Signing Day 2011 looked like it was going to be like any other signing day: coaches releasing names of future players, recruitniks breaking down the prospects with highlight tapes, bogus "star rankings" from internet services, and the media finally getting a chance to ask questions about the incoming class. From my perspective, it's a non-event. The actual letters-of-intent are important, but the rest ranges somewhere between irrelevant to simply bogus. Names? Guess we need to know that. Height? Not likely to change either. Weight? College training programs pretty much make this meaningless. Position? Players bounce from position to position (or are dumped into "athlete"). Speed? Depends on who measured it and how. Talent? The internet services try to do it, but they're amateurs at best at doing it.
I've been turned off by recruiting hype for many years, and so I usually disconnect myself during this time. Disconnect from the internet, turn off sports talk on the radio, set aside the newspaper: all to avoid the hype. Instead, I sat down and reread Bruce Feldman's book "Meat Market". Feldman spent the better part of a year following Ed Orgeron as he and his staff prepared for the 2007 signing class. Orgeron reminds me of Bill Callahan, who tried to recruit his way to the top --- and failed miserably because they didn't coach those recruits well at all. But what got my attention was the reminder of Orgeron's opinion of the recruiting services. He knew they were bogus, but he knew he had to pay attention to them because, no matter how bogus you may find them, some fans obsess about them.
So while the coaches have their own opinions and evaluations of what happened, when it comes to signing day, they have to put their best spin on the day when it comes down to the post-signing press conference. Can't discuss who they didn't get, and have to promote who they did sign. I frankly haven't heard anything newsworthy on signing day in years, so why pay attention?
Turns out this year was different...though this year, the news of interest didn't emerge in Lincoln, but rather Bloomington, Ind., of all places.In his signing day news conference, Indiana coach Kevin Wilson mentioned a couple of changes on his staff. The one that got our attention was that secondary coach Corey Raymond had joined the staff at Nebraska...and that was news around here. Quickly, the questions about Marvin Sanders escalated, and suddenly the focus of signing day was off of the recruiting class and onto the makeup of the staff, where it has remained ever since. Unlike CN's Jon Johnson and BigRedNetwork's Tom Cudd, I'm not bothered by the lack of focus on the recruiting. We'll have plenty of time to discuss these players when they actually take the field in Lincoln and show their stuff against college-level competition. In the meantime, people can speculate all they want about the incoming class, but it's at best meaningless and sometimes completely misleading.
Like Jon, I'm bothered by the departure of Marvin Sanders. Sanders is easily the best secondary coach Nebraska has had in decades. He's turned guys like Prince Amukamara and Eric Hagg into serious NFL prospects, just like he did with Fabian Washington and the Bullocks twins in 2003. He's going to be missed on the field. But listening to the rumor mill and Pelini telling Tom Shatel that he wasn't at liberty to discuss Sanders' departure makes it clear to me that this departure has zero to do with football. Whatever it is (and it appears to be a big problem), it's a shame that something happened that takes him away from the football program.
Over the last day or so, I've attempted to catch up with what's happening down in Lincoln. With the job posting on the UNL web site, we know at least one offensive coach is going to be replaced. If it's only one, my money's on Ted Gilmore, as I haven't been impressed with the development of receivers in recent years. Niles Paul hasn't been consistent, and Brandon Kinnie hasn't been development. If Shawn Watson stays, he'll likely be relinquishing some offensive control, perhaps in exchange for increased responsibilities elsewhere (recruiting, perhaps?) Or maybe they'll both go. I like the concept of Scott Frost returning to Lincoln. Experience with the offense that Bo Pelini seems to want to run (especially with receivers) and a passion for the program (remember his campaign after the 1998 Orange Bowl or his 2005 commentary about Callahan and Steve Pederson?).
But I'm still struggling with getting a read on how Husker fans are reacting to all these events, as I'm getting different reactions depending on who I'm talking to. One is that Husker fans are up in arms over how this is evolving. The secrecy and denials bother some fans. I don't agree with this perspective, as I believe that that Pelini is prohibited (whether it's by lawyers, legalities, his supervisors, or all of the above) from discussing the Sanders situation. Meanwhile, Pelini is trying to reassemble the rest of his staff, and this is an evolving situation. Fans are entitled to know the conclusion, but not necessarily to be part of the interview process. More important is to get this situation resolved soon, if only because spring practice starts next month.
The other is that fans are tired of the media interfering and being nosy in the internal affairs of Pelini's program. I don't agree with this perspective either. Once Wilson let the cat out of the bag, the media had no choice but to ask about it. It sounds like the Journal-Star had heard parts of the Sanders situation but hadn't disclosed it to await something more definitive. Again, I think that for the most part the media hasn't been the issue here either.
It is what it is. A complicated situation that's still evolving. If anything, I think Pelini needs assistance with addressing the media, because once again, Nebraska football is letting everybody else drive the story rather than having Pelini (or someone in Lincoln) manage it. I don't know if Pelini won't accept the help (and thinks he's managing the story just fine by letting the rumor mill run amok) or if he's getting bad advice from the staff in Lincoln. (My instinct says it's probably a bit of both, judging from the job they do with producing Pelini's television program.) But that's not something that resolves itself overnight.
In the meantime, what's your level of comfort or discomfort with this process? We know it's a work in progress, and Pelini isn't going to announce anything until he's reached resolution on what next year's staff is going to be.