Malee: Arik Armstead’s commitment follows rare bright moment on recruiting trail

There’s a lot to hate about recruiting.

The breathless reports about the latest whims of a 17-year-old, the all-important but still slightly inhumane “star” system, the greasy coaches in their expensive suits breathing sweet nothings into the ears of a family — and the fact that people like me lap it up no matter how ridiculous it all gets.

I’ve learned over time to approach this process with more than a fair share of ambivalence. The last-minute stories about a recruit’s decision are often wrong. The star system is entirely subjective and embarrasses itself just about every year (meet LaMichael James, three-star running back). And even when you applaud your team’s coach for landing one of the nation’s top-10 classes, you do so knowing that he probably lied through his teeth about everything from playing time to his own future with the team. @@[email protected]@

That’s just the reality these days. So as long as the NCAA chooses not to police its own coaches like it does players, the Nick Sabans and Todd Grahams of the world will continue to prosper. @@[email protected]@ @@[email protected]@

But every once in a while, there’s a moment on the recruiting trail that makes you forget about all of this. This past weekend, it happened to come on Oregon’s turf. @@

By now, of course, you’ve heard that heralded defensive lineman Arik Armstead plans to sign with the Ducks on Wednesday. This was obviously a big get for Chip Kelly and Oregon — a quick look at Armstead’s recruiting profile shows that he had offers from just about every major program in the nation, from Auburn and Alabama to Miami, Texas and Oklahoma. @@[email protected]@

Yet, Armstead spurned all of those schools — as well as California and USC — to come play in Eugene. It wasn’t quite the same as the De’Anthony Thomas Earth-shaker of last year, but it was still considered a surprise commitment.

Even more surprising was Armstead’s reasoning for picking the Ducks.

“I just liked how honest (Chip Kelly) was,” Armstead told the Sacramento Bee’s Joe Davidson. “Oregon coaches never talked bad about any other program. So many do that negative recruiting. Oregon recruited me without really recruiting me.” @@[email protected]@

As Davidson reported, Kelly told Armstead during a home visit that he couldn’t promise to be in Eugene for the next five years. After a brief but intense flirtation with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers job last week, Kelly’s future was likely on the minds of just about every Oregon recruit, and it’s refreshing to see that he was upfront about it with one of his most important targets. How easy would it have been to just say, “I plan on being Oregon’s head coach as long as they’ll have me,” or something to that effect? Part of what makes recruiting so cruel is that coaches can lie all they want and face no punishment when they pick up and move on to another job.

Kelly didn’t do that, not this time at least, and his honesty proved to be an effective weapon with a savvy kid like Armstead. That’s what’s ironic about all of this — high school kids may be immature, but they’re not stupid, and they can see when a coach is being dishonest. Kelly won a commitment by telling a recruit what he didn’t want to hear.

I’ve always enjoyed covering Kelly, and tend to buy into his “no B.S.” approach. Without any quantifiable evidence, there’s just something about him that feels real, like he isn’t just putting on a bogus PR show for the media. The murky details of the Tampa Bay ordeal raised some questions about that persona, but he quickly redeemed himself on the recruiting trail — not because he landed the commitment, but because he did it the right way.

Kelly won’t be the Oregon Ducks’ coach forever, but when he does leave, at least he can do so without blindsiding the kids who followed his lead up to Eugene.

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