Sep 3, 2011; San Francisco CA, USA; California Golden Bears defensive line coach Tosh Lupoi during warm-ups before the game against the Fresno State Bulldogs at Candlestick Park. Mandatory Credit: Kelley L Cox-US PRESSWIRE

“It’s The Business” – Coaching Changes, Recruiting & Transfers


Washington head coach Steve Sarkisian was approached with a tough, but fair question during the Q & A portion of Tuesday’s Pacific 12 Conference Media Day in Los Angeles: was hiring conference rival Cal’s assistant coach and top recruiter Tosh Lupoi days before National Signing Day an ethical move?

An non-hesitant Sarkisian said, “It’s the business. As head coach, I have to do what’s in the best interest of the University of Washington.”

The best interest of ones own program as it pertains to recruiting and transfers has been a hot button issue this week, with universities actively pursuing Penn State playersto fill pressing needs. Because there are not guidelines prohibiting the type of recruiting going on at PSU, the choice to do so or not becomes a gentlemen’s agreement of sorts. The same kind of unwritten understanding becomes the crux of discussion as it pertains to UW.

Lupoi helped UW secure a recruiting class rated No. 21 nationally, including five star defensive back Shaq Thompson. Thompson, a northern California product, seemed firmly committed to Cal before Lupoi’s departure.

Sarkisian had a plan when reassembling his staff after what could be considered a disappointing 7-6 finish.

“When we made the decision to make changes on our defensive staff, we wanted to hire some of the best coaches in the country,” he said. “Some of the best recruiters in the country; Justin Wilcox, Tosh Lupoi, Peter Sirmon, Keith Heyward — they fit that criteria.”

Sirmon and Wilcox both came to Seattle via Tennessee, where there was much change in the off-season. The other additions Sarkisian mentioned were both in-conference. Keith Heyward had been on Mike Riley’s staff at Oregon State.

The Heyward hire has not drawn the criticism that Lupoi’s has, because OSU did not see likely targets about-face to an in-conference rival as Cal did.

Head coaches have so much on their plates that an assistant has to take the reins with recruiting. Regular contact with prospects forges relationships, and the Berkeley-to-Seattle exodus that followed Lupoi exposes that.

One cannot blame a recruit for loyalty to a coach with whom he has developed a connection. Where the ethical question comes into play is that in the Pac-12, transfer within conference comes with additional penalties aside from the typical one year of ineligibility. For that one season, an athlete cannot receive “academic aid;” in other words, a scholarship.

The Lupoi situation does not pertain to transfers, and therein lies the debate. Because these were recruits who followed the coach and not transfers, it almost circumvents the rules.

The counterargument then is that a recruit is a free agent until that February weekday afternoon when his signature is written on a letter of intent, and the document faxed to the athletic department. And other assistants move jobs with recruits following.

Staying in the Pac-12, Arizona’s revamped coaching staff brought with it recruits that assistants that previously targeted for Pitt and West Virginia. Because the UA coaches were brought over earlier in the off-season, there’s less controversy.

And of course, the movement within conference is the other key difference. Jeff Tedford saw his recruiting class go from competing with USC and rival Stanford to falling to sixth rated in the conference. Lupoi’s recruiting might continues with the 2013 class, as UW currently has the conference’s second ranked list of verbal commitments; Cal’s is No. 9.

Tags: Cal Golden Bears College Football Recruiting Shaq Thompson Steve Sarkisian Tosh Lupoi Washington

  • Toughluck

    Former DB Coach Demtrice Martin took a couple UW recruits with him to UCLA this past offseason too so the door swings both ways. May seem a little unethical but EVERY top program has some dirt on them

  • Jockot

    Shaq was already wavering before Lupoi left. There was nothing firm in his commitment. UW and Oregon were both in play for his letter. None of the other recruits who left Cal signed with UW. I don’t even think it’s unethical, it’s business. UW was trying to hire Lupoi for most of the month Jan. It wasn’t like Sark said at the last possible moment, hey, we need to screw Cal so let grab Lupoi.

