Western Illinois shows a big downside to the early signing period

Dr. Saturday
(Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
(Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)

FCS school Western Illinois signed 13 players over college football’s first early signing period.

Now, the Leathernecks’ head coach is reportedly leaving for a job at the FBS level.

According to Rivals’ Devils Digest, Western Illinois coach Charlie Fisher is going to be the wide receivers coach at Arizona State.


That tweet was sent Thursday night, one day after the early signing period opened. In contrast to that, here’s what Fisher said in a school release Wednesday announcing the school’s recruiting class.

“Signing day is always exciting, and I am proud to announce this early group. With the early signing period, we feel like Christmas has come early with just a fantastic group of new Leathernecks,” Fisher said in a statement. “We have already addressed many position needs. This is a great start on our class but let’s be clear, our work is far from done as we continue to add to this class of Leathernecks. Our staff has worked hard and we look forward to finishing up the class as we move towards National Signing Day on February 7.”

The early signing period has been touted as a chance for kids who are firmly committed to their future schools to get the signing process over with earlier and solidify their futures. It’s a noble idea, but the December timing of it has some flaws. And Fisher is exposing a massive one.

With the signing period happening in December, there are still a lot of coaching vacancies around college football. Some new coaches, like Arizona State’s Herm Edwards, are still assembling staffs. And those coaches have to come from other schools — coaches who have been recruiting players to play at those schools.

We don’t know for sure just how many, if any, of Western Illinois’ 13 signees knew of Fisher’s impending departure when they signed with the school. Or if the school will be willing to give any player now having second thoughts a waiver to re-open his recruitment and sign with another school.

Maybe Fisher’s departure wouldn’t have changed any of those kids’ minds. But we’re pretty sure they had no idea he’d be leaving for an assistant coaching job at college football’s top level when the school started recruiting them and they initially gave their verbal commitments. And just how fair is it for a kid to lock himself into a new school to see his head coach leave for a bigger gig just hours later?

Coaches going to new schools after National Signing Day in February is nothing new. If a recruit waited until then, it’s no guarantee the position coach who recruited him will actually be coaching him in the fall.

But the coaching carousel spins faster in December, when new head coaches are filling out their staffs. This was bound to be a variable when the signing period was announced earlier this season.

If the early signing period finds a permanent home in December, more and more schools will likely accelerate their coaching hiring and firing timelines to help with recruiting. The madness we saw in the final weeks of the season in 2017 could only be sooner and more frenetic in 2018 and 2019.

Moving the signing period up to August is also worthy of consideration. But moving the date up may actually make this specific situation worse. A player could sign with a school weeks before his senior season, only to see the entire coaching staff fired after a 4-8 campaign.

This three-day period has, so far, seemed to work out fairly well. But it was never going to be perfect. And Fisher’s departure is one of the reasons why.

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Nick Bromberg is a writer for Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at nickbromberg@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter!

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