On Recruiting: Borges aside, coaching instability plaguing Michigan on recruiting front

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By Jason Rubinstein, Daily Sports Writer
Published January 8, 2014

Let’s go back to the night of September 7th.

Everything seemed perfect for the Michigan football team. The Wolverines dismantled a ranked Notre Dame in front of a record-setting crowd. Beyoncé even exclaimed “Go Blue!” in a halftime video message. Life was good for Michigan fans. The 2014 recruiting class was top-tier, and the 2015 class was starting to take form. Any questions about Brady Hoke or Al Borges’s job security would’ve seemed ridiculous because a Big Ten championship looked within reach.

But then the Wolverines season started to deteriorate, and they fell to 7-5.

Twitter exploded with demands for coaching changes. But was that really justified? Recruits noticed these demands, leading to uncertainty in their minds as to whether coaching changes were imminent.

The first to publicly voice his concerns was five-star cornerback Jabrill Peppers, the Wolverines’s top-rated commit. Peppers tweeted that he would take official visits to other schools in a violation of Hoke’s recruiting policy, leaving Peppers decommitted in the coach’s eye.

“I am still 100-percent committed to the University of Michigan and that is the place where I want to go to college,” Peppers told ESPN’s Tom VanHaaren after the tweet. “With the rumors about coach Hoke possibly not being there, I need to make sure that I have options and have seen other places.”

Two days after Peppers’s tweet, Michigan Athletic Director Dave Brandon published a blog post to dispel rumors about the job security of the coaching staff.

“Brady Hoke is our coach and will be leading our football program well into the future,” he wrote on MoGoBlue.com. “There is no question about it. Anyone making efforts to stir up a coaching controversy at Michigan is ill-informed and is likely promoting a personal agenda that is not in the best interest of Michigan football.”

Brandon’s assurances worked. Peppers later took an official visit to Ann Arbor and decided other visits wouldn’t be part of his plan, reaffirming his commitment to the Wolverines.

Borges, though, wasn’t in Michigan’s future plans despite Brandon’s reassurances about the staff. On Wednesday, Hoke announced Borges wasn’t retained for a fourth year.

Maybe it was a necessary change. But the Wolverines’s prized 2015 commit, five-star running back Damien Harris, soon tweeted, “Man ..... I can’t believe this about Coach Borges.”

Only time will tell whether or not Harris will decommit, but coaching changes certainly won’t help, even if the offense may improve without Borges. Harris’s high school coach has ties to Borges. The two coached together at Auburn in 2007. It’s possible that this is where Harris’s apparent displeasure with the move is rooted.

And if he decommits, it would be the second major loss for Michigan.

George Campbell, a 2015 five-star wide receiver and ESPN’s No. 2 overall recruit, officially decommitted from Michigan in late December, shocking Wolverine fans and defying the promise he made when he committed in August.

“I’m going to stick with (Michigan),” Campbell said in an earlier interview with ESPN’s Jared Sandler. “I was taught to stay with my commitment, and that’s something I’m going to do, no matter what, with Michigan.”

Weeks after the Peppers scare, Campbell speared many Michigan hearts, even before Borges was fired. Many believe Campbell’s decommitment occurred because of his family’s views. Yes, Campbell will be able to play closer to home if he chooses to stay in Florida or enroll anywhere in the south.

When a player commits to an out-of-state school, there’s always a degree of uncertainty. Those qualms are easier to handle with a father-like coach. Hoke’s supposed job insecurity may well have been the factor that caused Campbell to decommit.

It didn’t end there. Hjalte Frojoldt, a four-star defensive line prospect who hails from Denmark committed to Arkansas over Michigan after most recruiting analysts considered him a heavy Wolverine lean. In any given year, committing to Arkansas over Michigan may sound ordinary and justified. After all, would you blame a kid who wants to play in the SEC and warm weather?

But in 2013 Froholt was different. He was a Michigan lean through thick and thin. Arkansas also went 3-9 and didn’t win an SEC game. Yes, Michigan had its struggles, but Arkansas’s were far greater. What did Arkansas have over the Wolverines? Coaching stability. It’s hard to imagine Borges’s firing would’ve had any effect on Froholdt’s recruitment.

Bret Bielema just completed his first year coaching the Razorbacks after winning three consecutive Big Ten titles at Wisconsin. Hoke, on the other hand, has had a couple of strong recruiting classes, but the team hasn’t competed in a Big Ten championship game, much less won the conference.

Had Michigan converted the two-point conversion against Ohio State, or had one of the three field-goal misses been made against Penn State, perhaps that coaching uncertainty wouldn’t have arisen. Would Brandon have been forced to make such a bold statement defending his coach?

Losing Hoke would be disastrous for Michigan. Just look at his recruiting classes. The 2014 contigent is shaping up to be star-studded, while the 2015 class is doing the same, even without Campbell.

Yes, Hoke may be on the hot seat. But consistently calling for his firing only exacerbates the recruiting problems.

For Hoke’s recruiting prowess to continue, the coaching staff largely needs to stay put.