With National Signing Day only a few months away, recruiting is heating up for college football programs all across the country. At Michigan, however, things are a lot cooler. The future of the current coaching staff is in serious doubt and that uncertainty has resulted in major casualties.
Already this fall Michigan has lost pledges from four-star Richmond (Va.) St. Christopher's cornerback Garrett Taylor, four-star Indianapolis Lawrence Central linebacker Darrin Kirkland, and last week four-star Detroit Cass Tech running back Mike Weber. Brady Hoke and company are doing their best to hold onto what's left of the class by delivering the message that Michigan is an outstanding opportunity whether this coaching staff is there a not. For Birmingham Brother Rice quarterback Alex Malzone, that message resonated loudly.
"I definitely want to play for Coach Hoke and Coach Nussmeier," he insisted. "Those are the two guys that I'm closest with. I've gotten to know pretty much every single part of the staff. If things don't work out between Michigan and Coach Hoke, I'm still going to Michigan no matter what. I've talked it over with my parents and I've always admired Michigan football. I feel like it's definitely the right place to be for me. I couldn't be more excited to get up there in a month."
Malzone will follow through on his long-held plan to enroll in college early. His desire to do so made promptly reaching a final decision on his recruitment extremely important. Fellow Michigan commitment Grant Newsome doesn't face that type of time crunch since he'll be graduating next spring with the rest of his class. Even so, the four-star offensive tackle is fairly certain about what he wants to do.
"Obviously I'm going to see how things play out," said Newsome. "If they were to hire a coach -- and this is hypothetical because nothing has happened -- but if there was hypothetically someone that I really didn't like, then that would be a very faint possibility (reopening his recruitment). But I committed to Michigan for more than just the coaching staff. Obviously I really enjoy the coaching staff, but it wasn't the reason I committed there. It's a factor, but it wasn't the sole factor. There is a whole lot of Michigan that appeals to me beyond the coaching staff."
If Newsome had even slight reservations about that stance before his official visit to Ann Arbor last weekend, they are even fewer afterward.
"I talked with a few of the coaches about (their uncertain futures), but I think my and my family's take on it is we're going to control what we can control, and that's my commitment to Michigan," Newsome said. "We'll see how the cards play out, but I'm still 100 percent toward Michigan. I just want to go there and try to make an impact.
"I think Michigan kind of epitomizes the term student-athlete. The institution is a powerhouse athletically, but also academically it is one of the best schools in the nation. Then also, just socially for me once I got on campus, met some of the players, and really got a chance to experience Ann Arbor, it just really felt like a second home to me. I think that is something that really made the decision easier for me."
The rest of the class
Both Newsome and Malzone are now doing their respective parts in holding the rest of the class together. They're even going the extra mile and trying to lure some of the departures back into the fold.
"I feel like we definitely have some solid commitments where no matter what happens guys are going to stay," Malzone said. "I feel like Grant Newsome is like that. (So are) Jon Runyan (three-star Philadelphia St. Joseph's offensive lineman), Andrew David (three-star Massillon, Ohio, Washington kicker), and Brian Cole (four-star Saginaw Heritage wide receiver).
"A couple of other guys -- Tyree Kinnel (four-star Huber Heights, Ohio, Wayne safety) and Chris Clark (five-star Avon, Conn., Old Farms tight end) -- if things change (with Michigan's coaching staff) I can see some things changing for them. I know Chris is taking visits. Tyree hasn't taken any visits yet, but I can definitely see him taking some visits. But with me and those four other guys, I don't really see too much changing. Obviously our commitments have taken a little hit during this season, but I feel like everyone will see the opportunity to play Michigan football, and I feel like our commits will definitely start to shoot up in the near future."
Malzone added of Cass Tech's Weber: "I haven't really talked to him too much about what happened with his decommitment. That was the guy I was probably closest with, and that was definitely tough to see. But he has got to do what's best for him, and I'm going to try to talk to him in the near future. I feel like Michigan is definitely still going to have a great shot with him. He just needs to take some time and think about what's best for him."
