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Recruiting Watch

Coaching changes can have major impact

Posted: Wednesday January 19, 2005 6:15PM; Updated: Thursday January 20, 2005 10:37AM
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By Jamie Newberg, Scout.com

The college football coaching world was turned upside down this season with 22 coaching changes in Division I-A. From Gainesville, Fla., to Palo Alto, Calif., the reverberations were felt and all the changes will have a huge impact on recruiting as we move closer to National Signing Day in two weeks.

Recruiting can be broken down in various ways. But the key ingredient across the board is the player/coach relationship. Recruiting is all about building relationships between the college coaches and the prospects, the prospect's family and the high school coaches.

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In a perfect world you would like to think that these college prospects pick a school because of the school itself. But more times than not, a decision is made based on winning, playing opportunity or the relationship built between the coach and the prospect. The latter has the most impact on the decision itself and that's why it is so hard to recruit when a team makes a change.

Think about this for a moment. A staff with stability recruits most of its players over a given time. Sometimes the coach/prospect relationship starts real early, perhaps when the prospect is a freshman or sophomore in high school. Many recruitments start in February or May of the prospect's junior year. Regardless, you are talking about a courtship that's at least a year long.

So when a college football program does make a change, the new head coach and his regime now have a short recruiting window. Most coaching changes happen in December or even in January -- and this means instead of having at least that year to recruit, these new coaches now only have eight weeks or so, depending on when they are hired. This is a huge disadvantage that every single new head coach and their staffs have to face. It doesn't matter what their name is and where they coach. To a man, they would all agree that their first recruiting class is always the most difficult to sign because of this short recruiting window.

And because of this, teams in transition at the coaching position usually struggle to put together a class. It's a little easier for some over others. But the end result is still the same and to get it done is a very, very difficult task.

Who have been the hottest recruiters over the past three or four seasons? I think it's safe to say Pete Carroll (Southern Cal), Nick Saban (LSU) and Ron Zook (Florida). If you look back at their first recruiting classes, however, even this trio struggled. But after that first class was signed, this group did an amazing job in the recruiting battles and these schools found themselves atop the recruiting rankings at the end of the day. Last season, Bill Callahan (Nebraska) really struggled to land a class. What are the Cornhuskers doing this season after a year to build the relationships with the prospects, their coaches and families? They are sitting in top 10 of Scout.com's national recruiting rankings.

The point is that teams in a coaching transition always do much better with their second recruiting class. From that point and beyond it's anyone's guess and much depends on the success, or lack  thereof, in how well they do in recruiting. So what will happen this season? It's tough to say because you just never know in recruiting. But for the big-name coaches at the big-name schools, they should be all right. It just depends on the school.

Case in point: South Carolina. The Gamecocks hired Steve Spurrier, one of the greatest coaches in SEC history. But Spurrier has been out of the college coaching game for a few years. Everyone just assumed because it was Spurrier, he would roll in recruiting. That certainly didn't happen right off the bat, but he and his staff had a good week, getting commitments from some very quality players like wide receivers Jared Cook (Suwanee, Ga.), Carlos Thomas (College Park, Ga.), Eric Sledge (Apopka, Fla.), safety Gerrod Sinclair (Jacksonville, Fla.) and linebacker Marvin Sapp (Jacksonville, Fla.). My guess is that year No. 2 will come much easier for the Ol' Ball Coach and his Gamecocks. Currently, South Carolina is at No. 32 in the Scout.com team recruiting rankings.

Under Zook, Florida was set to have perhaps its best recruiting class. But he was fired and Urban Meyer has taken over. As we all know, Meyer was the hottest coach in college football. Zook and his staff laid a great recruiting foundation for the new staff; the young, talented Gators could be on the verge of a major breakthrough. The problem, in terms of recruiting, is that these prospects Florida is recruiting don't know Meyer and the new Gator coaches. Utah doesn't recruit the same prospects as Florida does. Meyer and his staff certainly have their work cut out for them, but they have a good nucleus of a class right now.

But how will the Gators fare in the next few weeks? It's too difficult to predict. Some of their old verbals have committed to other schools, such as cornerback Demetrice Morley (Miami, Fla.), while four others are considered soft commitments because they continue to visit other schools. UF has to make sure it keeps these prospects. Another blow was the loss of recruiting coordinator Mike Locksley. Locksley, one of the nation's top recruiters, initially stayed in Gainesville as one of only two holdovers from the Zook staff. He was the glue that held things together during the transition time. But last week he was accepted the offensive coordinator job at Illinois under Zook.

Since Florida made its coaching change, it has picked some good prospects like quarterback Josh Portis (Woodlands, Calif.), running back Tony Wright (Fort Valley, Ga.), offensive linemen Ronnie Wilson (Pompano Beach, Fla.) and Eddie Haupt (Merritt Island, Fla.) and wide receiver Nyan Boateng (Brooklyn, N.Y.). Currently, Florida is at No. 22 in the Scout.com team recruiting rankings.

Saban had built a beast in Baton Rouge. Les Miles left Oklahoma State for LSU and he will find himself in the same situation as Meyer, Spurrier and the others.

