NCF On The Trail: Will Muschamp

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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
Feb 10
10:00
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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.
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AUBURN, Ala. -- At his introductory news conference, new Auburn defensive coordinator Will Muschamp was asked when he would start recruiting.

"As soon as we get done and walk out that door, we are going," Muschamp responded.

He hasn't stopped. In less than two months, Muschamp and his former assistant Travaris Robinson have helped Auburn land two commitments, bring countless visitors to the Plains, and they have the Tigers in position for what could be a significant haul on signing day.

But Gus Malzahn knew that. He knew the advantages to hiring the former Florida coach with so many top recruits hailing from the Sunshine State in this class. He knew Auburn's chances of landing five-stars Byron Cowart, Martez Ivey and CeCe Jefferson would all improve drastically with Muschamp on his staff.

And he was right.

All three players, along with ESPN 300 linebacker Jeffery Holland and four-star athlete Ryan Davis, visited Auburn two weeks ago.

"It was great," Cowart said after the trip. "It was great seeing [Muschamp] here. We're real locked in. He made everything feel like home. I was comfortable, had fun, no stress, no worrying about anything."

Cowart, the nation's No. 1 recruit, has since narrowed his list to Auburn and Florida and plans to make his decision Wednesday morning.

In Jefferson's case, it was his first trip to Auburn since his freshman year. And he probably wouldn't have made it if Muschamp and Robinson weren't on staff.

"That's huge," Jefferson said. "You want to go somewhere where you know. There are knowns and there are unknowns. I have a lot of knowns (at Auburn). I feel comfortable with these guys. I know how they're going to use me in their defense. I know what they're about. My dad and all of them have good relationships."

That familiarity is also why four-star athlete Tim Irvin is already enrolled at Auburn.

Irvin, a native of Palmetto, Florida, visited the same weekend as the others. He was committed to Texas at the time and had plans to enroll in a matter of days. However, he left Sunday as an Auburn Tiger, and he started classes three days later.

Irvin had never been to Auburn. When he made his commitment earlier that month at the U.S. Army All-American Bowl, Auburn wasn't even a finalist.

"It was just Coach Muschamp and T-Rob, the relationship I had with those guys," Irvin said after he flipped. "They were like a dad to me. I talked to them almost every day in the recruiting process. They were talking the positives and the negatives about me. Most coaches didn't tell me about my positives and negatives.

"So those guys, they helped me through the process. They've been there for me since Day 1, and that's why I want to play with those guys."

That was just the beginning.

The very next weekend Miami products Carlton Davis and Jeremiah Dinson visited Auburn. Both reopened their recruitment after the trip. Dinson committed to the Tigers a day later, and Davis, a former Ohio State pledge, could join him this week.

Deon Cain and Ray-Ray McCloud III, a pair of Clemson commitments from the Sunshine State, both reportedly visited Auburn this past weekend. The list goes on.

Obviously, the Tigers won't sign every one of these players. They might not even sign half of them. But just adding one player the caliber of Cowart or Jefferson on signing day would be a huge coup for Malzahn and his staff considering where they stood with both prospects just two months ago before the arrival of Muschamp.

It's unclear how long Muschamp will stay at Auburn, but whether it's one year or five, this 2015 recruiting class will have his footprints all over it.

With 30 days to national signing day, there are still plenty of headlines left to be made in the 2015 class. One of the biggest will be how Jim Harbaugh does in recruiting’s home stretch.

Aaron Rodgers said it to Packers fans and LeBron James said it to Cavaliers fans. And whomever winds up taking over as the next head coach of the Florida football program would assuredly want the same message relayed to Gators fans when it comes to the 2015 recruiting class.

R-E-L-A-X.

[+] EnlargeByron Cowart
Tom Hauck for Student SportsFive-star Byron Cowart is not letting Florida's coaching change affect his decision.
Losses on the field cost Will Muschamp his job and his successor will inherit a class with just nine verbal commits -- the fewest of any Power 5 program. With all that, panic has assuredly set in with Florida fans. But not only is it premature to worry about how this class will finish, those fans don't need to look far into history for some significant reassurance as to how strong the Gators class could be when it crosses the finish line.

While Florida doesn't share much in common with USC -- opposite coasts, different conferences, public vs. private, etc. -- there's one thing they share that is the only thing that matters in this situation. It's something that only a handful of college football programs can take advantage of. Because Florida -- like USC -- is one of college football's most visible power programs, a coaching change can lead to immediate positive effects, especially on the recruiting trail.

After the second game of the 2013 season, the Trojans might have had the least recruiting clout in the Pac-12. Dozens of high-profile USC recruits had just sat through a sloppy 10-7 loss to Washington State, complete with loud boos and chants to fire the coach.

“It was kind of a letdown,” said one ESPN 300 prospect following the game. “It's really thrown me off of them."

USC kept Lane Kiffin at the helm until Sept. 30, when the decision was made to let him go. Steve Sarkisian took over on Dec. 2 and the recruiting impact was felt almost immediately.

