NCF On The Trail: Butch Jones

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For all the solid work Jim McElwain and his coaches did down the critical 2015 recruiting stretch in the past month, those efforts should stand as a starting point for Florida's football program. That is by no means an end game or a standard for the Gators.

Not to sound like I'm getting ahead of myself too much, but Florida's 2016 recruiting class is critical to the success McElwain hopes to have during his tenure in Gainesville. The SEC is too good and the threat of sliding further and further in the SEC is nothing for the Gators to play around with. Just look at how long it's taken Tennessee to get back to relevancy, and that journey back toward the top still has a steep climb ahead for the Vols.

McElwain has yet to name a starting quarterback, let alone coach a single moment of practice, but in a fast-paced, cutthroat college football society, he and his coaches can't waste any time getting some sort of time with this 2016 class, which really could make or break McElwain's time at Florida. That might sound harsh or even like a bit of hyperbole, but look where Florida's program is now and look at the SEC around it. You can't afford to be a weak link in a conference as cannibalistic as the SEC.

The good news for McElwain is that he and his staff proved they have a clutch closing gene that helped transform a once hopeless 2015 Florida class into a top-20 group equipped with two five-stars and six ESPN 300 members. Another thing to consider is that recent new coaches in this league have had very good success with their second recruiting classes. From Urban Meyer to Butch Jones, a handful of first-year coaches in the SEC have cleaned up in recruiting with their second classes, and McElwain has to continue that trend.

What McElwain got in his first class with the Gators was a mixed bag -- some contents quality, some unknown. Landing immediate-impact five-star prospects Martez Ivey (offensive tackle) and CeCe Jefferson (defensive end) and playmaking hopefuls like running back Jordan Scarlett, wide receiver Antonio Callaway, and athletes D'Anfernee McGriff, Jordan Cronkrite and Chris Williamson gives the Gators a solid early foundation to work with, but it's no secret Florida needs more star power in its 2016 class.

McElwain desperately needed depth along the offensive line and signed five lineman, including two ESPN 300 recruits. That certainly helps with depth, but getting a little more quality there in 2016 will be essential. The same is absolutely true about the wide receiver spot, where Florida again needs legit playmakers, and quarterback, where questions abound this season.

Florida currently has just one 2016 commitment -- wide receiver Rick Wells -- but if recent history is any indication, McElwain and Co., who can sign a big class with such low scholarship numbers for this current team, could really make a statement with next year's class.

Not to immediately compare McElwain to Meyer and Nick Saban -- although Gators fans are hoping he reaches their level -- but those two went from having OK first classes at Florida and Alabama, respectively, to consensus top-five classes by major recruiting services (ESPN.com, Rivals.com and Scout.com) in Year 2. Florida ranked No. 1 in ESPN's class rankings in Meyer's second year (2006), while Alabama ranked third in Saban's second year (2008). Meyer went on to win two national titles at Florida, while Saban has won three at Alabama.

After bringing in a top-20 class during his first year at LSU in 2005, Les Miles landed a consensus top-eight class nationally in 2006 and won the national title in 2007. Former Auburn coach Gene Chizik reeled in a top-25 class in 2009, then won a national title in his second year and brought home a top-five class in 2010.

Even coaches who haven't won titles have recently had second-year recruiting success in the SEC. Hugh Freeze began his time as Ole Miss' coach in 2012 with a class that barely registered on the recruiting radar and then signed arguably the school's best class ever in 2013 with headliners like Robert Nkemdiche, Laquon Treadwell and Laremy Tunsil.

Butch Jones signed a top-30 class in 2013 and now has back-to-back No. 5 classes in ESPN RecruitingNation's class rankings. Of course, Auburn coach Gus Malzahn has signed back-to-back top-10 classes in his two years at Auburn, but he's just bragging at this point.

McElwain has a long way to go as a coach and a recruiter at Florida, and he hasn't even seen his team run actual plays on a field yet. But having a strong second year of recruiting is essential to righting Florida's ship. Heck, even his predecessor, Will Muschamp, signed the No. 4 class nationally in his second year, so there's a formula for recruiting success McElwain can follow. And with the way the SEC is moving, McElwain can't afford to get behind and must emulate those before him.

