On Dec. 4, Gus Malzahn stood at the podium in Auburn, Ala., adorned in his Pat Dye-issue navy blazer and orange tie. He was introduced as the Tigers' new head coach, said a few words and politely fielded a few questions. All the while he fidgeted, eyes darting around a bit as if he had somewhere else he wanted or, more accurately, needed to be.
Hey, Coach, what's the first task you need to tackle?
"It will be recruiting, immediately," Malzahn said.
No sooner than he stepped off the stage he had a phone to his ear. Yes, he had some big fish he wanted to go after. Yes, he had some prep stars already committed to other schools that he believed he could still lure to the Plains. And yes, there were a handful of junior college guys he wanted to bring in to fill some gaps while he rebuilt the program. (Hey, it worked with that Cam Newton guy.)
But before all of that, there was one first, most crucial process that had to begin. Convincing those who had committed to Auburn under his now-fired predecessor to stay on board, even though all of the coaches who had once wooed them were now gone.
"Retaining the recruiting class is the single biggest challenge of taking a new job, especially when you are thrust into that seat so late into the game," said former Tennessee coach Derek Dooley, who took over in Knoxville on the ridiculously late date of Jan. 15, 2010, barely three weeks before signing day, thanks to Lane Kiffin's now-infamous departure for USC. "These are high school kids. They want stability. Their parents want stability. And they all want to win. Now. They made a decision based on large part on the personality and promises of a coach who was not you. And that coach might still be calling, but now from another school."
Dooley laughed. "It's like grabbing a girl for the last song played at the prom and hoping she's already gotten over the guy that just dumped her during the song right before this one."
To read Ryan McGee's full blog post on Auburn's 2013 recruiting class, sign up for ESPN Insider.