That decision was met with immediate excitement from prospects and galvanized the recruiting efforts in a hurry. After sitting outside the ESPN class rankings for months, the Trojans made their way back among the top 40 recruiting classes just two weeks after Sarkisian's hiring.

When the recruiting class was finished, only three prospects who originally committed to Lane Kiffin remained. The Trojans finished with 19 commitments, including the three Kiffin landed and four former Washington pledges that followed Sarkisian to USC. The Trojans finished with the No. 14 group in the country, and not only did the Trojans eventually sign Adoree' Jackson -- the lone five-star prospect in the region -- they also wound up signing the aforementioned ESPN 300 recruit that was so down on the Trojans following the Washington State loss.

[+] EnlargeSteve Sarkisian
Stephen Dunn/Getty ImagesSteve Sarkisian's hiring jumpstarted USC's recruiting efforts in the final two months of the 2014 cycle.
When Florida fans look at USC carrying only three commitments from early December through signing day last year, the idea of having nine committed at this point -- including four ESPN 300 prospects -- should be rather reassuring (provided they don't take a glance at Florida State's class at the moment). What should be even more reassuring are the prospects still left on the board for Florida. ESPN 300 prospects Byron Cowart, Martez Ivey, CeCe Jefferson, Adonis Thomas and Jeffery Holland are just a few of the names in the region still looking at the Gators following the loss of Muschamp. The talent available is even greater than what the Trojans collected in sweeping ESPN 300 prospects Jackson, JuJu Smith and Damien Mama on signing day last year.

Cowart probably said it best when he told ESPN.com's Derek Tyson: "I’m still considering Florida. At the end of the day, they will pay top dollar for whoever the next head coach will be, so whoever they get will be a top coach."

Getting out in front as the first major program to announce a coaching change will be a significant benefit to Florida, as often the rumblings of a coaching change can be far more detrimental to a recruiting class than the coaching change itself. In addition, the Gators are likely guaranteed that whoever takes over as head coach will bring with him several recruits -- either because they are committed to whatever program he is coaching for right now, or his name recognition alone will be too much to turn down.

While mention of the 2015 recruiting cycle makes it feel like this class goes through just one fluid stage from first offers to signing day, the truth is that there are a number of separate recruiting seasons for these seniors. We're about to step into the two that matter most -- the months between the end of the season and the beginning of February, and the final 48 hours leading up to signing day. What matters most is the recruiting momentum that can carry a program through those periods, and Florida -- like USC last year, or a handful of programs including Alabama, Michigan, Oklahoma, Texas and a few others -- is one of those programs that has the ability to become a freight train on the trail with the right hire.
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The list of reasons why the Florida head coaching job is so attractive is awfully long, but the biggest reason is recruiting.

Texas might produce more Division I prospects, and you can find high concentrations of talent in California, but if you want to find difference-makers -- the kind you need to win the SEC and the national championship -- you head to the Sunshine State. The University of Florida sits in the heart of the highest quality and quantity of high school football talent in America, and to win big the Gators must hire somebody who can tap into that local pipeline. Will Muschamp’s replacement must beat Florida State and Miami regularly for these players and also keep Nick Saban, Gus Malzahn, Les Miles, Urban Meyer and others from poaching players away.

It’s a tall task indeed, but here are top 10 candidates who would make sense at Florida because they have the recruiting chops to be successful.

[+] EnlargeHugh Freeze
Brendan Maloney/USA TODAY SportsHugh Freeze has proven he can win recruiting battles against the SEC heavyweights.
1. Hugh Freeze
Head coach, Ole Miss

Freeze might be tough to pry away from Oxford because of his close ties to the state of Mississippi and the fact that he still has more time left with the vaunted 2013 top-five recruiting class he brought in to Ole Miss. But from a recruiting standpoint, it’s hard to think of somebody who would be in a better position to lure talent to Gainesville. Freeze already knows how to recruit in the cutthroat SEC and has recruited against the big dogs with a lot of success in Florida since he arrived at Ole Miss.

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ESPN 300 receiver Tyron Johnson said he’s “80 percent” sure of where he’s going but things could change dramatically if LSU steps up its pursuit. The battle to land Nick Brossette will be one of the biggest storylines heading into the final months of recruiting.

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Baton Rouge (Louisiana) Central receiver Terrell Chatman committed to Miami early on, but that hasn’t stopped other schools from coming after him. His teammate, Kevin Henry, is working hard to ensure he’ll end up at Oklahoma State.


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Five-star Torrance Gibson is slated to announce his decision Monday, and there's expectations that it'll be a good day to be a Buckeye. Plus, Florida and Maryland's recruiting efforts could get a real shot in the arm after big victories this weekend over recruiting rivals.

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Factors outside of football are going to be key to Florida’s pursuit of five-star offensive tackle Martez Ivey. Plus, there are so many elite players in the West still on the board that sometimes fans forget about other ESPN 300 prospects like Zach Robertson.