The big positive, for Miles, is that there is no other major college football power in Louisiana. Rarely does Tulane beat out LSU for a big-time recruit. It has happened, but not very often. The other positive is that LSU always recruits the state of Texas very well. So does Oklahoma State. So if there is an advantage here, it's that these Texas prospects know Miles and what he is all about as a coach. The disadvantage is it's somewhat of a down year in Louisiana in terms of high-end prospects. In other words, the Bayou State is not its typically loaded self. And, how well do the kids from Louisiana know Miles?

The Bayou Bengals received a huge recruiting boost on Saturday when the nation's top defensive tackle, Jerrell Powe (Waynesboro, Miss.), selected LSU over Auburn. Word on the street, however, is that this battle is far from over. LSU is currently No. 34 in the Scout.com rankings.

Speaking of Miles, his former offensive coordinator, Mike Gundy, stayed in Stillwater to be the Cowboys head coach. This is certainly a program on the rise in the Big 12. The big question is, can Gundy continue their ascension? It has to start with recruiting and their long-term prospects look good. Gundy made a great hire in Larry Fedora. Fedora was one of the top recruiters for Zook at Florida. He went with Zook to Illinois but didn't stay in Champaign for very long.

Fortunately for Oklahoma State, the bulk of its class was committed before Miles left. The main thing for Gundy and company is to keep this nucleus of 18 prospects. Currently, Oklahoma State is ranked No. 66 by Scout.com.

Ed Orgeron will be a player when it comes to recruiting for Ole Miss. He comes from USC, where he was the recruiting coordinator under Pete Carroll. He is widely regarded as one of the nation's top recruiters. Obviously there are several key built-in, long-term advantages for Orgeron and the future of Rebel recruiting. First and foremost, Orgeron has been a part of four national championships, two with Southern Cal and two with Miami. That will carry a lot of weight with prospects. Secondly, he is not a West Coast guy. Orgeron is from Louisiana, played his college football there and has deep roots in the South. This will go a long way for Ole Miss, especially in year two.

On Monday, Ole Miss got some great news when it received a commitment from one of the nation's top offensive line prospects, Michael Oher (Memphis, Tenn.) Currently, Ole Miss is ranked No. 44.

When it comes to new coaches, however, everyone is curious about one school more than any other: Notre Dame. And what a unique situation it is. Charlie Weis, the offensive coordinator for the Super Bowl champion Patriots, will take over in South Bend. But as we all know, there are about two weeks left until National Signing Day, and New England -- with Weis on board -- is gearing up for the AFC title game against Pittsburgh and another possible berth on football's biggest stage, the Super Bowl. This season the Super Bowl takes place the weekend after Signing Day. This puts the Irish in a very precarious position because their new head coach is in Foxboro, Mass., not South Bend.

How does Weis make in-home visits? And can he be at Notre Dame during the weekends when it hosts recruits for their official visits? First, Weis only has had the opportunity to make four or five in-home visits. He was in South Bend the weekend of Jan. 7 to meet and host their official visitors. He missed last weekend and will miss this weekend. If New England does beat Pittsburgh, he has to get his Patriots ready for the Super Bowl. But this NFL season, there is a week off between the AFC Championship Game and the Super Bowl on Feb. 6. This means Weis will be at Notre Dame for the last visit weekend of this recruiting season on Jan 28.

This is a tough position for Notre Dame. But you have to give the Irish credit for one thing: They got their guy in Weis, and because of the unique situation he is in with the Patriots, the Irish are willing to sacrifice recruiting in the short-term for what they feel is the greater good, Notre Dame football for the long-term. So basically, Weis has left it up to his assistant coaches, and they have done a pretty good job under the circumstances. Thus far, they have gained some big commitments from wide receiver D.J. Hord (Kansas City, Mo.) and offensive lineman Paul Duncan (Dallas, Ga.). Notre Dame is No. 22 in the Scout.com rankings.

Notre Dame's ex-coach, Tyrone Willingham, takes over at Washington and things have been eerily quiet in Seattle. When it comes to recruiting, UW has a few obstacles with Signing Day rapidly approaching. Only about half of its staff is filled and the Huskies do not have an offensive coordinator. It will be very difficult to sell Washington football, especially from an offensive perspective, without a complete staff. And there are two major running backs in limbo right now with the Huskies: Jonathan Stewart (Lacey, Wash.) and J.R. Hasty (Bellevue, Wash.). Stewart is the nation's top back and he is a fan of Willingham. However, it looks like Stewart is headed to Washington State or Oregon.

The advantage this season for Washington is that it is low on scholarships. The Huskies should sign around 14 prospects, and they are halfway there with commitments. Currently, Washington is No. 69 in the Scout.com rankings.

As you can see, nearly all the schools that made coaching changes this offseason are not at the top of Scout.com's team rankings. A big reason for that is that a bulk of their recruiting is pushed back as late as possible. These teams are trying to buy some time so they can get to know these kids, their coaches and parents as best they can in such a short time. Some teams will make a push, while some teams will struggle. It's just how the game is played and it certainly makes this recruiting season a little more wacky and unusual than most.

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