The coaching carousel is officially spinning. With it spin the heads of fans, players and recruits around the country who will be constantly ebbing with the tide of rumors surrounding new candidates and new promises. There’s no doubt that coaching changes are made with the long term in mind but the timeline of those necessary changes – often a matter of months or weeks before National Signing Day – has an unavoidable effect on the short term as well: recruiting.
James Franklin's arrival in Nashville last year brought immediate returns even after a 4-20 run over the previous two seasons for Vandy.
It’s not even December yet and numerous colleges have already begun the process of searching for new football leadership. UCLA, Arizona State, Kansas, Washington State and Illinois are all new to the search since the weekend joining the likes of Penn State and Ole Miss. Among those programs, Arizona State and Penn State are sitting in the top 25 of the 247Sports national team recruiting rankings.
Inevitably, there will be challenges in keeping strong recruiting classes in tact and with change decommitments are possible if not likely. But anyone that is ready to throw their hands up and move on to 2013 due to a coaching change should pump their brakes. Recent history suggests otherwise. In fact, a coaching change – no matter how late in the process – can actually provide a huge boost of energy and bring major momentum swing to recruiting.
Look in the state of Tennessee for a great example of what a late coaching change can do to recruiting. Vanderbilt’s 2010 recruiting class was a below average class nationally anchoring the bottom of the SEC team rankings when James Franklin was hired last December. He inherited a class built on the strength of a 2-10 2009 season that just watched Vanderbilt endure a second 2-10 season in 2010 under sitting duck head coach Robbie Caldwell.
In less than two months Franklin went on a recruiting tear leading up to signing day landing players like four-star Dillon van der Wal and three-stars Joshua Grady and Lafonte Thuroughgood. Two thirds of Vanderbilt’s strong 2011 class committed after Franklin’s December hiring was announced.
Franklin wasn’t burdened by the 4-20 record of the previous two seasons. He had deniability. It wasn’t his program before but it was his program going forward. That optimism and enthusiasm was believable to recruits and proved to be contagious.
Further east in Knoxville just one year earlier, Derek Dooley was burdened with an even tougher task. Dooley was handed the keys to the Tennessee castle just over two weeks before signing day due to the late and sudden departure of Lane Kiffin to USC. Though Dooley was inheriting a class that was ranked near the top of the national rankings behind the efforts of Kiffin, that class was thrown into upheaval following the coaching change. Still, Dooley’s efforts in the two weeks before signing day proved very effective.
12 players signed with Tennessee that hadn’t been committed to the Vols prior to Dooley’s arrival. Among those 12 are some of Tennessee’s biggest bright spots in an otherwise forgettable 5-7 season. Justin Hunter, Da’Rick Rogers and James Stone have all been major impact players early in their career and all were direct results of the late coaching change.
The examples could be seen in other programs nationally as well. Brady Hoke’s arrival in Ann Arbor saw immediate dividends. 10 of Michigan’s 20 signees in 2011 committed after Hokes’ January 11th hiring announcement. Even Will Muschamp, following a coach in Urban Meyer that was departing just a couple of years removed from a national championship, was able to close strong at Florida for his 2011 class. Muschamp added quarterbacks Jacoby Brissett and Jeff Driskell following his arrival as well as four-stars Marcus Roberson and Jabari Gorman.
In 2012, the coaching carousel would have seemingly provided some advantages in recruiting battles. Following a 31-3 Egg Bowl thrashing of Ole Miss, it would seem likely that Dan Mullen will capitalize on Ole Miss’ empty coaching seat to land some of the elite uncommitted players in Mississippi. But Mullen and Ole Miss’ recent domination of the Rebels was projected onto another coaching staff. Whatever coach Archie Manning and company come up with will have nothing but positivity to realistically pitch to the likes of Jeremy Liggins, Channing Ward and Quay Evans.
Fans are quick to call for speedy hires in order to maintain ground on the recruiting trail. But with the right hire, timing is almost inconsequential. Get a staff in before signing day and a coach with the ability to recruit will capitalize.