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A lot of talent has already come off the board, but there’s still quality at the top of the ESPN 300 that could give at least 10 teams a shot at the second-best class. Plus, Penn State's James Franklin continues to be the most talked about coach in the Washington D.C. metro area.

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The Big 12 was turned upside down by West Virginia and Kansas State, and both are being led by former juco recruits. Plus, it was no surprise that many of the nation's best recruits walked away impressed with Florida State following Saturday's victory over Notre Dame.


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Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly has put together a top 15 recruiting class that should only get better as we head toward signing day, and Rutgers has a real chance to slow down Penn State’s recruiting momentum in New Jersey this weekend.


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DESTIN, Fla. -- If the college football recruiting landscape does change, the SEC made sure this week that it will be ready.

A couple of weeks after watching the ACC propose an early signing period to begin on Aug. 1, the SEC on Wednesday offered its own recommendation to have a signing day on the Monday after Thanksgiving.

SEC commissioner Mike Slive said he hopes there won't be an early signing period, but if there is, he wants his league to be prepared.

The league wasn’t happy about the ACC’s proposal for an earlier signing period because of how it would change the recruiting calendar, something the SEC absolutely doesn't want. The league also decided that in its model, it would ban official visits for recruits who want to sign early, therefore lessening the pressure and clutter of having overstocked official visits during the season and on game weekends.

[+] EnlargeDan Mullen
AP Photo/Rogelio V. SolisMississippi State's Dan Mullen believes a late November early signing day would protect both the prospects and the schools.
SEC coaches believe that a signing period that comes after the college and high school regular seasons allows recruits to play out their senior seasons while studying the teams they’re interested in and figuring out coaching staff stability. By banning official visits for recruits who want to sign early, coaches wouldn't have to cram important recruiting visits in during the season and could focus on coaching their teams.

An early signing period would also save money as coaches wouldn't have to invest in recruiting trips to re-recruit already committed prospects.

“I’ve been a proponent of that for years,” Texas A&M coach Kevin Sumlin said. “It’s long overdue.

“It clears the picture up.”

To Mississippi State coach Dan Mullen, it clearly makes sense for the league.

“It’s one that keeps our calendar pretty consistent. It allows the guys that have been committed to their school to sign with that school,” Mullen said. “It also protects the student-athlete as best as possible.”

When Mullen says “protects,” he means that players who don’t want to bother with the recruiting process won’t have to hear from opposing coaches still trying to get their signature before national signing day on the first Wednesday of February. The recruit also would guarantee his spot in the class by signing early.

Mullen also said that the SEC's proposal would protect the schools that don’t want to lose those recruits with months remaining before they sign their national letters of intent.

In the current recruiting culture, you just can’t take every recruit at his word. This way, you take him at his signature before Christmas rolls around.

The SEC’s model would make the Monday after Thanksgiving a one-day signing day and a dead day for communication between coaches and recruits. The Sunday before would become a quiet day, and Tuesday would begin the next recruiting period.

Richt One of the other leagues proposed Aug. 1. We think that would be crazy.

-- Georgia coach Mark Richt, on an ACC proposal for an early signing day
The goal would be to not make this the new national signing day. This is just for the handful of prospects whose minds are made up.

“Obviously, if you’ve got guys that have signed and are with you no matter what, you don’t have to continue to worry, ‘Is this guy going to change his mind; is he going to flip at the last second?” Georgia coach Mark Richt said. “Everyone would like some sanity in that regard.”

What Richt does find insane is the ACC’s proposal to have an early signing period before the regular season even starts, which would essentially destroy the current recruiting calendar and rush spring and summer evaluations.

“One of the other leagues proposed Aug. 1. We think that would be crazy,” he said. “We think there would be no summer for anybody, no sanity for anybody.”

The SEC and ACC have plans, but whether this happens is unknown. To Florida coach Will Muschamp, getting enough people to agree on a date could be a mountain of an obstacle because of varying agendas for different schools.

“A lot of coaches, including myself, don't want an inordinate amount of visits during the season because it takes away from your football team and your preparation, your preparation for the next week, so I really think we're going to have a hard time agreeing on something that's good for everybody just because of the regions of the country,” Muschamp said. “A lot of the northern schools don't want kids visiting in January because it's freezing cold and they lie to them and tell them it's really warm year-round. I think that's something you've got to deal with, so I don't know if we're ever going to come to a common ground in my opinion, based on the information I have.”

Judging by what many conference members have said, it appears the sport is creeping closer and closer to an early signing day, with the interest mounting from coaches. What’s a little more change in college football, anyway?
The Early Offer is RecruitingNation's regular feature, giving you a dose of recruiting in the mornings. Today’s offerings: As the center of an intense recruiting battle between Florida, Georgia, Ohio State, Texas and Texas A&M, a four-star linebacker will lean on those close to him when it comes time to make a decision; and two future SEC opponents took turns testing each other at Sunday’s Atlanta Nike Training Camp.


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