According to outgoing Macon County football head coach Larry Harold, all Roquan Smith wanted was some recognition for his hometown when he agreed to have his National Signing Day ceremony broadcast on national television.
The experience became complicated. And now Harold is trying to reclaim the situation.
“We’re doing something positive here in Macon County, and because of Roquan, we’ve been able to put more of a positive spin on things and bring a great amount of attention to the community,” Harold said Monday. “But for people who don’t know him from a can of paint to criticize him for choosing a coach instead of a school, I refuse to have his character questioned and defamed.”
After a whirlwind week in which Smith committed to UCLA, decommitted a few hours later and eventually saw the coach he wanted to play for leave for a job with the NFL’s Atlanta Falcons, things are beginning to slow down.
There won’t be a commitment from Smith anytime soon.
“There is no timeline,” Harold said.
Smith has until April 1 to turn in a national letter of intent, and there’s also the possibility that he could bypass the letter-of-intent process entirely.
Instead, Harold wanted Smith to be able to enjoy the weekend and put recruiting on the back burner.
“He’s back to normal,” Harold said of Smith. “He went hunting and fishing over the weekend, went to a couple of basketball games, just had some fun. All I want is for him to be relaxed and calm, and we’re not going to talk about (recruiting). He’s been through a lot the last three or four days.”
Harold, on the other hand, was distracted by some of the things he saw online regarding Smith and his decision to back away from UCLA once Smith and Harold picked up on rumors -- since made official -- that UCLA defensive coordinator Jeff Ulbrich was headed to the Falcons.
The Ulbrich situation was one of three coaching changes to play out in the days surrounding National Signing Day. Ohio State lost its running backs coach to the Chicago Bears, while Texas’ defensive line coach moved to Florida.
In the Ohio State and Texas cases, players signed and sent in their forms before learning of the moves, and now they are bound to stay with the programs they signed with. Smith, however, caught wind of Ulbrich’s situation before filing his paperwork and remains free to choose where he wants to attend school.
Harold planned to go through the weekend without making public comment while attending a coaching clinic in Atlanta. But when he saw what he thought was unfair criticism of Smith’s decision-making process, he felt the need to go public -- and did so with some scathing comments directed at those critics in an Atlanta Journal-Constitution story published Sunday.
“I was reading blogs, watching ESPN, and when I saw commentary (critical of) committing to a coach instead of a school, I got upset,” Harold said. “They were bashing kids for something that was not their fault. And you can’t separate people and relationships. I don’t want to blame any coach who is trying to improve their situation, but at least give the kids a heads up before they sign. The coach is not just another person. They mean something.
“My intent was not to create a big story. But I was frustrated reading about Roquan. Those players are my sons, and I will lay down my life for one of my sons.”
Harold, who is leaving Macon County at the end of the month for the head coaching job at Brunswick, said he will continue to help Smith through the process, even if he hasn’t made his selection by the time Harold moves to the coast.
“Before I go, I want to make sure Roquan and his family have peace of mind. I want to help protect them,” said Harold, who said this was the first time he had this much national interest in one of his players. “It’s a unique situation. Thinking about this and looking at it from another angle, I’d encourage people to be more cautious and ask more questions.”