Hank Tierney’s phone buzzed at 7 a.m. Friday.
That wasn’t the surprising part. Tierney, Ponchatoula High School’s head football coach, often receives early-morning calls and messages.
But he didn’t expect to get one from one of his football players on this Friday — since Ponchatoula did not hold class.
“I figured they’d sleep in,” Tierney said with a chuckle.
Not on this morning.
“Coach Frank is leaving!” the text from Ponchatoula offensive tackle Donavaughn Campbell to Tierney read.
Frank Wilson — LSU’s recruiting guru and a celebrated son of New Orleans — left his cushy job in his home state to achieve a goal. He wanted to be a college head coach. Texas-San Antonio introduced the 42-year-old as its head man Friday.
“Dreams do come true,” Wilson posted on Twitter just before a news conference announcing his hire.
Wilson signed a five-year contract that starts with a $650,000 salary — about $25,000 less than he was due at LSU this year. The school will waive Wilson’s buyout — about $330,000 — as it often does when assistant coaches leave for head coaching jobs, athletic director Joe Alleva said.
Wilson’s departure from LSU shook many. Some — like the players he was actively recruiting — didn’t learn of the news until Friday morning, and a few expressed a wavering in their commitment to the Tigers.
Wilson’s task is tall. He takes over a Conference USA program that started football just five years ago and won total seven games the past two seasons.
LSU’s task isn’t short. Head coach Les Miles and the Tigers must keep together the nation’s top-ranked recruiting class after losing their key cog 20 days before national signing day — all the while searching for a staff replacement.
“We are going to miss him,” Miles said in a statement Friday.
“It’s a tremendous loss for LSU. I don’t care who they bring in to replace him; you have a homegrown guy who can really recruit,” Landry-Walker coach Emanuel Powell said.
Wilson was born and raised on the West Bank, served as an assistant at Edna Karr, led O. Perry Walker to two district championships and was athletic director for the city’s public schools for a year.
His ties with many New Orleans high school coaches run deep, relationships he used to build LSU into one of the country’s hottest recruiting destinations.
“The impact of Frank Wilson and the stamp he’s put on the city and this region ... he’s going to be hard to replace,” said Edna Karr coach Brice Brown, whom Wilson coached at one point.
“The SEC is pretty happy right now. They’re going to be able to get in and pick (players),” Ehret coach Corey Lambert said. “You might not find one that close to Frank. You need to come close. You might have a lot of kids’ decisions changing.”
For LSU, there’s immediacy to worry about before the long-term effect of Wilson’s departure. The Tigers’ 20-commitment class is ranked No. 1 by three of the four major recruiting outlets, and LSU hopes to sign at least seven more.
Thursday marked a key date in the recruiting calendar as a monthlong dead period ended. For the next two and a half weeks, coaches are allowed to visit prospects in their homes, and they host dozens of recruits on campus during the three remaining weekends ahead of signing day.
LSU is hosting about 15 prospects this weekend — at least seven of them uncommitted.
They’ll do it all without Wilson. According to 247Sports, Wilson is the primary or secondary recruiter on seven of LSU’s 16 commitments, excluding the four already enrolled.
One of those 16 is Karr defensive end Andre Anthony. He said Friday he doesn’t think Wilson’s departure would affect his decision and commitment, but he couldn’t be sure.
“Coach (Ed) Orgeron is still there and he’s my position coach, but Coach Frank was a big part of my recruiting,” he said.
East St. John receiver Da’Monte Coxie danced around a question about signing with the Tigers without Wilson.
“Yeah, maybe,” he said when asked whether he still planned to sign with LSU. “It’s a process right now.”
Then there’s Campbell. The 6-foot-4, 347-pounder quickly shot down talk of Wilson’s departure affecting him.
“You don’t go to a school for the coaches,” he said.
Orgeron, known as one of the country’s best recruiters, could fill at least some of the void Wilson leaves on the recruiting trail, New Orleans high school coach agreed. The Louisiana native lives with his family on the north shore, and his ties to New Orleans coaches run deep. He may even be a candidate to take the recruiting coordinator title.
Tierney remembers Orgeron wooing players from New Orleans to attend Miami when the coach was an assistant for the Hurricanes in the early 1990s.
“Replacing Frank is hard, but if anybody can do it, it would be Orgeron,” Tierney said. “Everybody knows Coach O in New Orleans, too.”
Other potential candidates for running backs coach and/or recruiting coordinator could include current North Carolina running backs coach Larry Porter, who spent 2005-09 coaching running backs at LSU; Alabama running backs coach Burton Burns, a New Orleans native; Texas Tech running backs coach Jabbar Juluke, a Southern graduate; and Josh Henson, the former Missouri offensive coordinator who worked with Miles at Oklahoma State and LSU.
Whoever’s hired, he’ll follow one of the most successful recruiters in LSU football history — an organized, aggressive and persistent man whose primary key in recruiting is to establish relationships with kids at an early age to cement things late.
Those relationships were exposed Friday in conversations with his LSU players, he said.
“They were super excited for me,” Wilson said. “It was an emotional time. Tears of joy. They all supported me.”
Follow Ross Dellenger on Twitter @RossDellenger.