Student-athletes took a new stage this week as New Jersey native and former Dallas Cowboy star Drew Pearson blasted Michigan State’s new head football coach, Mel Tucker, on Twitter. Pearson’s grandson, Toren Pittman, had been recruited to the University of Colorado by Coach Tucker. The coach had told Pittman, a high school senior, that he had no plans to leave. Coach Tucker did leave, but Pittman cannot. Fortunately for Pittman his grandfather is respected in the sport, and word got out. Also fortunate, Darrin Chiavarini, the assistant who recruited him, is now his head coach. Chiavarini, a former Colorado player, has been on staff for the past four years.
Imagine you’re Toren Pittman, a three-star recruit out of Frisco, Texas. You’ve got seven offers, three at Power Five schools. But you took only one visit, to Colorado. Baylor, one school that offered a scholarship, will soon lose their head coach to the NFL. Arkansas, the other Power Five school that made an offer, fired the coach who recruited you, and will hire a new coach who doesn’t know you. What do you do? You do as you did: go with the coach who says that he’s committed to your team and to your development as a football player.
Coaches like Mel Tucker advance because they help successful head coaches succeed. He has worked for Nick Sabin at Michigan State and Alabama, and Kirby Smart at Georgia. Tucker was also on the coaching staff of the Cleveland Browns during the last season that they made the playoffs. Tucker didn’t make the most of the opportunity his first two times as a head coach, going 2-3 in an interim role in the NFL, and at Colorado where he went 5-7. He’s just doubled his salary after leaving Colorado for Michigan State. Time will tell if he sticks around.
Toren Pittman had offers from Arkansas State, Nevada, Tulsa and UT-San Antonio, which has just fired its coach. Arkansas State has the most successful program in the rest of this group. Their coach, Blake Anderson, completed his sixth season. He has taken his team to winning seasons and bowl games from his first year onward. I could imagine why Coach Anderson might have been interested in Pittman. He was a Power Five level talent who could become a focal point and leader of his team.
But I can understand why Pittman might have taken a pass on Arkansas State, even if he received no offers from the Power Five. They play at a lower level of competition than any other school that extended an offer. Pittman would be less likely to be noticed by NFL scouts and college draft analysts. On the other hand, if Pittman became a dominant player in any conference, he would draw more attention. Darius Leonard, a linebacker like Pittman, became a second-round NFL draft pick from a school, South Carolina State, that has a lower national profile than Arkansas State.
Pittman’s options and his story offer a few lessons for student-athletes in any sport.
I hope that Toren Pittman goes on to have a successful football career wherever he plays. His grandfather is right: he was misled by a coach. It would have been fair to release him from his obligations to the University of Colorado after his coach left. It would have also been fair to release any Colorado freshman or sophomore who had not declared a major, and had not played much under Coach Tucker. But in the absence of such fairness, future student-athletes must do due diligence.
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