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Taking Coaches At Face Value

Williams Seeks Stability With His School of Choice

By Dan Steinberg
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, December 10, 2004; Page D01

Shortly before Steve Spurrier appeared at Derrick Williams's Upper Marlboro home on Monday night, the phone rang. It was Ron Zook.

Zook, fired as head football coach at Florida and newly hired at Illinois, wanted Williams -- a senior at Eleanor Roosevelt High and one of the top recruits in the country -- to consider playing football for his new university. Soon, Spurrier -- not yet two weeks into his tenure as South Carolina's head coach -- arrived, bringing son Steve Spurrier Jr. and more than 90 minutes worth of reasons why his new school might be a good fit for Williams.

Eleanor Roosevelt's Derrick Williams has embarked on many road trips in search of his college of choice. (Dudley M. Brooks - The Washington Post)

_____Prized Recruit_____
Part 1: Eleanor Roosevelt's Derrick Williams is stepping carefully around scholarship offers and those who have offered them.
Part 2: Williams has surrounded himself with those that will best advise the decision for his future.
Part 3: The Internet has changed the recruiting process significantly in the past decade.
Part 4: Wins and losses hardly matter when it comes to evaluating prep football prospects.
Part 5: With all of the recent coaching changes in college football, Williams seeks stability with his school of choice.

_____Football Basics_____
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_____High School Basics_____
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From the beginning, Williams and his parents have made coaching stability a centerpiece of their college search. But with less than two weeks remaining until Williams is scheduled to stand before the ESPN cameras and announce his decision, that quest has been disrupted by the NCAA's annual square dance, with coaches careening from one partner to the next.

Of the nine schools Williams is still seriously considering, three -- Florida, Illinois and South Carolina -- have hired new coaches in the past month. Three more -- Louisville, Penn State and Texas -- have dealt with off-and-on rumors of change. The other three schools on Williams's list are Tennessee, Florida State and Oklahoma.

Williams's older brother, Domonique, had seen his collegiate football career sidetracked by the departure of then-North Carolina coach Mack Brown, a scenario no one in the family wants to live through again. And with Williams's parents determined to find both a familial atmosphere and a coach willing to get the ball to their 6-foot, 190-pound play-making son who likely will play wide receiver in college, they came to a definite conclusion.

"Everyone says you should go to a school for the university, but that's not the case -- the main thing for these kids is the head coach," said Derrick's father, Dwight Williams.

"It's not the school you're looking at, really; it's just that football program," agreed Derrick Williams, who plans to graduate high school this month and enroll in college soon after the new year to get a head start on his training for next season. "All the schools offer the same education, the same degrees. It's just where you feel comfortable, and the coaching staff."

But as Williams's list was trimmed from the more than 50 Division I-A schools offering him athletic scholarships to an evolving list of about nine finalists, wisps of instability clung to several of his choices.

Penn State, one of Williams's most dedicated suitors and the site of his second official visit, has been beset by rumors of Joe Paterno's retirement. Brown, now at Texas, where Williams plans to visit next week, is dogged by dissatisfaction over the Longhorns' annual failure to beat Oklahoma.

Louisville's offense has been consistently impressive, but Coach Bobby Petrino is himself a sought-after recruit and was at first evasive when Dwight Williams asked about the chances Petrino would leave for a higher-profile job. Petrino issued a statement this week restating his commitment to Louisville and his lack of interest in other jobs.

South Carolina entered the picture late last month, with Spurrier making his first phone contact less than an hour before the family headed for an official visit to the University of Tennessee.

"Man, we really liked that offensive approach you had. . . . That's something we're very, very interested in," gushed Dwight Williams, while Derrick idly microwaved his second bowl of chicken-flavored noodles. Derrick later postponed his Texas visit to allow Spurrier to make an in-home pitch.

And then there is the Florida matter.

Even allowing for Hurricane Jeanne, which kept the family trapped in Gainesville for two extra days, their late September official visit to Gainesville was judged an unequivocal success.

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