    • Kyle Kensing

      Right, there was not some calculated plot against Cal, and Lupoi can’t be faulted for taking a better opportunity. What’s interesting to me is more just the differences for athletes vs. coaches in mobility. The NCAA has a lot of very different standards for coaches than it does athletes in that regard, and vice versa.

  • Pixdawg13

    Kyle, let’s see your moves. You wrote: ”

    “… and the Berkeley-to-Seattle exodus that followed Lupoi
    exposes that.”

    and

    “Because these were recruits who followed the coach and not
    transfers, it almost circumvents the rules.”

    Please list all those who made up the “exodus” and the athletes who followed the coach.

    Hint: Look hard for anyone not named ‘Thompson’. After you’ve done your search, you might consider apologizing for the hatchet job.

    What, if any, connection do you have with any west coast university? I ask this because this column reads as though it had been written by one of the many bitter Golden Bears out there. It’s certainly slanted enough.

    • Kyle Kensing

      I think you have a point, because Armstead did not follow Lupoi. He did change direction after Tosh left Cal, going UO. 10 stars worth of commitments changing course is a pretty massive talent exodus, but yes, Armstead did not go to UW. So that’s a very fair point.

      If it seems biased toward Cal, I don’t know what to tell you, not intended that way. As I said above, one can’t fault Lupoi for seeking a better opportunity or Sarkisian for reaching out to a coach he feels will better his staff. That’s not a condemnation of either, or UW as a program.

      The discussion I’d like to have is about rules for coach vs. rules for athletes. You quote the portion of circumventing the rule…well, if the rule is that a transfer within conference cannot accept aid for a full year but that doesn’t apply to recruits, it bypasses that rule right? I’m sure there are other players who would like to follow their coach, but can’t because of in-conference transfer rules. An interesting parallel is Cortez Johnson, who followed Stoops/Kish to Oklahoma. He obviously felt committed to them as opposed to Arizona, but wouldn’t have been able to do the same in the league without a stiff penalty; a penalty that applies to athletes, but there is no parallel for coaches.

      And that’s the larger issue here rather than anything having to do with UW or Cal, or anyone else in the Pac-12: rules for coaches and rules for athletes being different.

      Appreciate your taking the time to comment (and apologies for the verbosity). I think it’s important to open dialogues to expound on ideas.

      • bone picker

        It’s not important enough for you to get the facts right (one is an exodus to Washington,) you never mentioned Coach Martin taking several commit from Washington to UCLA (is that a super duper double exodus?.) And, this “no scholarship rule for transfers” is nonsense.

        Just “lazy” reporting…and unimportant to all except the currently butthurt.

        • Kyle Kensing

          Cal losing two five star recruits immediately after Tosh’s departure is a considerable shift. Change the wording if it helps. Point is, his departure impacted the status of two five star recruits. That’s considerable movement.

          Use Demetrice Martin instead of Lupoi, fine. It’s still the same debate/discussion. UW is a more noteworthy jumping off point because Coach Sarkisian specifically addressed it (quite candidly, at that) last week, thus relevant.

          But I’m curious, why is the no scholarships for in-conference transfers rule nonsense? Official wording from Pac-12 compliance: “(Unless otherwise noted) No athletically related aid one year” specifically listed as the penalty for in-conference transfers.
          That’s the whole point here. The rules for an athlete are different, which is unfortunate if they build a connection with a coach that takes another job.

          • Craig

            I’m having difficulty following your logic. How exactly is a kid that is uncommitted subject to or should be subject to transfer limitations. He has nothing to transfer from, except high school to the college of his choice.

            While I agree with you on the larger issue of the flawed thinking of the NCAA that essentially allows coaches free reign to move without penalty, that isn’t the biggest issue here. I don’t think there is anything sinister going on relative to hiring a coach simply to get a recruit or two. Last I checked there are 85 scholly’s and I sure as hell would rather retain good coaches than swap them out every other year to pick up a recruit. No one would do something so absurd.

            Washington had a need. Tosh filled that need, and it certainly helps Tosh’s career that he is considered one of the best recruiters in the country. That’s a major skill set needed to be a coach these days.