SEC signing day roundtable: Coach under pressure

February, 10, 2015
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There is only one new face among SEC head coaches this year -- Florida’s Jim McElwain -- but a number of the league’s head honchos face increased pressure to perform in 2015.

Continuing this week’s SEC series of post-signing day roundtable discussions, today we’ll examine the conference coaches who are under pressure to make something happen after signing their newest class of recruits.

Edward Aschoff: Hugh Freeze, Ole Miss
Year 4 of the Freeze era is beginning, and expectations are about to explode in Oxford. After being on the cusp of an SEC West title and a spot in the first College Football Playoff, Ole Miss now has to stay in the thick of the title hunts. While Freeze has been enormously successful during his time at Ole Miss, he has now signed three straight top-20 classes, and now the 2013 class (the crown jewel of Freeze’s tenure) will be all grown up. If the bulk of that class is going to bring a championship to Ole Miss, the time is now because the heavy hitters, like Robert Nkemdiche, Laquon Treadwell and Laremy Tunsil, will likely head to the NFL after this coming season. There’s too much talent in Oxford for Ole Miss not to compete for a spot in Atlanta, and anything else will be considered a failure.

David Ching: Derek Mason, Vanderbilt
I was tempted to focus on Mark Richt or Les Miles because the natives seem to be getting restless at Georgia and LSU, but let’s go in a different direction. Mason probably needs to get more out of this 2015 class immediately than those two SEC veterans. Last season was a mess at Vandy, with the Commodores failing to put up a good fight in most of their nine losses. Their three wins came against UMass (by three points), Charleston Southern (by one) and Old Dominion (by 14), and they lost by an average of 18 points per game in SEC play. Now Mason enters his second season with two new coordinators (actually he’ll be his own defensive coordinator) and a recruiting class that ESPN ranked No. 44 nationally, dead last in the SEC. Mason told reporters on signing day that he staked his reputation on the quality of this class, which is all well and good. But if the Commodores don’t start looking like a more competent team this fall, I’m not sure Mason’s reputation as a head coach will be too great.

Sam Khan Jr.: Kevin Sumlin, Texas A&M
I think Travis Haney said it best Insider that Sumlin must begin to reap the fruits of the recruiting labor he and his staff have put in over the last three years. The Aggies' classes ranked eighth, fourth and 12th nationally in Sumlin's first three full recruiting cycles, and the team now enters its fourth year in the SEC. He made significant coaching staff changes (including paying a pretty penny for former LSU defensive coordinator John Chavis), and overall the Aggies have recruited better than any team in their own state -- which is talent-rich -- since Sumlin has been there. It's time for the recruiting hauls to translate to the standings.

Chris Low: Mark Stoops, Kentucky
As it turns out, the sky didn't fall at Kentucky after the Wildcats lost six commitments in a span of eight days leading up to signing day. Thanks to some hustle by Stoops and his staff, Kentucky was able to plug some of the gaps late and finish with the nation's 43rd-ranked class. The problem was that Stoops reeled in the 20th-ranked class the year before, so expectations were lofty. As Stoops enters his third season at Kentucky -- with a brand-new contract that will pay him an average of $3.57 million per year -- expectations will be equally high on the field. Kentucky will be aiming for its first winning season since 2009. The Wildcats looked like they were on their way in 2014 after starting out 5-1, but wound up losing their last six games.

Greg Ostendorf: Jim McElwain, Florida
All things considered, McElwain deserves credit for this class. He took over two months before signing day and closed with a top-20 class that included five-star prospects Martez Ivey and CeCe Jefferson. But this class had a chance to be more than solid. It had the potential to be great. Florida missed on a number of homegrown prospects, including Byron Cowart and Jeff Holland, who both decided to leave home to play at Auburn for the man McElwain replaced. The first-year coach deserves a pass for this class, but he can’t keep letting the top players out of the state. Losing battles to Florida State is one thing. Losing battles to Will Muschamp and Auburn is another.

