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February 1, 2013

Opinion: Kirkland lost in Fog of War














Yesterday we took a moment to usher in that annual ritual affectionately called the Fog of War. We talked about how uncomfortable of a place it can be in these final days of recruiting, when the pressure gets amped up, when dreams are found and dreams are lost.

When you enter the Fog of War, you see things that you never thought might be imaginable. The most bizarre things in the world happen when grown men who wear different colors are running out of time in their pursuit of the 18-old-kids that they are paid handsomely to try to recruit to their schools. The most bizarre things happen when those kids, smack in the middle of this thick condensation, find out that they really are not equipped to be there no matter how glamorous it may seem.

Booker T. Washington offensive lineman Denver Kirkland was recruited by the University of Miami for almost a year. That meant he had 300-plus opportunities to wake up in the morning, decide he wanted to be a Hurricane and call Coach Al Golden and tell him that he wanted to join The U.

Deep down, apparently that is what he really wanted to do. But either because he was guided to do differently, or got caught up in all of the attention that swirls around recruiting long before this thick, thick fog hits, Kirkland opted to play the recruiting game.

That meant former Canes defensive back coach Wesley McGriff flying into town to woo him to Mississippi. It meant Jimbo Fisher coming in to pitch Florida State. It meant former Miami Head Coach Randy Shannon coming into his home representing Arkansas. And on and on and on.

Through all this time, Miami assistant Micheal Barrow persistently did his job. Barrow must have had 100 phone conversations with Kirkland. Kirkland had an open invite to head out to Miami on unofficial visits whenever he desired. Coach Al Golden was always available to talk to him. This went on for almost a year. Kirkland had an offer from Miami to attend Miami.

This week, that offer disappeared when Miami decided to move on and apparently give that scholarship to a young man from another school who valued it more, that was ready to commit to being a Hurricane. Kirkland was informed he no longer had a committable offer and was wished the best of luck in attending one of the other schools.

And in a bizarre twist that only the Fog of War can inspire, Booker T Coach Tim Harris became upset and so did many others around him and in the community.

A Canes fan texts me at 8:27 p.m. He is standing inside Houston's restaurant in North Miami Beach talking to the famed Luther Campbell. During that conversation, Campbell received a text from Harris to call him. Campbell was upset as an extension of Harris being upset. He explained how Kirkland had received an ultimatum to commit to Miami or the Hurricanes were moving on and when Kirkland chose not to commit on the spot that Miami had moved on.

I am not sure it all played out quite that way. But things can get twisted very easily in the Fog of War.

More than likely, Miami received a wave of silent commits the past few days and filled up its class, maybe with the exception of a scholarship on hold for Kirkland's teammate, Matthew Thomas, one of the recruiting year's top targets. It couldn't play this recruiting game any longer.

This kind of thing happens all the time in recruiting. I am not sure why there was so much commotion stirred on Thursday night over it. But I do think it was the game changer that everyone needed to have happen, both UM and the local prep community.

Miami has been in a weakened state lately with the NCAA fiasco, the losses, the failed regimes, etc. etc. As I said yesterday, South Florida has become a recruiting free-for-all. The SEC schools are attacking the Miami base relentlessly. Schools like Louisville are camped out in South Florida. People feel like they can play around and commit to the Hurricanes whenever they want, that there is no urgency to do so.

I said yesterday that something had to give at some point, having no idea that the give might come just a few hours later. You simply can't build recruiting classes this way, where you are sitting there five days before signing day with seven open spots because recruits, many of them local, want to keep you hanging because they are either addicted to all the attention or don't plan on ever committing at all.

That's destructive to the local program and through the hard times that allegiance appears to be something that has been a little lost for Miami. To become successful again, this is an understanding that Golden will have to forge with the local coaches and players and maybe, just maybe, Denver Kirkland discovering Miami was now out of room for him will be the change of events that alters the future.

My guess is that when the dust settles, Coach Harris, a great man who served on the other side of the fence as a trusted aide of Randy Shannon, will realize that he probably is mad because he didn't guide Kirkland the right way, if attending Miami really was the end game.

What was Al Golden supposed to do? Wait forever? The resources that go into recruiting kids are enormous even when they are home. Even with a local kid, an hour of Barrow's time is a valuable commodity when you are trying to put the finishing touches on a recruiting class. Were Miami coaches supposed to get on their knees and beg an 18-year-old kid, Kirkland or anybody else, to commit already? This is far from the blueprint taught in Recruiting 101.

Urban Meyer isn't going through this at Ohio State.

Mack Brown isn't at Texas. Heck at Texas, their 2014 recruiting class will be almost complete by March. Kids and their coaches in Texas understand that if you want to be a Longhorn and you get an offer, you better accept quickly and then shut down recruiting or else some other young man will grab that spot.

After what went down on Thursday, the word will be out that this is the case at Miami too, and it was a message that the Hurricanes badly needed delivered whether it was intentional or not.

None of what is going on in South Florida this year makes sense, but this is what the Fog of War does, it takes nonsensical things and brings them to life.

Yes something had to give and it did and now, in the future, people will know that even if they are from Miami that those Hurricane scholarships, worth about $250,000 each, won't sit there forever. You can't run a major college football program the other way anymore. Not now, not in these very competitive times.

I am not sure whether Kirkland will attend Florida State or Ole Miss or Arkansas. But I am sure that one way or the other, Thursday's events created long-lasting memories that will benefit Golden and the Hurricanes and also the future generations of young kids that come up through the Miami community and want to play for Miami.

Treat those Miami scholarships for what they are, golden tickets to a free education at one of the top private schools in America, a pathway into one of the greatest institutions and legacies in college football history.

Take that golden ticket when you can because if you don't someone else will.

It was a difficult night for Denver Kirkland, his coaches and his fans. But it was inevitable for things to unfold this way.

The ending: Not sure. I have learned that in this Fog of War, anything goes. Kirkland probably lands at Florida State, if the Noles don't run out of scholarships too.

I wouldn't even be shocked if in these final hours of recruiting, Miami suddenly finds itself with one open scholarship and there is a peace offering of sorts and Kirkland ends up at Miami and everybody lives happily ever after, just like a fairy tale. Maybe Matthew Thomas, his teammate, stands by his side.

But please don't ask me to put a percentage on that.


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