Recruiting experts: Harbaugh's tactics nothing new
As the mad dash toward National Signing Day enters the final stretch, there have been a flurry of players coming and going at Michigan.
Most notably is the recent decommitments of four-star offensive tackle Erik Swenson and three-star defensive end Rashad Weaver, a pair of moves that have drawn Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh some flak.
Swenson was the first player in Michigan's 2016 recruiting class when he committed in 2013 under former coach Brady Hoke. But Swenson tweeted on Jan. 20 he was reopening his commitment after Harbaugh reportedly pulled his scholarship offer and was told to look elsewhere.
Then on Monday, Weaver, who committed to Michigan in June, announced on Twitter he was also reopening his commitment after receiving little to no contact from the staff and being informed there was a 50-50 chance he'd make the roster.
According to Rivals.com's Josh Helmholdt, who covers college football recruiting in the Midwest, what happened to Swenson and Weaver was just a part of Harbaugh and Michigan's recruiting tactics.
“My assumption is this was their plan from the beginning. Take guys early and then figure it all out at the end,” Helmholdt said. “Our beat writer who covers Stanford when Harbaugh was hired a year ago had mentioned that this was kind of his M.O. at Stanford. You look at guys and if they're good enough, offer them and we'll figure it out in the end.”
Helmholdt added that over the eight years he spent covering the Michigan recruiting beat, he hasn't seen as many decommitments take place so late in January.
“Michigan fans were always pounding their chest about we don't recruit like they recruit in the SEC,” Helmholdt said. “But it doesn't happen on this scale with any particular school. I'm not saying it doesn't happen at all, I'm just saying it doesn't happen on this scale.
“They don't have a whole mass exodus two weeks before National Signing Day.”
With Michigan unable to comment on recruits until signing day, Tom Lemming, co-host of the national weekly high school football recruiting show "The Lemming Report" on CBS Sports Network, said there could be more to Weaver's decommitment than meets the eye.
“Perhaps something happened off the field we don't know about, maybe academically. Who knows what's going on?” Lemming said. “If it's a straight, 'We don't want you because we're getting something better' then that's not the right way to do things.”
Lemming added Michigan's cold shoulder treatment toward Weaver happens much more frequently in recruiting than people may think.
“What happens is most schools push the player out and leave it up to the player to say he's decommitting,” Lemming said. “How some schools do it is they just don't call the player for a couple months. He gets the idea, decommits, looks like he's looking for a better school and the school is off the hook. That's happening a lot.”
According to 247Sports.com recruiting analyst Steve Lorenz, schools rescinding offers from a committed player to give to a more talented recruit happens quite frequently and has been going on for years at programs like Alabama, LSU, Florida and Florida State.
“This is beyond common,” he said. “I'm not exaggerating that this happens probably close to 100 times a cycle, if not more. These schools give the scholarships to the best players in the country and an unfortunate byproduct of it is that sometimes some guy ends up taking a higher or better prospect that maybe had been verbally committed to them.
“Until there's some real concrete changes to the recruiting process, this is going to be a common occurrence for programs across the country; Michigan included now.”
Sam Webb, managing editor of The MichiganInsider.com, believes Michigan will make an effort provide more clarity with recruits in the future to avoid further misunderstandings.
“I think that you'll see a situation where even if Michigan thought it was being clear in the past, that they'll go out of their way if they decide they want to proceed with having some of these contingent recruitments and make sure it's absolutely clear where they stand,” Webb said.
What type of backlash, if any, Harbaugh and Michigan receives remains to be seen. But no matter what, Scout.com Midwest football recruiting manager Allen Trieu doesn't believe it will change Harbaugh's approach.
“I tend to think Jim Harbaugh is going to do what he does no matter what people think,” Trieu said. “I think their recruiting strategy is always going to be aggressive, always going to be cutthroat and they’re going to try to get the best players in the class no matter what.”
However, Helmholdt and Lemming both think how Harbaugh handled Swenson and Weaver's commitments will provide plenty of fodder for Michigan's competitors.
“Their competition is going to remind every recruit of that,” Helmholdt said. “If you commit now, you may get dropped in January. That's going to be the line every team they recruit against is going to use on the trail against them.”