Grading the SEC hires

The biggest dominoes in the 2012 coaching carousel have fallen. All of the SEC head coaching vacancies are filled. Now it’s time to grade the hires.

Malzahn was 9-3 at Arkansas State in his only season as a head coach.

While each hire was made with numerous factors in mind, the following grades are based purely on the recruiting impact that each coach will have.

Auburn – Gus Malzahn: B+

The Auburn fan base has had some mixed reactions to the hiring of Gus Malzahn but when it comes to recruiting, what’s not to like?

Malzahn has a strong track record as a recruiter, helping Auburn land two of the most heavily recruited prospects to ever come out of Arkansas in Kiehl Frazier and Michael Dyer. Malzahn has also recruited well at Arkansas State as a head coach, particularly in the state of Alabama.

Of all four SEC hires, only Malzahn has SEC experience and knows the recruiting landscape in conference. That experience is already paying off with Malzahn making moves to reclaim what was becoming a shaky group of 2013 commits. Throw in a high-powered attractive offense with a Malzahn brand and it’s hard to ask for much more than that.

More on Malzahn’s recruiting impact:

Tennessee – Butch Jones: B

At first glance, Butch Jones’ recruiting background brings up little more than indifference. He’s recruited well at Cincinnati but hadn’t done anything to make higher profile programs sweat out Bearcat offers. His moves since his hiring have given cause for more optimism.

Mark Stoops made a smart hire in Neal Brown to head the offense.

Immediately after his hiring, Jones was on the road and on the phone making current UT commits a priority and letting previously underappreciated studs know that a new day has arrived. He also hired a pair of strong assistants in Tommy Thigpen and Willie Martinez to give the staff some SEC juice. From Cincinnati, he brought over several assistants but keeping rising star and recruiting coordinator Mark Elder indicates that recruiting is on his mind.

Jones’ failed his first test of his Tennessee tenure by failing to close on Tee Martin as an assistant coach. Had Martin jumped on board, this grade would be even higher. Even without Martin though, expect the Volunteers to begin to repair some in-state relationships and recruit at a much higher level than the Dooley regime.

Kentucky – Mark Stoops: B-

Kentucky as a program is not in a position right now to where it can shoot for the big splash home run hire. Stoops isn’t a guy that recruits are automatically going to flock to by name alone but when you look at what he brings to the table, there is a lot of reason for optimism.

Kentucky has to rely on out-of-state recruiting. It is the reality of the job. Stoops immediately brings credibility and inroads into the state of Florida while also bringing in Ohio ties as a former high school coach in the state and a Youngstown native.

The hiring of offensive coordinator Neal Brown should bring an exciting playing style to Lexington and defensive coordinator D.J. Eliot should be another building block to helping develop Florida pipelines.

James Franklin is the last coach in the SEC to be hired away from an assistant coaching position. He wasn’t an exciting hire either at the time but ask Vanderbilt fans how that one worked out.

Arkansas – Bret Bielema: C+

Bret Bielema is a very good football coach. He has proven that. Three consecutive Rose Bowl births alone are evidence enough to call this a good hire on the football side of things but on the recruiting side of things, he’s a head scratcher.

In the rough and tumble SEC, recruiting is a different animal than anywhere else in the country. Bielema publicly expressed serious issues with Urban Meyer bringing that SEC style up north to the Big Ten. What does he expect now that he’s battling 11 other Urban Meyer-style recruiters?

Along with his limited SEC experience, he has very little ties to either southeastern country or Texas, two areas that are major wells of talent for the Razorbacks. A slow progression in establishing an assistant coaching staff hasn’t helped the case for Bielema either but after hiring Jim Chaney of Tennessee as offensive coordinator he gained some much-needed SEC guidance. With the likely addition of Sam Pittman as offensive line coach from the same Tennessee staff, Bielema has two great coaches but still will still need to hire a recruiting closer.

On the positive side, Wisconsin has done an outstanding job of identifying talent and recruiting in the state of Florida. If he can convince Miami kids to head up to Madison, Wisc. he should have no problem keeping those same kids in the SEC at Arkansas.

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