Kevin Gorman: Early signing period arrives, just too late
Signing day came 50 days earlier than usual for most major college football programs but almost 14 years too late for one.
It's impossible to forget how devastated Walt Harris was Feb. 4, 2004, when five top recruits signed elsewhere. National recruiting analyst Tom Lemming said “that class might have cost Walt Harris his job” at Pitt.
That day, Harris advocated for an early signing period. It arrived Wednesday, five Panthers coaches later.
“I thought it was a logical idea, to make it better for the high school student-athletes,” Harris said. “They're doing two jobs: getting recruited and being student-athletes. That's a lot.
“It takes the pressure off the young people who are being recruited so hard. If they have a place they know they want to go, it's better to get it over with and enjoy their senior year instead of getting bombarded by colleges. Coaches can isolate on the ones still hanging. They're going to get a lot of attention. It's going to get intense.”
The inaugural early signing day was largely a success for regional schools like Pitt, Penn State and West Virginia. All three signed the majority of their committed prospects, even though none of them scored the top prize. Pine-Richland All-America quarterback Phil Jurkovec kept his word and signed with Notre Dame.
The early signing period scares Pitt coach Pat Narduzzi, who talked about his fears that the process will be sped up instead of solving the problems.
“These are hard decisions, even for guys that it was easy,” Narduzzi said. “I talked to one that said, ‘My mom was sweating this morning.' It's not easy. You feel like you're signing a scholarship, but you feel like you're signing your son away when a parent puts a signature down there — and you'd better be signing him to the right people.”
Whether the same people they signed with, especially the assistant coaches who do the heavy lifting on recruiting, will be at the same school by the second signing period in February is a mystery.
Signing day is supposed to mark the end of the recruiting process, but instead it could be the start of a frenzy for those who haven't signed.
“I worry a little about the second signing period because there are a few guys and a bunch of schools that want those few guys,” Penn State coach James Franklin said. “In the past, those schools were trying to chase 20 guys, and now you're going to have 20 schools chasing one guy.
“It's going to get interesting.”
West Virginia coach Dana Holgorsen admitted to being angry after signing day in years past because of recruiting losses.
“We never try to win signing day,” Holgorsen said. “There are a lot of programs out there that just try and win that day, and they are not even coaching anymore.”
In that sense, Penn State was the big winner. Where the Nittany Lions signed a top-three class that was filled with four- and five-star prospects, Pitt's class didn't have one.
But you can't claim victory until after the class comes through. In '04, Harris lost top-100 recruits Anthony Morelli, Andrew Johnson and James Bryant, but the Panthers signed All-Big East performers Josh Cummings, Derek Kinder, Adam Gunn, Scott McKillop and Darrelle Revis and a future NFL back in Rashad Jennings.
Had Harris signed everyone who committed, Pitt could have competed for a national championship. Instead, the program was dealt a blow at a time when the ACC was raiding the Big East and his job security was in question. Hindsight, as Harris once proclaimed, is 50-50.
Sorry, but an early signing day doesn't solve that. Recruiting is about to get interesting. And intense.
Kevin Gorman is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter at KGorman_Trib.