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January 22, 2012

Long-term deals are far from guarantees

As a junior, Chad Voytik heard a variety of recruiting pitches. Any four-star quarterback in the Rivals250 would hear his share.

After a while, those that became pertinent were the promises of a coach or coaches staying for the long haul. Promises in writing.

"That was a big recruiting tool they used, that they just signed a contract and that they'd be there for my years and more years than that," Voytik said.

Voytik committed to Pittsburgh in July to Todd Graham, who had not coached a game for the Panthers at that point. Less than five months later, Voytik was wondering who his next head coach would be.

Voytik, the other recruits in Pittsburgh's signing class and a handful of recruits from across the country represent a cautionary tale in recruiting: The same coaches recruiting a prospect aren't necessarily the same coaches who will watch the player graduate. Or complete a year or two of college.

Of 120 coaches at FBS programs, 78 have completed three seasons or fewer, meaning a majority of football coaches have yet to see their first crop of freshmen graduate as seniors.

Graham left Pittsburgh for Arizona State with four years left on his contract; he took the Pittsburgh job two years after agreeing to a 10-year contract at Tulsa.

Graham isn't the first coach to leave with years left on his contract. He won't be the last. He's not even alone in ugly exits. Arkansas coach Bobby Petrino left Louisville for the Atlanta Falcons less than six months after agreeing to a 10-year contract with the Cardinals. The stories go on and on.

And it's not just coaches leaving one job for another with a contract on the table. Athletic directors are just as finicky: Former Texas A&M coach Mike Sherman received a one-year contract extension on his five-year deal and a raise in July. He was fired Dec. 1.

Pittsburgh alone has had a bit of every angle. Before Graham left after one season, Pittsburgh fired Mike Haywood after two weeks following domestic violence charges. Haywood replaced the fired Dave Wannstedt, who received a contract extension through 2014 less than a year earlier.

Still, the adage to pick a school and not a coach is easier said than done.

"A lot of kids put so much weight on the coach," said Voytik, who reaffirmed his commitment to Pitt before the Panthers hired Wisconsin offensive coordinator Paul Chryst. "It's an important part of the decision, I know, but I think that kids need to realize coaches are dealing with what recruits are dealing with - they're looking for the right opportunity."

Head coaches aren't the only ones looking for the right opportunity. That much was reinforced last week.

Defensive line coach Tosh Lupoi reinforced his status as one of the nation's best recruiters this season as the 2010 Rivals.com national recruiter of the year started assembling a star-filled class for California. Three players - five-star safety Shaq Thompson five-star defensive tackle Ellis McCarthy and four-star running back Jordan Payton - committed to the Bears during the U.S. Army All-America Bowl in part because of Lupoi.

Lupoi was the primary recruiter for Cal four-star commits Freddie Tagaloa, Michael Barton and Bryce Treggs. The defensive line coach also was involved in recruiting Rivals100 linemen Aziz Shittu and Arik Armstead.

But Lupoi was being paid less than market value ($164,000) for a nationally recognized recruiter who also coached two defensive linemen, end Cameron Jordan and tackle Tyson Alualu, who were selected in the first round of the NFL draft in the last two seasons.

Washington presented an opportunity few would pass up, and Lupoi left Cal for its Pac-12 rival on Jan. 16. Reports indicate Lupoi could make at least $350,000 at Washington.

"He came by the house a couple days ago and we were talking and he said he was going to stay with Cal, but after I talked to him a lot of things kind of unfolded the next few days and led to his decision," Barton told Rivals.com the day Lupoi left for Washington. "I know he did what's best for him and his family, but it's kind of tough because he's a player's coach and everybody felt really connected to him."

Cal has already lost one Lupoi recruit in McCarthy, who committed to UCLA days later. The Bears may lose others, but they may keep a few, too.

"I just have to look at all the other reasons that I chose Cal, and where the program's been," Barton told Rivals. "I still have a lot of faith in the program."

Many coaches don't go waving around their contracts in recruits' living rooms, but prospects are aware of where a coach stands.

When Georgia started the season 0-2, Mark Richt was the nation's most popular hot seat coach. He finished the season with an SEC East title, 10 wins and in talks for a contract extension beyond 2013. His defensive coordinator, Todd Grantham, also is working on an extension.

Before Stone Mountain (Ga.) Stephenson running back Mike Davis eventually committed to South Carolina, he considered Georgia.

Richt never talked about his contract and really didn't need to. Still, Davis said Richt's newfound stability was a factor in his decision-making process.

"I would consider Georgia regardless of that, but of course it would have an effect," Davis said at Army Bowl practices. "He never brought up the contract status. But after going 10-3 he's gonna be there."

Rivals100 linebacker Nick Dawson also said the coaches who recruited him never mentioned their contract status. He considered Clemson and N.C. State but committed to Louisville. Coach Charlie Strong has been at Louisville for two seasons but was a rumored candidate for job openings after each. In October, he agreed to a seven-year contract extension running through 2015.

Before he announced his decision to Louisville, Dawson was asked if he could trust coaches who say they're in it for the long haul considering so many move - either on their own accord or involuntarily.

"It's hard to, but I trust them," Dawson said.

Voytik was trusting as well, but in the end, it was for the best for him.

"I believed it," Voytik said. "It was nice to hear and reassuring. I'm glad he said it because now I'm at the school I want to go to. I have a coach I'm even more positive about it."

David Fox is a national writer for Rivals.com. He can be reached at dfox@rivals.com, and you can click here to follow him on Twitter.



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