On the night of December 5, Arizona State head coach Todd Graham, flanked by assistants Chip Lindsey and Jay Norvell, visited the home of quarterback Blake Barnett.
Barnett was a free agent of sorts after announcing his transfer from Alabama early in the 2016 season. The trio was there, on Graham’s birthday, no less, trying to convince Barnett to continue his career in Tempe.
Barnett’s mother took a birthday cake out of the refrigerator and her son opened the box, revealing a message that said “Happy Birthday Coach” and “I’m in,” meaning the coveted prospect was indeed headed to the desert.
It was quite a coup for a program coming off a disappointing 5-7 season and in need of good news.
But seven weeks later, I can only wonder what Blake Barnett is thinking.
Two of the three coaches present in Barnett’s home to seal the deal are now gone. Norvell was hired as Nevada’s new head coach three days later. Over the weekend, Lindsey took a job as Auburn’s offensive coordinator.
Only Graham, a defensive-minded head coach, remains. Barnett, a candidate to be ASU’s starting quarterback for at least part of 2017, doesn’t know the identity of his offensive coordinator.
You won’t hear me complaining about college athletes, particularly football players, not getting paid. It’s not like players sign their letter of intent to play for X University thinking they’re going to be compensated only to have the rug pulled out from underneath them and learning they have to settle for only a free education.
I will complain about the restrictions put on college athletes as to where and when they can play their sport of choice. Coaches can pledge to parents and athletes that they are going to be there throughout a recruit’s collegiate career, and then bolt the next day. But as soon as the ink dries on a letter of intent, a player has to sit out a year after announcing a transfer.
It’s just wrong.
Read the consecutive tweets sent from Lindsey’s account in a five-day span and tell me you feel good about it.
Boom!! Great Day to be a Sun Devil!!! pic.twitter.com/CMQg288cko
— Chip Lindsey (@CoachLindseyWDE) January 16, 2017
Fired up to be back on the plains with the AU Family! Ready to go to work! War Eagle! pic.twitter.com/96dLbxkZBv
— Chip Lindsey (@CoachLindseyWDE) January 21, 2017
It’s like suffering through a break-up. You’re inconsolable and your ex is flaunting pictures of a new flame on social media days after the relationship ended.
I’m not saying I want Blake Barnett to transfer from Arizona State. Not at all. But he should be able to if he chooses, without having to sit out any further. It’s impossible to know everything the Barnett family was told in the re-recruiting process and it’s difficult to know what Barnett’s reasons for choosing ASU were. But you’d have to assume that coaches and system were high on his list.
At least from a coaches standpoint, can you say Barnett was sold a bill of goods? Maybe Norvell and Lindsey were forthright in stating the possibility they’d be in new jobs before spring football started. But if a coach can actively and constantly seek out the best situation for himself and his family, a college athlete should be able to as well, with the same level of restriction: None.
Much to the delight of Sun Devil Nation, Barnett tweeted about the situation in recent days.
Happy for Coach Lindsey, great coach and great man.
— B² (@Blake8Barnett) January 21, 2017
— B² (@Blake8Barnett) January 21, 2017
And of course, this is focusing on just one player. There are currently eight other offensive players in Arizona State’s recruiting class for ’17. Are they all as steadfast as Barnett?
That’s only half of the dark side. How about coach-on-coach crime?
Auburn’s current head coach, Gus Malzahn, served as Todd Graham’s offensive coordinator at Tulsa in 2007 and 2008. The Golden Hurricane had a potent offense under Malzahn’s watch, ranking first in total yards among FBS teams both seasons. Malzahn parlayed that into a gig at Auburn as their offensive coordinator under Gene Chizik. The Tigers won a national championship in 2010. He got his first head coaching job at Arkansas State in 2012 before returning to Auburn to replace Chizik, his former boss, who was fired.
Many times during his five-year tenure at Arizona State, Graham has mentioned Malzahn as a trusted colleague and a friend. I wonder if he feels the same way now after having his offensive coordinator plucked from his staff about ten days before signing day? Like they say, all is fair in love and war … and college football staff construction.
Oh wait, nobody says that. Ever. But maybe they should?
I love college football. It’s just getting harder and harder to stay in love with it.
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