FSU Recruit's Second Thoughts Showcase Double Standard
By Eric Russell
The ridiculous world of college recruiting got a bit crazier last week when five-star linebacker Matthew Thomas announced he wanted to be released from his letter of intent by Florida State. Thomas said he initially wanted to sign with Georgia or USC, but went with his mom’s wishes of him signing with Florida State.
Tuesday at the ACC Spring Meetings, Florida State athletic director Randy Spetman informed the Tallahassee Democrat that the school had no intentions of letting Matthew Thomas out of his letter of intent.
Spetman’s main point: releasing Thomas would set a bad precedent.
“You’d get into a situation where if you release him, then people would be doing that every year,” Spetman said in the article.
Head coach Jimbo Fisher has refused to talk about Thomas in hopes that the two sides can resolve the issue behind closed doors.
The Thomas saga has some looking at FSU as the villain for not releasing the kid from his letter of intent. Others, like Matt Hayes at SportingNews are arguing that Thomas is essentially throwing a tantrum to get his way and should be taught a lesson by being forced to honor his letter of intent.
All of these arguments have some backers, and Spetman is towing the proverbial company line, but there’s one problem with this situation. The thing about assertions like the one Hayes makes is that the NCAA and football coaches — the people who are supposed to teach lessons — have long taught kids that it’s OK to walk out on commitments. They have kind of written the playbook on it. If Thomas wants to leave he may want to see if some of the coaches' tactics for departures work.
For those not familiar with the guidelines to walking out on commitments, there are a couple of lessons coaches have taught about leaving so far.
Lesson 1: Lie, Then Leave
The art of deception has long been a favorite of college coaches on or off the field. Cincinnati head coach Tommy Tuberville may now be infamous for bailing on recruits at a dinner, but long before then he pulled off one of the classic departures. Tuberville employed the good old hyperbole-filled fib during his days as coach of Ole Miss. He told the Ole Miss faithful that he’d have to be carried out of Oxford in a pine box. A day later he showed up in Auburn with a new, lucrative contract — no pine box in site.
Nick Saban, ever the competitor, pulled off an even more historic departure. He took the college coaches departure playbook to the NFL, and pulled off a doozy. Saban didn’t just lie. He did it several times during the course of a few weeks. The culmination of his deception came in the form of a flat-out denial that he would leave the Dolphins' organization.
Saban made departure history with his statement Dec. 21, 2006: “I guess I have to say it. I'm not going to be the Alabama coach. ... I don't control what people say. I don't control what people put on dot-com or anything else. So I'm just telling you there's no significance, in my opinion, about this, about me, about any interest that I have in anything other than being the coach here.”
All of college football knows what happened from there. But hey, Saban later took a chance to teach the kids about remorse when he apologized for his ‘professional mishandling’ of the situation.
Honesty is the best policy, but it hasn’t seemed to work for Thomas so far. Thomas admitted to mishandling his signing day. One would think being honest about a mistake would earn him some understanding from the school and others.
Unfortunately, it doesn’t work that way for the student-athlete.
Now people view Thomas as a kid who just wants to avoid consequences. That may not be the case, but either way, avoiding consequences is another lesson handed down from a few of the NCAA coaches.
Lesson 2: Violations Are The Only "Compelling" Reason
Spetman also said the school would be willing to release Thomas if they had a compelling reason. If only athletic directors and the NCAA held coaches facing potential violations the same way. Pete Carroll, Lane Kiffin and Chip Kelly all contributed to the section of the playbook dedicated to avoiding responsibility for actions.
Many people are attacking Thomas, saying he made a “grown-up” decision and now he should be an adult about it and accept the repercussions. Um, to those keeping score, the grown-ups never suffer for their actions in college football.
Kiffin turned a 7-6 season, an NCAA review and a slew of secondary violations at Tennessee into a job at Southern California. Kiffin bailed on the Vols after one season. He left just a week after eight members of the recruiting class enrolled early, eager to start working under him. Who paid for Kiffin’s violation-marred tenure at Tennessee? The players and coaches he left behind.
Kiffin took over for Pete Carroll, a coach who also employed the get-out-of-jail-free tactic, departing USC just in time to leave his players and their new coaches to deal with a bowl ban and scholarship reductions earned on his watch.
Thomas’ departure isn’t going to affect anybody else much. Yes, Florida State’s defense might miss him, but it’s far less of a mal-intended move then some of the departures coaches have made.
Let Him Leave
Those calling Florida State smart and heralding them for standing their ground should take a look at the other examples that have been set in college football. In many cases the leaders of the young men aren’t displaying qualities of responsible adults. So it’s ridiculous that some are calling for an 18-year-old to be held to a standard that the mentors aren’t.
Nothing good can come from Florida State refusing to release Thomas. The Seminoles don’t want to lose out on a talented young player, but they will likely lose him regardless. He can appeal to the NCAA to get out of the letter of intent or he can sit out a year and then play for any school he chooses.
Forcing Thomas to do that doesn’t help the team or the young athlete, so why do it? It’s easy to argue it will teach him a lesson, but the lessons already passed down haven’t been the best.