          • Kyle Kensing

            @Craig Hey Craig, thanks for the comment. I actually think our opinions are right in line. I am in agreement with you that there wasn’t anything afoul going on in this hire, which is what the SF Chronicle reporter who asked Sarkisian the question may or may not have been implying. That I don’t know.

            Sarkisian needed a good defensive mind and great recruiter, and got both, period. I think there are critics who have taken undue umbrage based on when the hire occurred, and the resulting signing of Shaq Thompson and Pio Vatuvei. To clarify, I don’t agree with that criticism at all. It would be silly to make a long term commitment vis a vis a coaching hire, to get two recruits.

            My attempt was to examine that the one time coaches and athletes are almost on the same plane is when the athletes are recruits, hence the transfer rule. In recruiting is the only time an athlete has any leverage, really, which I think is unfortunate. Pio’s HS coach specifically cited playing for Tosh in a Seattle Times interview, so obviously the kid had a connection. I’m sure other players already on roster had the same connection to him.

            The point I was hoping to make is that because of the free reign coaches have vs. the different rules for athletes, there is a double-standard. I believe the standard, whatever it is, should be similar. The UW situation was merely the lens through which to discuss it because of its relevance — heck, coaches move in conference frequently. Just in the Pac you have Tosh, Martin, Mazzone at UCLA. I think going interpreting any of the above as a critique on Washington, Tosh or Sarkisian is going to muddle the point, because criticism them was certainly not the goal.

            The debate I was looking to make is that what is acceptable in the coaching ranks, should be for players. More power to the recruits like Shaq and Pio who get to use the leverage they have now.

            Thanks again, appreciate the discussion.

          • UWdadVanc

            Kyle,

            If your intent was to talk about the unfairness of the transfer rules in
            the Pac12, then it got completely lost in inaccurate and inflammatory
            statements about what happened with Tosh Lupoi and comparing that with
            what is going on at Penn State.

            By the way, if you actually read interviews with Shaquille Thompson
            about his recruitment to UW you would know that it was Justin Wilcox
            that had more to do with him going to UW than Tosh Lupoi. (Wilcox had
            previously coached his brother.)

            And if your point about the transfer rules is that allowing kids to
            change their mind before they sign a letter of intent circumvents the
            rule that they cannot transfer within the conference after they signed,
            so what? Shouldn’t they be allowed to change their minds?

            If you think it is unfair that coaches can move between Pac12 schools
            but players can’t, so what? They should be students first, then athletes. The rules are there so that they are thinking more about academics than being a “semi-professional” athlete going to the best program.

          • Kyle Kensing

            Recruits absolutely should be allowed to change their mind, not suggesting otherwise. When they are recruits is the only time athletes have leverage. I can see the rule and toeing that line of semi-professionalism, which I think is an interesting way of describing it given that Sarkisian called it a business. There’s a sort of gray area in the sport that becomes apparent with the more money that changes hands in it, which lends itself to discussion like this.

            I bring up the Penn State transfers (and link to the column in the hope that will clarify the allusion) because coaches have discussed it as an ethical issue. That’s how Lupoi’s hire was posed to Sark at media day, as a matter of ethics, so it’s two matters of recruiting/transfer issues presently in the news and debated.

            You have a great point about Thompson’s relationship with Wilcox, but he also said in regard to Lupoi immediately after the hiring “He’s just a great guy, and players are comfortable around him,” and went from a verbal commitment before, to a decision immediately after. That would indicate Lupoi was a factor, no?

            Debating the semantics, that’s open to interpretation. Thompson changed course after the hire. Pio was up in the air and considering Cal prior, and as mentioned his coach specifically cites Lupoi as a factor. Two highly regarded recruits coming in tow is significant, and adding the third of Armstead to Oregon is a sizable shift no matter what word is used to describe it. It’s certainly a testament to how much his presence meant to those kids, and it justifies the substantial pay increase he’s getting at Washington.

  • Dawg

    Didn’t Cal poach UW’s offensive coordinator right before the season? Cal fans need to realize this is college football. Pay your coaches and don’t throw them under the bus. The “exodus” claim is so out of whack. Bigelow was a UW ” lock” too….right.

  • whamo

    Nobody says anything when UCLA takes our DB coach and a few of our recruits. Goes both ways.