Twitter that he was fired the Sunday on our visit."
There also was a disagreement during the visit that caused the Fuchs' visit to be cut short prior to meeting with head coach Kyle Flood for the visit wrap-up. Fuchs - a mid-year qualifier - was not extended a National Letter of Intent, solidifying that he and Rutgers would not enter the Big Ten together.
"A little respect and common sense goes a long way," Michael Fuchs said. "I am very disappointed. I wanted my son here in the NYC area.
"I have not heard a word from Rutgers since I was on that visit (Dec. 6 weekend). Done deal. (He's an) Indiana recruit."
I'm sure there are lots of other factors that played into this epic shit-storm of a recruiting cycle for Rutgers, but I eventually have to go into exactly what they DID end up with. The end result of all this chaos was a 26 man class that ranked 12th in the B1G despite its size. There were no composite four stars among the group, although QB Giovanni Rescigno was a bit of a late riser who grabbed a fourth star from ESPN. Rescigno was Shane Morris' replacement at Warren De La Salle, and a bit of a promising late bloomer. The Michigan product has a long frame, good athleticism, and a pretty strong arm. That's all advantageous for Rutgers, since the other QB in this class was Minnesota transfer Phillip Nelson, who will not be playing there.
The loss of the aforementioned Hilliman was somewhat aided by the addition of FL RB Josh Hicks, a speedy Under Armour All American who chose Rutgers over an offer from Miami (YTM). Joining Hicks is PA RB Robert Martin, a decently built back who lacks the same upside as his counterpart. Paving the way for these two is a haul of 6 offensive linemen, all of whom check in solidly in the three star range. Leading the way through their holes will be FL FB Jacob Kraut, who I am personally very fond of. I wouldn't be thrilled to spend a scholarship on a fullback, but if you do, you know he's going to be one bad man. The 240 pound thumper also had an offer from Maryland, among others.
On the defensive side of the ball, the Scarlet Knights added a lot of depth. Five defensive backs were signed; the headliner of the group is probably CT DB Andre Boggs, a post-grad kid who at one time held offers from Wisconsin and Penn State. Another PG kid, DT Eric Wiafe, is an undersized DT with good burst to him. He'll need to add to that 260 pound frame, but the upside's there. Rounding out the linebacker group is my favorite prospect in the class, NJ LB Justin Nelson, who looks ready to play at 235 pounds right now.
All in all, this class has to be a major let down for Rutgers fans. While recruiting might not be the biggest issue facing the program at the moment, it's certainly going to catch up with them a year or two down the road. The pain's only augmented by the fact that, should they have held onto all of their kids, it would have been a headliner class as they headed into B1G play. While the kids they ultimately signed aren't, per se, bad, it essentially looks like a bigger version of the 2012 Penn State class- a 'tweener group of local kids who sign up for the chance to play at the FBS level. Hopefully, with time, Flood can level off the ship and bring a little swagger back to a program that looked incredibly promising one short year ago. However, with the B1G schedule he faces this year and a number of distractions waiting off the field, it's quite a mountain he'll have to climb to get there.