You've been saying that recruits sometimes commit early so that they can lock in a position, but that they can change their minds. Can a coach change his mind about a verbal commitment?
Yes. Verbal commitments are non-binding both to the player and to the school. A coach may tell a guy who is verbally committed that he is no longer welcome, for any reason. Rarely, however, will a coach revoke a scholarship offer to a committed player simply because he thinks he can get a better player. I won't say it never happens, but most respectable programs won't do this because it will negatively impact the trust factor between the coaches and the recruits.
A coach who goes around taking commitments early only to cut them loose late will soon find himself unable to get early commitments. To show an example of how far some coaches will go to honor a verbal commitment, consider the case of Delvin Breaux at LSU. Delvin Breaux is a defensive back who committed to LSU fairly early in the process, committing to join LSU's 2007 recruiting class. Then, in a game in his senior year of high school, he sustained a serious spinal injury that will keep him off of the football team for at least the next two years, and possibly longer.
LSU honored his commitment, even though no major college team would have continued recruiting him at that point. Les Miles decided, however, that because Delvin had given his promise to LSU, LSU would keep its promise to Delvin Breaux. Now, bear in mind that had Delvin stayed healthy, he could conceivably have changed his mind about going to LSU at any time before signing his Letter of Intent, and LSU had the power to back off of his commitment at any time as well, but did not, despite the fact that Delvin cannot even participate in contact practice drills until AT LEAST the 2009 season.
Do coaches ever tell a commitment to "buzz off"?
Yes. It happens. Reportedly, LSU told defensive end prospect Luther Davis to buzz off after he violated one of Les Miles' rules and reportedly lied about it to cover up his actions. Without going into excessive details, Miles has a rule that says he will not consider a player locked in and committed unless he stops visiting other schools. Until a recruit stops taking visits, Miles considers his scholarship offer to be revocable. Once the recruit stops the visits, he is locked onto the recruiting board and his scholarship will not be revoked.
Well, Luther Davis committed to LSU, then a short time later visited the University of Alabama, and constructed a fairly elaborate story to cover up that he had done this. Depending on what sources you believe, Miles either
- told Luther Davis he wasn't welcome at LSU any longer, or
- begged Luther Davis to re-commit to LSU.
A school may also back off of a recruit if his recruitment becomes an embarrassment for the program. One example from several years back is Willie Williams out of the state of Florida. I don't remember all the specifics, but I think he committed to Florida State. His recruitment was wild, and he kept an online journal to detail all the excesses of his recruiting, kind of exposing some of the ugly secrets of the recruiting business (though it was all, technically, within the rules). Then it came out that he had been in a LOT of legal trouble, and I think he got into even further trouble after his recruitment. Florida State cut him loose. I think he ended up at a junior college and then at the University of Miami, but I am writing strictly off of memory here and may have things wrong. Feel free to correct me in comments if you know better.
What about those two guys who recently committed to LSU? Spencer and Lonergan? What's the deal with them?
To be honest, I was unfamiliar with Clay Spencer before his commitment. He goes to Parkview Baptist (Darry Beckwith's alma mater) and will be a senior next year. He is a huge at 6'6" and 285 pounds and projects at offensive guard. He had flown under the radar early in this recruiting year, but Les Miles saw enough in him to want to get his commitment early in the process. Miles probably thinks Spencer is a dark horse that will start getting more attention next year, and wanted to lock him up before other SEC schools started thinking more highly of him. I think Spencer, who probably didn't expect an offer, was happy to take it.
P.J. Lonergan out of Rummel in New Orleans, had gotten a good bit of attention early in the process. Some consider him the best 2008 offensive lineman recruit in the State of Louisiana. It was expected that he would be fairly heavily recruited and could probably have gotten many offers from SEC schools or other BCS schools.
Why did he commit early? My guess is that he saw that LSU had signed nine offensive linemen in the last two recruiting classes, and saw the commitment of Clay Spencer and concluded that LSU may not be taking a lot more commitments from offensive linemen this year. With Dallas Thomas out of Baton Rouge and Daniel Campbell and J.B. Shugarts out of Texas all expressing great interest in LSU, Lonergan probably decided that if he wanted to commit to LSU, he may have needed to do it quickly.