So you want to win in the Southeastern Conference? You better find some players. More specifically, you better find a coach that’s going to find you some players.
Baylor's Art Briles could be a great fit at Arkansas from a recruiting standpoint.
There are all kinds of important factors that go into the hiring process of an SEC coach but recruiting capability is as big of a factor as any. For the four open jobs in the SEC, we take a look at who would be the best hire among the legitimate candidates from purely a recruiting perspective.
The recruiter’s pick: Briles
Baylor’s recent rise to relevancy in the college football world has been fueled by Art Briles. He’s the one that convinced Robert Grffin III (the nation’s No. 5 dual-threat QB on 247Composite in 2008) to come to Waco. He convinced future first rounder Kendall Wright to come along that same year.
In other words, Briles can coach. But make no mistake, he can flat out recruit too.
Currently, Baylor’s 2013 class is rated No. 20 in the country by 247Sports. He finished with the No. 28 class in 2012. Waco used to be a college football ghost town and suddenly Baylor is poised to land its second five star in two years (Javonte Magee in 2012, Robbie Rhodes in 2013), and no one is even blinking.
Under Briles, Baylor will bring in Top25 caliber recruiting classes for as long as he’s there. Let that sink in. Now replace the modest history of the Baylor program with a rabid championship-starved Arkansas program. Replace the floundering Big 12 with the nation’s best football conference, the SEC. All that shuffling could be enough to wake a giant.
Florida State head coach Jimbo Fisher signed two straight classes (2011 and 2012) ranked second overall by 247Sports. The former Auburn assistant would be a great fit for that job from a recruiting standpoint.
Alternate selection: Malzahn. He’s a polarizing figure in the state of Arkansas but Malzahn knows the state – a state that while lacking depth has provided some superstars at the top - and he’s got the offensive system to attract talented skill.
The recruiter’s pick: Jimbo Fisher
An effective head coach recruiter at Auburn would have to know how to handle a competitive in-state environment, understand how to balance homegrown talent with targeted national recruits and have both the profile and tenacity to go head-to-head with Nick Saban and win.
There may only be one coach in the country that has proven to be able check all of those boxes and that coach is Jimbo Fisher. Fisher knows the competitive environment of a battle-ground rivalry state, going toe-to-toe with Florida and Miami in the most heavily recruited state in the country. He also knows how to land the national prospects with players like Eddie Goldman (Washington, D.C.), Ronald Darby (Maryland) and Mario Edwards (Texas) all headlining that 2012 pull for Florida State.
Perhaps most importantly for Fisher though is his ability to beat Nick Saban on Alabama talent. In 2012 Jameis Winston and Chris Casher both chose Florida State over Alabama. This year Prattville’s Austin Golson will likely continue the trend. With that kind of success as an outsider, imagine what kind of work Fisher and assistant coach and former Auburn great Demeyune Craig could do from within the state.
Alternate selection: Petrino. He wasn’t necessarily a star-chaser at Arkansas but he was a great evaluator and developer. Evaluation and development is exactly what Auburn has been missing under Chizik. His name alone will attract interest and he’ll pick the right ones.
If not Butch Jones for Kentucky, Florida State defensive coordinator Mark Stoops would be the next-best thing for recruiting.
The recruiters’ pick: Jones
Jones knows the lay of the land. He’s right up the road at Cincinnati and he’s already made all the right inroads to compete in the SEC. Look at the classes that Jones has put together at Cincinnati and you see a strong Florida presence, steady effort in the state of Georgia and even a growing presence in Memphis. If you want to find SEC-ready players, those are three good places to start.
Jones has also done a great job in the states of Ohio and Indiana and he could grow a Kentucky presence in the Midwest with some reverse commuters from the north to the south: Didn’t get that Ohio State offer? Come on down to the SEC and play against the best.
He may not be flashy but Jones has consistently put together solid classes since his arrival at Cincinnati. With just over a month and a half to work with, Jones’ first class was rated No. 88 by 247Sports but since then, the Bearcats have remained in the National Top 60 or higher.
From a recruiting standpoint, Jones just fits.
Alternate selection: Mark Stoops. The name alone is one that recruits will respond to. When you combine his southeast ties with his Ohio roots, Stoops could be the energetic former coordinator that can jump start a program a la James Franklin.
The recruiters’ pick: Gruden
As long as we’re talking best-case scenarios here, Gruden is it on all accounts and that includes recruiting. A Jon Gruden hire would instantly turn Knoxville into a must-visit locale for major prospects. Bringing a celebrity presence that would eclipse even the great Nick Saban, is there anything Gruden is missing from a recruiting perspective?
Worried about Gruden playing catch-up with the class of 2013? Consider the fact that the current television personality has spent more time in most prospects’ living rooms through Monday Night Football broadcasts and ESPN QB Camp footage than all the other head coaches recruiting them combined.
Worried about Gruden taking an NFL approach to recruiting and refusing to devote the time needed to win over teenagers? Ask Steve Spurrier how that’s going. With the right coaches behind him, Gruden would be able to delegate and be that living room closer, that’s all.
Worried that Gruden doesn’t have the huilt-in connections to high school programs or a specific region? At a school like Tennessee that loves to recruit nationally rather than locally or even regionally, the program has never had a coach more equipped to do just that than Gruden.
If the home-run swing connects with Gruden, Tennessee could become a recruiting juggernaut once again overnight.
Alternate selection: Strong. He has recruited well to Louisville, particularly out of the state of Florida. He also knows the SEC recruiting landscape from experience. Give him Tennessee’s facilities and support to sell and watch out.