New Oklahoma coach Brent Venables, who once made news by telling reporters he turned down the Auburn job that was never offered to him, is a hypocrite.
Venables is putting together his first full recruiting class since becoming a head coach. One of his targets is Ryan Yaites of Denton, Texas.
We know Yaites is a priority for Venables because the defensive back was one of the featured guests last weekend at the Party at the Palace recruiting event in Norman. Yaites is committed to LSU but is still being heavily pursued by the Sooners.
That makes Venables’ recent public statement not just unhinged but also disingenuous. Here’s what Venables had to say about an Oklahoma recruit deciding to visit another school before signing day.
“There are a lot of flaws in taking a commitment, making a reservation and then going and doing your thing,” Venables said. “How can I manage a roster or who else I have to offer if I have nine guys committed but they are going to Bama, Georgia, LSU and A&M? How can I manage? How can I take commitments when I don’t know what my numbers are?
“I don’t want a guy to commit. Do not commit. ‘Hey, Coach, I’m ready to commit.’ ‘Hey, buddy, here’s what commitment looks like now.’ I want to make sure you know, that you know, that you know, that you know, so when I say, ‘Will you marry me?’ and you say, ‘Yes,’ we get married and we start off on the right foot, not like I dated four or five women and all of a sudden we’re feeling some kind of way. Is someone actually going to show up?”
That would be called taking the higher moral ground if Venables was willing to stop recruiting players who are committed to other schools. Clearly, he is not.
Dick Vitale, the blustery basketball announcer, is also unhappy that Alabama is on the verge of pilfering the top recruit away from his Notre Dame Fighting Irish. Edge rusher Keon Keeley of Tampa, who has been committed to Notre Dame for more than a year, was in Tuscaloosa last weekend.
Here’s what Vitale wrote on Twitter about that: “I have a problem in college sports where players commit to schools & yet coaches from other schools still recruit them. JUST DON’T COMMIT if u still want to visit other schools & be recruited. Simply zero morals in many recruiting situations.”
Even Arkansas commit Joey Su’a weighed in on the topic. He wrote on Twitter: “Committed means committed not going and trying other uniforms on. Now you’re just playing dress-up. It might as well be Halloween then.”
That’s a good line by Su’a. But it doesn’t reflect the reality of how cutthroat big-time recruiting is.
In the case of Keeley, he committed to Notre Dame when Brian Kelly was the coach. Since then, Kelly has left for LSU without a single question about his character for walking away from his commitment to Notre Dame.
Every time someone decides to virtue signal in regard to appropriate behavior for recruits, I think of the case of Darius Philon.
Philon was a star at Vigor High School a decade ago. He was set to sign with Alabama in front of an enthusiastic crowd at his high school. But Alabama coaches decided they wanted him to delay his college enrollment until the Tide had a scholarship available. Philon was in tears as he fought off embarrassment and confusion on signing day. He eventually signed with Arkansas and became a star at the college he had never even visited.
Philon was living by the code that Venables, Vitale and Su’a are espousing. He was going to Alabama, so there was no need to visit any other schools.
Obviously, he would have been better off keeping his options open just in case something beyond his control happened.
In an ideal world, once a player commits to a school, that should be the end of his recruitment. But in that ideal world, coaches wouldn’t change jobs after players commit, recruiters wouldn’t change their minds about a player after accepting his commitment, the phrase “committable offer” wouldn’t be part of the recruiting lexicon, and coaches like Venables would set an example for everyone else by not recruiting players who have already committed elsewhere.
Of course, that’s not going to happen. So, Venables will continue to be as much a part of the problem as the recruits who learn from adults what commitment really means.
Randy Kennedy, who has been a leading voice on the Gulf Coast sports scene for 20 years, writes a weekly column for Lagniappe. His sports talk show airs weekdays from 2-6 p.m. on Sports Talk 99.5 and the free iHeartRadio app.
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