Rules, not Buckeyes' Meyer, to blame in latest recruiting saga
It's no coincidence that the Chicago Bears announced Thursday they had hired Ohio State assistant Stan Drayton as running backs coach.
Thursday was the day after National Signing Day, when young players sign what are essentially non-negotiable contracts with a school. In this particular case, Drayton had been recruiting running back Mike Weber up until Wednesday morning. Chances are, the Bears had been recruiting Drayton for weeks, but Signing Day loomed.
Drayton had a commitment to Buckeyes coach Urban Meyer and Ohio State. His job was to get Weber to commit to the Big Ten powerhouse.
Weber, who's from Detroit, had previously committed and then de-committed from Michigan when it became clear Brady Hoke and his staff would be fired. Weber sweated his Ohio State decision up to the final hour before announcing he'd picked OSU — and then signing — on Wednesday.
Players are recruited by coaches. They commit to coaches; to head coaches who are CEOs and to position coaches those players and their families believe will make them better people and better players.
Then those players sign with schools and are held to those contracts.
But those coaches can tear up their contracts, depending on the wording, just about whenever.
If this sounds like a one-way street, it is. The player is always the pawn.
Weber's high school coach, Thomas Wilcher, is saying his player was misled by Meyer. The coach isn't blaming Drayton for taking a better job, but said in a Friday radio interview that Meyer showed his player "no respect" and recruited him "under false pretenses."
Meyer is one of the best coaches there is, one of the best recruiters there is, a guy who knows the rules and the system and uses every advantage he has.
Nobody thinks Meyer is the Dalai Lama. But none of this makes him the worst person ever, either — even if what Wilcher is saying is right.
Meyer came to Ohio State to win national championships — one is in the books — and wouldn't come until he received bigger salaries for his assistants and promises he'd continue to get the best resources to recruit the best players and develop them. In the last 13 months, four Meyer assistants have bolted for other jobs. Two of those moves came out of nowhere; two didn't.
All four were recruiting players until their final hour on the job.
In the mega-million dollar football business, players get used all the time. There's no such thing as a guaranteed contract in the NFL. The NCAA is going to four-year guaranteed scholarships but there's no stopping a coach from changing his mind about a player. A high school player who commits to a college program doesn't have a guarantee that program really wants him until his letter of intent arrives.
It's a brutal business, but this stuff happens every year, at every level.
Those who don't like it are free to try baseball or soccer — or to not sign on the first day of the signing period. Under this system, that's the only leverage they have.
The Weber-Drayton saga is getting attention because it's the most recent case, and because it involves Ohio State and Michigan. Weber's high school coach is a former Michigan player. Weber is the second player in the last two years to go from Wilcher's program to Columbus.
If Meyer didn't have Ohio State rolling the way he does, Ohio State wouldn't even get a call back from the best high school talent in Michigan. If Meyer didn't have Ohio State rolling the way he does, he wouldn't have seen two assistants leave for head-coaching gigs and two more go to the NFL.
Meyer's job is to keep the machine rolling. He could release Weber from his letter and allow him to go to Michigan, but that would require slowing that machine for at least a second. Don't count on it happening. Chances are, it wouldn't happen even if the schools involved weren't Ohio State and Michigan.
A healthy Ohio State — Michigan rivalry is good. A kid getting deceived is not. But Weber is neither the first nor the last to have a sour recruiting experience, to feel empty or misled and to enter a situation with a position coach who didn't recruit him.
Why do college coaches who flirt with NFL vacancies or bigger, fancier, higher-paying college jobs work like crazy to keep those flirtations secret?
Recruiting is the lifeblood of any program. Recruiting starts too early and too often ends ruthlessly.
It happens every year. At every level.
Blame the business. Blame the rules. But don't blame Meyer.
It's his job to go get the next star recruit.
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