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Published: Monday, 12/1/2008

Will high school recruits still want to be Falcons?

BY RYAN AUTULLO
BLADE SPORTS WRITER
Gregg Brandon at Bowling Green Gregg Brandon at Bowling Green
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BOWLING GREEN - Firing a coach, according to Bowling Green State University athletic director Greg Christopher, is especially difficult because of the many lives it affects.

When Christopher dismissed football coach Gregg Brandon on Saturday morning, the dominoes immediately began to fall. Brandon's assistants were suddenly without stable employment, and players were without a head coach.

And, a number of 17 and 18-year-olds who have verbally committed to BG are now left wondering whether they should honor their commitments and play for a coach who did not recruit them.

"I'm going to see who they bring in," Perrysburg defensive end T.J. Fatinikun said. "My mind hasn't changed on anything. I'm still BG solid, but it might open it up a bit. We'll see who they bring in."

Brandon was fired with three years left on his contract. In six seasons, he was 44-30 overall and 31-17 in the Mid-American Conference. His final game was a 38-10 win at Toledo, which, incidentally, was the last game for Rockets coach Tom Amstutz.

Christopher cited a number of reasons for dismissing Brandon, including this year's disappointing 6-6 record, off-the-field problems within the team and a poor Academic Progress Report score that cost the program nine scholarships over this year and next.

Fatinikun, who committed to BG in early July, said he believes 21 players have accepted scholarship offers from BG. Due to NCAA rules, college coaches are not permitted to comment on recruits until a letter of intent is signed on or after the Feb. 4 national signing day.

"I was shocked, I couldn't believe it," said Mark Mays, a running back recruit from Clayton, Ohio. "The first thing I thought was what's going to happen next, who's going to be the head coach?"

Mays, like Fatinikun, plans to base his decision on who is hired to replace Brandon. Christopher on Saturday evening said he has a list of 15 or so qualities he is looking for in the next coach. He cited basic traits like leadership and integrity and also stressed he will target candidates with ties to Ohio or the Midwest.

"I talked to the coach that recruited me [linebackers coach Deion Melvin], and he told me to go and visit other schools and take official visits if I need to," Mays said. "I'm really not sure at this point what I'm going to do."

Upon hearing the news of Brandon's firing, Fatinikun phoned several members of the recruiting class, including Mays and Cincinnati La Salle defensive back Ricky Steele. Fatinikun said the consensus among his potential future teammates is they will wait to see who is hired before jumping to quick decisions. Christopher said no time line is in place for making a hire.

Steele admitted coaches from other programs had been contacting him even before Brandon was fired. That interest has intensified since Saturday morning's announcement.

"I think it would be tougher if Bowling Green was my only offer," said Steele, who hails from the same high school as BG quarterback Tyler Sheehan. "I can look at my options a little more around the area. I want to go to Bowling Green and I wanted to play for Gregg Brandon. I don't know what I'm going to do yet."

Fatinikun said defensive coordinator Mike Ward assured him that the next coach would not revoke his or anyone else's scholarship offer.

Ward, who was primarily responsible for recruiting Fatinikun, is also in career limbo. Christopher said he cannot promise the next head coach will retain any of this year's assistants, all of whom operate on single-year contracts. If not kept, the assistants will be given other positions at the university unless they find employment elsewhere. Christopher has instructed the assistants to not speak with the media.

"I'm hoping a few coaches can stay because I feel like they know the team well," junior receiver Chris Wright said. "It will help with the transition of going into my senior year with a bunch of guys that could have a nice team. Coach [Stephen] Bird, coach [John] Hunter, coach Melvin and coach [Matt] Campbell come to mind as guys I felt like had a lot of respect from players on the team."

Contact Ryan Autullo at:

rautullo@theblade.com.



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