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.