Alex Scarborough: Steve Spurrier, South Carolina
The great thing about Steve Spurrier is that you can take him at his word. But this time I think his openness hurt him. By telling reporters he thought he'd stay at South Carolina 2-3 more years, he had to turn some recruits off. I mean, who would commit to a program knowing the head coach wouldn't be there the whole way through? Though his 31-man signing class was solid, coming in at No. 21 overall in the country, it was what was missing that Gamecocks fans should find troubling -- most notably, four-star defensive players Damon Arnette and Arden Key, who both decommitted heading down the stretch. While you have to appreciate Spurrier’s honest assessment of himself, reading a head coach say this has to be jarring: "I don't think I did a very good job of maybe going full-speed as much as we needed as it turned out."

Derek Tyson: Butch Jones, Tennessee
After two top-five recruiting classes in a row, Tennessee head coach Butch Jones now has the talent on his roster to make a move in the SEC East. With Josh Dobbs showing promise last season and several other freshmen having standout years, including Derek Barnett, Jalen Hurd and Todd Kelly Jr., the talent is in place to have a big season on the field this year. Another 7-6 season could have Tennessee fans getting a little restless.
LOUISVILLE, Ky. -- Even it looks like there is momentum for an early signing period in mid-December, college coaches still are torn on whether that’s a good thing. Plus, what does an early signing period do to the financial aid agreements players are already signing?

Early Offer: Isaac Nauta keeps FSU rolling 

December, 15, 2014
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The addition of No. 1 2016 TE Isaac Nauta shows that the Florida State recruiting machine shows no signs of slowing down. Plus, Tennessee continues to impress with its 2015 defensive class.


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The Opening presented by Nike Football will take place July 5-10 at Nike World Headquarters in Beaverton, Oregon, with 162 of the nation's top high school football prospects set to compete. With four days of dynamic training, competition and recruits targeting uncommitted players to come to their chosen school, there's bound to be some players who see their stock improve and some wild recruiting news that comes out of left field.

Here are five bold predictions of what will happen at the prestigious event:


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The Early Offer is RecruitingNation's regular feature, giving you a dose of recruiting in the mornings. Today’s offerings: The SEC’s raid on talent continued over the weekend as Tennessee, a team that hasn’t been talked about much despite a top-10 ranking, reeled in an impressive trio of commitments. Plus, Arizona State and Stanford have developed into rivals both on the field and on the recruiting trail, which makes the battle to land one of the nation’s best receivers even more entertaining.

Tennessee's class is getting overlooked


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Early Offer: 2014’s biggest climbers 

February, 28, 2014
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The Early Offer is RecruitingNation's regular feature, giving you a daily dose of recruiting in the mornings. Today’s offerings: After a few weeks to recover from national signing day, it’s always interesting to analyze the data to get a better understanding of what really happened. To me, there’s no better test of a program’s recruiting momentum than to see how they climbed from one class to another. And programs like Boston College, NC State and Stanford are definitely trending upward.

New to the mix
Boston College, Syracuse and Western Michigan were the three schools you could make a case climbed the most from the 2013 to 2014 recruiting class, especially the Eagles. None of the three programs were ranked in the 2013 top 75, but Boston College climbed all the way to No. 42 overall in 2014. The Eagles' class was headlined by former Rutgers commit and ESPN 300 prospect Jonathan Hilliman, who is expected to have an instant impact at running back. Syracuse (60) and Western Michigan’s (68) entrance into the rankings weren't as high as the Eagles’ but it’s a step in the right direction if you’re a fan of both programs. There are many, including me, that believe the Broncos signed the best class ever in the MAC. Insider

Top-5 climbers


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Now that the 2014 class is in the books it’s time to take a look at which teams need to make a big splash in recruiting for the 2015 class. Below are five teams we feel have to perform well in recruiting to move forward and re-establish their programs among the college football elite. There are always peaks and valleys in recruiting, but there’s also an expectation level that some programs no matter what will always perform to a high standard and that’s not always realistic.

