It happens every recruiting cycle. An assistant coach at one school leaves to take a job at another school, turning what was a firm commitment from a highly rated prospect into one where the prospect suddenly needs to take a look around to make sure he has chosen the right school.
Former Florida State offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach Walt Bell left the Seminoles to take the head coach position at UMass last week but he was instrumental in getting Howell to verbally commit to Florida State back in the spring. The two have a very strong relationship and that bond was the driving force in Howell’s decision to pick the Noles.
Now that Bell is gone, Howell is left with a long list of questions that nobody seems to have the answers to right now.
“Sam wants to sign next week,” said Howell’s father, Duke Howell. “He wants to get it over with and sign. I think he would like Florida State to hire their guy, figure out if he’s comfortable with that guy and he wants to stick with his commitment. That is a lot on an 18-year-old when you don’t know who that guy is that will be hired.”
That uncertainty has opened the door for other schools, namely North Carolina and N.C. State, to try to sway Howell away from the Seminoles. Complications with both of those schools, however, are making the situation even more difficult to navigate.
“North Carolina is in the same boat (as Florida State),” said the elder Howell. “All things equal, you stick with the one you’re committed to. You committed to them for a reason but North Carolina is in the same boat right now. I don’t know who they’re going to hire. I haven’t heard anything about who they’ll hire. I think it really seems like (North Carolina head coach) Mack Brown wants to run (Washington State head coach) Mike Leech‘s stuff. He went after (North Texas offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach Graham) Harrell and I don’t know who else he’ll go after. (Former Western Kentucky head coach and Notre Dame offensive coordinator) Mike Sanford‘s name has been thrown around a bit but I’m not sure what will happen.
“I would imagine, as soon as they hire an offensive coordinator, North Carolina would want to put him in front of us and on the phone with Sam to see if we’re comfortable with the guy,” he said. “They’re in the same boat as Florida State.
“Sam thinks N.C. State seems the most stable,” he said. “It’s going to depend on their numbers now that (former Colorado quarterback commit) Ty Evans has flipped to N.C. State. They haven’t ruled out taking two quarterbacks but they might run out of scholarships. I told (N.C. State head coach Dave) Doeren, who is a great guy, to protect himself first and take his quarterback. I said he could sit there and wait for us if he wanted to but Sam isn’t ready. He has two schools that need to hire an offensive coordinator and then we’re going to have to have that play out.”
While the Monroe (N.C.) Sun Valley star quarterback remains in Spartanburg, S.C. for the week of practice leading up to the Shrine Bowl of the Carolinas all-star game, his father and mother will host coaches from at least one school on Thursday night.
“David Kelly from Florida State will be here on Thursday and he’s hoping they have an offensive coordinator to bring here then,” Duke Howell said. “There is a chance North Carolina also comes in that night but we’ll have to see what happens.”
One would think that the school to hire an offensive coordinator first would get the leg up on signing Howell because they would have more time to develop a relationship with him but it appears that’s not the case.
“I don’t necessarily think the school that hires an offensive coordinator first will get him,” he said. “I think both of them (Florida State and North Carolina) are pushing as hard as they can to hire one and I think both schools feel the urgency to hire one because they’re trying to recruit a quarterback that has no idea what kind of offense they’re going to run, who will teach him, or who will develop him. I told Sam to enjoy this week at the Shrine Bowl and we’ll deal with it. We’ll sit down on Sunday when he’s home and hopefully both schools will have an offensive coordinator in place so we can hash it out and see what we think is best. I know he wants to sign in the Early Signing Period, enroll in school, and move on. He doesn’t want to drag it out and I don’t think we’d be in this situation if Walt was still there (Florida State).”
The plan all along for Howell, who is graduating high school in December so he can enroll in college in the spring, was to sign his National Letter of Intent in the Early Signing Period that runs from Wednesday, December 19th through Friday, December 21st but this uncertainty with the offensive coordinators at Florida State and North Carolina could derail that plan.
“After the Shrine Bowl the dead period (an NCAA-mandated time frame when coaches and prospects can’t have face-to-face contact) is going to kick in and Sam, if he does sign next week, is probably never going to meet the offensive coordinator before he gets to school,” Howell said. “He’ll talk to him on the phone but he’s going to have no feel for him and for Sam and us that’s concerning, very concerning, not just as his coach but as his father.
“I have no idea what will happen if neither school has their offensive coordinator by the end of the signing period,” he said. “He won’t sign without an offensive coordinator being in place. There is no way he’ll sign his Letter of Intent not knowing who it’s going to be. In Sam’s mind, he’s gotten to know who is coaching him. He’s not just going to make a decision based on feeling good about who the school is going to hire. He needs to know who that guy is.”
Needless to say, the stress of recruitment is weighing on Howell and his family. With everything seemingly up in the air, the smallest move by any of these three schools could have major implications.