Brian Kelly bled Notre Dame green.
Until he didn’t.
Lincoln Riley screamed, “Boomer Sooner.”
But now, more than 1,300 miles away, he’s fully embraced the “Fight On” mentality.
Both Kelly and Riley seemed well-entrenched at Notre Dame and Oklahoma, respectively, before leaving for new jobs. Kelly will earn $95 million through his base salary; Riley walked away from a six-year, $45 million contract at Oklahoma for a presumably more lucrative deal at USC.
Kelly bolted from Notre Dame before the team’s game against Oklahoma State in the Fiesta Bowl, where tickets start at nearly $100.
It was the most stark recent reminder that college sports are a big business, with lessons that apply to five star recruits and Division III walk-ons alike.
Not Just Elite Athletes
In the wake of the college coach carousel, the recruiting decisions of top Notre Dame and Oklahoma athletes became a hot topic. Would they stick with their commitments to those schools or consider joining the coaches at their new programs?
The situation with Kelly and Riley teaches a valuable lesson to athletes at all levels–not just five-star quarterbacks and future NFL players.
While the choices of those blue-chip recruits captivate fan bases, they’re largely irrelevant to the most important college decision: your own.
So as you’re navigating the college recruiting process, such a high profile coaching change may not impact you. However, the fact that the winningest coach in Notre Dame history left of his own volition should be a lesson to you on how quickly situations can change.
Coaches Come and Go but Campuses Remain
Coaches will change jobs. Most high school athletes know this.
Still, when navigating the process, it’s easy for recruits to develop strong ties with coaches.
Indeed, rapport with coaches can be an important factor. It just shouldn’t be the only factor. Or even the biggest factor.
Studies have repeatedly shown that most coaches will not remain at the same school four years later, meaning that the coach that recruits an athlete will most likely be gone by the time she or he graduates.
Athletes in all sports and all levels should prioritize the factors that are more stable: a school’s academic reputation, its course offerings, the campus environment and other traits that might vary school-to-school but don’t change as often or quickly.
This will ensure–as much as possible–that the college experience matches the expectations that a student-athlete has.
There’s No Shame in Transferring
There was once a stigma around transferring, whether at the high school or college level.
In fact, Alabama head coach Nick Saban once reportedly professed that he would not recruit any player that transferred high schools.
In 2021, not only has Saban recruited players who have transferred high schools, but he’s also been active in the Transfer Portal, landing key additions to the Crimson Tide like former Ohio State receiver Jameson Williams.
The recent coaching shakeup should make it clear to young athletes that if coaches are going to change schools when circumstances change and new opportunities arrive, they should feel empowered to do the same.
It’s great when a high school athlete chooses a college and enjoys a four- or five-year stay there. But transferring, for whatever reason, is also fine.
Quarterbacks Kyler Murray and Joe Burrow both won the Heisman Trophy after transferring.
Coaches can and will achieve great things at their new schools; athletes can do the same.
Athletes Can Focus on Themselves–and Still Be Great Teammates
The college sports recruiting decision is a personal one.
Just as coaches are making what they perceive to be the best decision for themselves when they take a new job, high school athletes should likewise prioritize their own best interests.
The choice belongs to them.
Not their friends. Not their extended family. Not any coach recruiting them.
When an athlete prioritizes themselves when it comes to their future, they are not being selfish. Rather, they can actually be better teammates.
Athletes who prioritize their goals to play in college can help set an example for other teammates and younger athletes. Their hard work and dedication can inspire others, from the weight room to the film room. The leadership they display uplifts their high school programs and communities.
When high school athletes take control of their recruiting journey, it’s selfish in the best possible way.
Learn more about recruiting with our step-by-step guide to earning an athletic scholarship.