That's definitely the thought process Weber is being counseled to have.
"I think the most important thing is he can't just sit there and hope that things work out the way you want them to," Cass Tech head coach Thomas Wilcher said. "You have to prepare yourself. I think that's the bottom line. To prepare yourself for 'what if.'"
To be more specific, what if Michigan fires its coaching staff? The growing speculation that that will happen spurred Weber into action. And with some schools doubting the seriousness of his interest in considering them as long as he maintained his commitment, he decided to opt out of his pledge.
"He is still considering Michigan," Wilcher said. "He is still going to visit Michigan. But the most important thing is he is not going to sit there on his hands and just wait and see what happens because that's the wrong thing to do. Would you sit at home and say, 'I hope they have a coach,' or, 'I hope they get the right coach,' and let all these schools go by? No. He has to look out for himself. He can't worry about Michigan. He's got to worry about himself right now."
That's almost verbatim the advice that Brian Cole received from his father. It's why he has already visited Nebraska, Wisconsin and Purdue, and will likely visit Ohio State before finishing up his trek with a stop at Michigan the second weekend in December. He'll have to make a final decision pretty soon after that since like Malzone, he plans to enroll early.
"It's difficult," Cole's father said. "You just don't know. It's really difficult. At this point with what's going on there and the status not being known, you have to evaluate everything. You have to look at everything. As a parent you think about a lot of different things. You always want stability for your kids. Kids flourish from stable environments. Like when you have a mom and a dad at home and those kids are secure with what's going on in that home, and they know they can come home and everything is going to be OK. There is a lot (of concern) about being unsure. It is just uncomfortable and it is something that you've really got to think about when you're talking about your child.
"As his daddy I'm telling you we're still evaluating everything. We're looking around, but we're still committed to Michigan."
Though clearly determined to develop a contingency plan, Cole appears more likely to stick with his commitment than Weber, Kirkland and Taylor were.
"My feeling has not changed at all," said Cole. "Michigan is still a great school. They're struggling right now, but (their) winning and losing doesn't really matter to me.
"(Michigan's season) is just like Heritage. I've been struggling for four years out here and they're doing the same exact thing. You just got to overcome it. You win and lose some, you can't win them all, but you just got to continue to work hard and play your heart out every game and just wait for a change."
To date Clark has been equally understanding, but there's a good chance that sentiment will cease if there's a coaching change in Ann Arbor. He has already scheduled visits to Texas, North Carolina, USC and UCLA in case that happens.
"I'm just trying to get some other options in case the coaches I have a really good relationship with at Michigan end up going," the 6-foot-6, 247-pounder told Scout.com. "And then I'll just have other options.
"I want to see what new coach they get -- if they get a new coach. I just really like my tight end coach at Michigan, Coach (Dan) Ferrigno. He's been with Coach Hoke for a while. If Coach Hoke goes, then he's going to go too."
Kinnel is also thinking about a contingency plan, but he hasn't set any other visits yet. It's not that the Buckeye State star isn't concerned about the future. It's that he is more concerned about the present.
"It's about my high school team, the love I've got for them, and the journey that we've been on," Kinnel said. "I'm so excited with how we've been playing. Just trying to focus on the state championship really. Because I know at the end of the day I want to do what's best for me and I'm going to be where I want to be. So I'm not too worried about if Hoke is fired, what I'll have to do. I know I've got other scholarships to schools that said they would take me. At the end the day I know I'll be fine, so I'm just focused on the state championship right now with my team."
That isn't meant to suggest that the longtime Wolverine pledge will definitely head elsewhere if the current coaching staff is removed.
"They would still be a school I consider," he said.
"I don't plan on visiting anywhere right now. I've got one more week guaranteed in my high school career, so once high school ball I over with I'll start talking recruiting. But as of right now I don't have any visits planned and I'm still committed to Michigan."
Time will tell whether he and a number of others remain that way.
Sam Webb is managing editor of GoBlueWolverine.com and co-host of the "Michigan Insider" morning show weekdays on Sports Talk 1050 WTKA. He is a regular contributor to detroitnews.com