For these programs, it won’t just be about how good the players are that they sign in 2015; it will also be about what type of person that player is to represent the program and establish a new chemistry. These programs are laying down a new foundation, and it will be this class that will be looked back upon as one that got the ball rolling. These programs need to make the Tennessee-type splash of 2014. Just ask Ole Miss about its 2013 class and what one recruiting cycle can do to reenergize a program. We’ve closed the door on the 2014 class now, here’s to opening the door for the 2015 class. Let’s get off to a fast start shall we?


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Early Offer: Frustrating final week 

January, 29, 2014
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The Early Offer is RecruitingNation's regular feature, giving you a daily dose of recruiting in the mornings.

Today’s offerings
After recruiting prospects for two years, it’s now down to the final week for coaches chasing players in the 2014 class. That brings frustrations about recruits changing their minds over and over. Also, how is Tennessee able to land so many recruits this year? And NC State has assembled a sneaky good class.


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Even Nick Saban can find some time to relax and let loose.

[+] EnlargeLane Kiffin
Jayne Kamin-Oncea/USA TODAY SportsMaybe Lane Kiffin's skill with a microphone aren't best used addressing the media.
Known more for his on-field scowls and stern deliveries at his press conferences, Saban has much more personality than he lets on when he's talking about his team with the microphones and cameras in his face. I mean, look at the job he did during the coverage of this year's VIZIO BCS National Championship Game. The man can talk.

But it also appears that he can also dance. More specifically, he can slide.

During a big recruiting weekend on campus, Saban entertained guests by partaking in the electric slide, which is a must for anyone with any ounce of soul or rhythm. If it's tricky for you, I suggest you either check Saban out and learn quickly before you're invited to any sort of shindig that has a dance floor.

ESPN 300 linebacker Rashaan Evans was in town on an official visit and his brother, Alex, captured part of the special moment on video and uploaded it to Vine. You can see it here. It's only six seconds long, but the little bit that you see of Saban is great. As a certified pro at the electric slide, I was really impressed with Saban's moves.

But what might have been even more impressive was the karaoke session new offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin had with ESPN 300 running back commit Bo Scarbrough's mother, Donetris.

Here's what she told 247Sports about singing what had to be a very special duet of the song "Sweet Home Alabama":
"I think if you're new there, you have to do karaoke. It's kind of the theme with the new coaches. Everyone has to do a karaoke night. It was his turn and he kept on hiding. He told me, 'I think I'll go on ahead and do it, if you sing with me.'

"It made the night. It was the talk of the night."

Dancing is one thing, but singing is a whole different arena. As a former musical theater student, I'd jump at the chance, but not everyone has belted like I have. Kudos to Kiffin for letting those vocal cords go. Adding some air guitar to the whole thing would have just been icing on an already delicious cake.

It's just more proof that these coaches are, in fact, human. They aren't the robots they sometimes make themselves out to be. They have fun sides and know how to entertain when it's time to get out of coach mode. That had to be a pretty fun experience for everyone.

So which coaches would you guys love to see dance in public? Who would you love to see perform some beautiful karaoke, and what song would you pick?

I'd love to see soft-spoken Tennessee coach Butch Jones go solo with Miley Cyrus' "Wrecking Ball." Singing only, of course. Maybe throw some Kanye West or Katy Perry at him to keep him on his toes. And clearly everyone wants to see Arkansas coach Bret Bielema do the "Dougie."

Early Offer: Vols on recruiting tear 

December, 5, 2013
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The Early Offer is RecruitingNation's regular feature, giving you a daily dose of recruiting in the mornings. Today's offerings: Butch Jones is producing the recruiting story of the year with his efforts in Knoxville; Alabama continues to add to its prize recruiting class with another blue-chip defender; the signing period for mid-term junior college recruits is two weeks away and the push to land the undecided will be fierce.

