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Apr 28th
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Signing Day 2012: Changes at Rutgers, Penn State challenge recruitment efforts

hughesJed012812_optBY JED HUGHES

Tomorrow, Wednesday, Feb. 1st is National Signing Day when the top high school recruits in New Jersey and elsewhere can formally sign their Letter of Intent to play college football for a particular college or university. Prior to Signing Day, players may reach verbal agreements with coaches, but no formal agreements may be finalized.

Rutgers will be one of the most interesting schools to watch on Signing Day. Greg Schiano's decision to take the head coaching job in Tampa Bay will impact high school players that he recruited for the Scarlet Knights. In any business agreement, and make no mistake, NCAA Div. I football is BIG business, a level of trust has to be developed in order to complete the deal.

In Rutgers' case, players who bought into Schiano's pitch, his personality, and his history of turning around a bad program into a bowl-winner are certainly re-thinking their decision to attend Rutgers. They and the important people in their lives who are guiding them -- parents, high school coaches, and others -- may naturally feel confused and even slighted. It hurts any football program when its leader defects a week before formal commitments are announced.

New head coach Kyle Flood has had to quickly salvage a lot of relationships, and the timing of Schiano's announcement could not have been worse for his successor. The task now is to rebuild the sense of trust between player and coach violated by Schiano's leaving. Flood benefits somewhat because players who planned on attending Rutgers didn't have much time to look elsewhere. Additionally, he is a known entity to a very important constituency: New Jersey's top high school football programs, such as Don Bosco Prep, Delbarton, Bergen Catholic and St. Peter's Prep, among others.

Penn State's challenges have been well documented. Now that the aura of Coach Joe Paterno is no longer part of the university's allure for young players, the school undoubtedly has lost top level talent that it might otherwise have attracted before the Sandusky scandal became front page news.

Further, the Nittany Lions lost their top selling point to local recruits: Paterno's legend as college football's winningest coach. Competitors will pounce on top players who were leaning towards attending Penn State. It is impossible for Bill O'Brien to devote his full attention to Penn State as he prepares the New England Patriots offense for its Super Bowl match against the Giants on Sunday. Much of the lifting has to be done by Penn State's remaining staff.

Top college programs use every weapon in their arsenal to attract talent. Surely competing schools have been highlighting the uncertainty at Rutgers and the turmoil at Penn State in their efforts to sign recruits. Schools like Alabama and LSU will offer the allure of winning programs, Notre Dame and others rely on their long history, schools in warmer climates will also highlight the advantages of playing in nice weather.

It will be interesting to see how it plays out for the Scarlet Knights, Nittany Lions and other top programs. As always, Signing Day will be fun to watch.

Jed Hughes is Vice Chair of Korn/Ferry and the leader of the executive search firm's Global Sports Practice. Among his high profile placements are Mark Murphy, CEO of the Green Bay Packers; Larry Scott, Commissioner of the Pac-12 Conference; and Brady Hoke, head coach of the University of Michigan Wolverines. Earlier in his career Mr. Hughes coached for two decades in professional and intercollegiate football where he served under five Hall of Fame coaches: Bo Schembechler (Michigan), Chuck Noll (Pittsburgh Steelers), Bud Grant (Minnesota Vikings), John Ralston (Stanford) and Terry Donahue (UCLA). Follow him on Twitter @jedhughesKF.


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