The art of the flip: Why recruits decommit, and why they do it more often

Advocate file photo -- St. Augustine defensive tackle Courtney Garnett has decomitted from Texas after Mack Brown retired.
Advocate file photo -- St. Augustine defensive tackle Courtney Garnett has decomitted from Texas after Mack Brown retired.

Darrel Williams had made his choice. But in his heart, there were unrequited feelings for another.

Courtney Garnett was secure in his decision, but there were troubling signs it might not last.

And Daren Williams is still torn about who to choose.

An episode of “The Bachelor”? Or perhaps a rare male-oriented Lifetime movie?

Nope.

Just three local highly recruited football players who have gone through the process of committing, decommitting and, in Daren Williams’ case, possibly recommitting on the final weekend before National Signing Day.

Williams, a defensive end from East St. John, committed to Tulane in September and flipped to Kansas State a week ago. But he was back on the Tulane campus Friday as the Green Wave made one last pitch.

Darrel Williams, a running back from John Ehret, committed to Arizona State in July when no offer was forthcoming from LSU, which he described as “my dream school.” But when the Tigers did come back to offer Williams in November, he switched, although not making it 100-percent firm until last week.

And Garnett, a defensive tackle from St. Augustine who committed to Texas in April, reversed himself when Longhorns coach Mack Brown stepped down in December. Garnett’s now down to Oklahoma and Notre Dame. He is visiting Notre Dame this weekend after backing off from Oregon.

“It’s giving me headaches,” Garnett said. “I thought I’d made the right decision the first time, but it didn’t work out. I don’t want this to be the wrong one.”

The Williamses (who are not related) and Garnett are not alone.

Although there are no official statistics, 10 to 15 percent of those signing Wednesday had first declared their intentions to go elsewhere.

Given that twice that number never finish out their careers at their first schools, the early indecision is well-founded.

To ESPN recruiting analyst Tom Luginbill, flipping is becoming more common, a product of players committing earlier and then having several months, or even longer, to reconsider.

“The earlier you commit, the more likely you are going to look at your other options,” Luginbill said. “When a kid commits, there are going to be a lot of other overtures coming his way, and it’s human nature to listen to them.

“And some schools put pressure on kids to commit early when they really don’t have to. Everybody’s playing the game.”

Decommitments generally happen amid coaching changes. Sometimes, when the assistant who was the primary recruiter leaves, a player sees an opportunity to go to what he considers a better program. Sometimes, the player sees too many others being signed at his position, or the likelihood of early time elsewhere. Sometimes, the initial school cools on the player.

Any number of other wild cards can factor in.

In Darrel Williams’ case, it was the disappointment of LSU not offering him after he had gone to the Tigers’ invitational camp in the summer at the same time Georgia, which had shown interest, backed off as well.

Arizona State offensive coordinator Mike Lovell, who had earlier established recruiting ties in Louisiana when he was at Tulsa, got a commitment from Williams.

“I thought I might find better or closer to home, and then it looked like coach Lovell was going to leave, and I wouldn’t have wanted to be there without him,” Williams said. “Even if LSU hadn’t offered me, I probably would have moved on, because I just didn’t have a good feeling about it.”

LSU finally did offer Williams — first as an “athlete,” meaning linebacker, and then as a running back when Sione Palelei switched from the Tigers to Oklahoma State.

Williams demurred on the first offer but accepted after the second, decommitting from Arizona State in the process.

He did keep his options open, though, taking an official visit to Tennessee last weekend before canceling one to Texas A&M for this weekend (LSU let him know it would be talking to other running backs if he continued to talk to other schools).

“LSU didn’t like me going to Tennessee, but I wanted to see the other side at least once,” Williams said. “Growing up, I’d always wanted to go to LSU because of the way they run the ball.

“But just because that’s the place you want to go, you’ve got to figure out what’s the best fit for you.”

Garnett said he never wanted to decommit from Texas, and just a few days before Brown stepped down, former LSU assistant Larry Porter — then the Longhorns running backs coach — assured him it wasn’t going to happen.

But when it did, Garnett started listening to the schools that had pursued him, even before rumors of Brown’s departure began.

It has not been an easy time.

“Keeping my word to Texas was important to me,” Garnett said. “When you decommit, for whatever reason, it seems to follow you. I’d tell anybody to wait as long as you can.”

East St. John coach Phil Banko said the same applies in Daren Williams’ case, as it does for anyone.

“Why have we gotten to a point where a kid can’t take his five visits and then make a final decision on Signing Day?” he asked. “You’re talking about a 17- or 18-year-old kid with a lot of things weighing in on him. That’s why so many feel pressured to choose before they’re ready.”