UT adds 11th ESPN 300 prospect

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ESPN 300 WR Malone picks Vols

December, 4, 2013
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Since arriving in Knoxville, Tennessee coach Butch Jones has focused intently on keeping the best prospects in the state at home. The Vols took another step toward that goal Wednesday after Josh Malone (Gallatin, Tenn./Station Camp), the top-rated player in the state, committed to Tennessee. Malone is the No. 48 overall prospect in the ESPN 300 and the No. 6 wide receiver.

The 6-foot-2, 191-pound Malone chose Tennessee over Clemson and Georgia in a recruitment that kept many on the edge of their seats.

The talented playmaker began his official visits on Sept. 27 with a trip to Athens to visit Georgia, which was once considered the favorite. Following the visit to Georgia, Malone made official visits to Tennessee on Oct. 5, Ohio State on Oct. 26, Florida State on Nov. 1 and Clemson on Nov. 22. Many thought the SEC would dominate Malone’s list, but Clemson proved to be the toughest competition for Tennessee.

The Vols now have four of the top six prospects in the state committed. In addition to Malone, Tennessee has reeled in ESPN 300 prospects No. 59 overall Todd Kelly Jr. (Knoxville, Tenn./Webb School of Knoxville), No. 62 Jalen Hurd (Hendersonville, Tenn./Beech Senior High) and No. 296 Derek Barnett (Brentwood, Tenn./Brentwood Academy).

Currently ranked No. 2 in the RecruitingNation class rankings, the Vols have 33 commitments, including 11 ESPN 300 commitments and 17 four-star prospects. The Vols also boast five junior college transfers ranked in the recently released ESPN JC 50. The class features prospects from 11 states, plus the District of Columbia.

But Jones is not done yet. The Vols are still in the hunt for three-star lineman Charles Mosley (Brighton, Tenn./Brighton), with a decision likely at the end of this week, as well as No. 7-ranked Adoree' Jackson (Gardena, Calif./Junipero Serra), No. 37 Clifton Garrett (Plainfield, Ill./Plainfield South), No. 61 Travis Rudolph (West Palm Beach, Fla./Cardinal Newman) and No. 108 Derrell Scott (Havelock, N.C./Havelock), among others.

#AskLoogs: Grading Butch Jones

August, 22, 2013
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Want to ask ESPN RecruitingNation senior analyst Tom Luginbill a question about your team? Tweet it to @TomLuginbill using the hashtag #AskLoogs.



As of now, I give them an “A”. The question is going to be whether the Vols can hold on. Recruiting is a marathon, not a sprint. With 24 total pledges -- and 10 in the ESPN 300 -- most of whom have no doubt been pursued by other SEC and ACC programs, Tennessee has hit the ground running in Butch Jones' first full recruiting year.

The class is littered with not only the best in Tennessee, but also with players who fill specific needs for the Vols. The juco ranks have been recruited hard for some maturity and experience, which is generally not the case at Tennessee. I think WR Dominique Booth will be a nice addition to Marquez North. RB Jalen Hurd could be a potential early impact guy.

What happens, though, if Tennessee hits see serious bumps in the road on the field? Will the Vols lose momentum? Are these commits banking on the future and not concerned about this fall? You can bet if things don’t go well, the chum will be in the water and the sharks will be circling, trying to peck away at Tennessee in order to get prospects to rethink their decisions. There is lots of time between now and February. Jones and his staff know full well that it will get harder once the season starts.

Scouting Bates’ role at Tennessee 

July, 3, 2013
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ESPN 300 linebacker Dillon Bates committed to Tennessee on Wednesday at The Opening. Here's how RecruitingNation’s talent scouts think he’ll fit in Knoxville.


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BEAVERTON, Ore. -- With some players, there is some suspense on which school they will eventually pick. But with others such as Dillon Bates, the nation’s No. 92 player and No. 3 outside linebacker in the country, there really isn’t.

It was no shock that Bates, who is 6-foot-3 and 213 pounds, announced his commitment to the Tennessee Volunteers on Wednesday at The Opening. Bates’ father, Dallas Cowboys special-teams legend Bill Bates, played for the Volunteers in the early 1980s before a 15-year career with Dallas.


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