Pac-12 changes leave recruits in limbo

The past week, particularly the last 24 hours, have seen big changes in three programs in the Pac-12 and left recruits wondering what to do next.

On Monday, after weeks of speculation, Arizona State’s Dennis Erickson and UCLA’s Rick Neuheisel were let. This comes less than a week after Arizona hired former Michigan coach Rich Rodriguez to replace Mike Stoops.

“We’re all just going to play things by ear,” Long Beach (Calif.) Poly linebacker Matt Rowe said, speaking for himself and the other four Poly players – WR Richard Smith, WR Randall Goforth, OLB Salamo Fiso and WR Josiah Blandin -- committed to Arizona State. “I was always taking all five of my official visits so this doesn’t really change that much for me.

“If ASU hires a great coach, we’ll all definitely still give them a hard look but it’s hard to say right now because we have no idea who that coach will be. I’m looking at UCLA too so it’s funny two of my schools are looking for new coaches but I’m playing it out.”

Smith echoed Rowe’s statement.

“I kind of saw it coming so none of us were surprised,” Smith said. “It’s disappointing for me because I liked Coach Erickson and the staff a lot. At the same time, that’s life, that’s why you don’t commit to a school just because of the head coach.

“I think with the right hire, ASU will still be a strong program. They have talent there and will be a winning team. UCLA was my No. 2 choice so I’m interested to see how that new hire plays out. I haven’t heard anything on who the new coach could be but I plan to wait things out and visit both schools and make my decision close to signing day.”

Sun Devils offensive lineman commit Stephon McCray (Fresno, Calif./Bullard) said he didn’t know what to think about the firing.

“I really don’t know what is going to happen now,” McCray said. “I’ve never been through this before so I guess I’m just going to wait things out and see who they hire. I would like to stay with ASU and was happy with my decision but now it looks like things could be opening up again.”

Long-time Sun Devils commit Kenny Lawler (Upland, Calif./Upland) said he has completely opened up his recruitment.

“I’m totally decommitted from ASU right now,” Lawler said. “I will give them a look after they hire a new coach but I’m starting all over again and don’t have any favorites or leaders. I was also looking a little at UCLA but they’re out and I’m going to focus on the schools that have been with me the longest like Washington, Nebraska, Cal and Michigan.”

One player who had ASU and UCLA in his final three, Ishmael Adams (Westlake Village, Calif./Oaks Christian), said the news doesn’t impact his decision much at all.

“To be honest, it doesn’t mean much to me either way,” Adams said. “I’m sure both will hire good coaches and both programs will be fine. I’m still going to look at them along with Cal and make my decision at the Army game. It has been a crazy few days but I’m going to see how things sort out and stay open to everyone until I decide.”

Brandon Beaver (Compton, Calif./Dominguez) is another player who had both schools in his final five and can’t help but slide the Bruins and Sun Devils down his list.

“I guess I’m bad luck or something,” Beaver joked. “I really liked both schools and planned to visit both before I committed anywhere. This definitely moves up other schools like Washington and Cal because no matter who ASU or UCLA hire, I will have a better relationship with these other schools and they have been recruiting me longer.”

For the players committed to UCLA, the whole season has been a roller coaster ride of sorts. There has been speculation that Neuheisel was on the hot seat before the year even started and with every loss, that seat got hotter.

“I had a feeling something like this could happen,” La Habra (Calif.) UCLA linebacker commit Aaron Porter said. “I’m still committed but just want to wait and see how things play out. I committed to UCLA for a lot more reasons than just the coach. The location played a huge role and that won’t change. I also love the academics of the school so if they bring in a real solid coach, I think we’ll be fine. Like I said, I’m just playing everything by ear.”

Defensive back Raymond Ford (Gardena, Calif./Serra) is still a Bruins commit – for now -- and had had the Sun Devils as his second choice.

“I’m open right now,” Ford said. “I guess you could say I’m still committed but for the last month, I was planning to take some visits and I have SMU this weekend. I’m curious who UCLA hires and I like the idea of staying close to home but I’m going to go through the process like I’m not committed to anyone and give every school a fair shot.”

The Bruins were recruiting Honolulu (Hawaii) Punahou very hard and had four players visiting officially in mid-January, including committed kicker Ka’imi Fairbairn and running back Steven Lakalaka. Defensive ends Luke Kaumatule and DeForest Buckner were also planning to visit.

“I can’t speak for the others but I would still like to visit,” Buckner said. “I just have to wait and see who they hire and what assistant coaches they keep. Coach [Inoke] Breckterfield was recruiting all of us and he was a good guy so hopefully they keep him. Otherwise, I think we all just want to wait and see how it plays out before deciding anything.”

For one player, it means UCLA is now back in his top five.

“I’ve always liked UCLA,” said Atwater (Calif.) Buhach Colony defensive lineman Aziz Shittu, who dropped UCLA from serious consideration earlier in the year. “I wanted to see if they would win some games this year but that wasn’t happening. I liked Neuheisel but I’m not surprised this happened. I think UCLA will be able to bring in a big name coach and they’re definitely back in my top five right now.

“I haven’t set up any of my last four visits but UCLA is going to get a visit for sure. I think a lot of players are in the same boat as me. They wanted to see what kind of season UCLA had and now that a new coach is coming in, I know I’m very curious to see what kind of direction they’re going to go.”