Already behind FSU, now Jim McElwain must battle Charlie Strong and Lane Kiffin for Florida's best recruits, too
Butch Davis to FIU.
Charlie Strong to USF.
Lane Kiffin to FAU.
The already crowded house in Florida is getting three new residents. They replace the successful (Willie Taggart, who parlayed a great two-year run at USF into Phil Knight money at Oregon) and the failures (Ron Turner at FIU and Charlie Partridge at FAU).
All three new challengers are known as great recruiters. Davis used creativity and a keen eye for talent to help the Miami Hurricanes withstand major NCAA sanctions to become the top team in the early 2000s.
Strong pulled some major talent out of Miami-Dade County — most notably Teddy Bridgewater — while at Louisville to get the Cardinals to 23-3 record in his final two seasons there with a win over the Florida Gators in the 2013 Sugar Bowl. Although Strong struggled to win enough at Texas it’s widely believed that he filled the cupboards with quality young talent in the past three recruiting classes.
Kiffin is probably better thought of as a recruiter and a top assistant than he is as a head coach, which makes his jump to FAU that much more interesting. More on this later.
All that being said, let’s be honest. Those programs have the brand that Florida, FSU or Miami have and, in reality, shouldn’t be in the same recruiting circles.
Let’s go deeper:
1. Strong, Kiffin should help FSU, UF more than hurt them
My friend Josh Newberg from 247 Sports said it best through Twitter:
USF and UF don't swim in the same recruiting pool if UF is doing it right https://t.co/zly1yba4Jk
— Josh Newberg (@joshnewberg247) December 8, 2016
If Florida is recruiting like the program is supposed to, then South Florida could hire Bill Belichick and it wouldn’t make a difference (more on that below). Right now Florida’s class is ranked 20th nationally with 14 commits (six 4-stars) and FSU is ranked 13th with 13 commits (one 5-star, six 4-stars). Both programs will close strong with the likelihood of Florida approaching the top 10 and FSU approaching the top 5.
But where Strong and Kiffin can help is forcing Florida and FSU staffs to take a second look at some players.
If Strong recruits an in-state defensive lineman to USF who meets the measurable that Florida or FSU likes, their respective staffs will take a second evaluation of the film and check their transcripts a second time before deciding whether to tender an offer or move on to the next prospect.
In the past, neither program thought twice to look at a prospect who committed to FAU, but under Kiffin they will at least take a second look.
2. Strong, Kiffin could hurt mid-level ACC/SEC programs
While USF and FAU recruiting classes shouldn’t touch the upper level ACC and SEC programs, there should be concern from programs like Kentucky, Missouri, Mississippi State, N.C. State, Syracuse, etc. All of these programs have been able to dip into Florida and get quality second-tier talent over the past few years.
But that was when Skip Holtz, George O’Leary and Ron Turner were coaching at the second-tier Florida programs. Strong, Kiffin and even Davis are powerful names with national championships or Super Bowls on their resumes as assistants. Mark Stoops has great Florida ties himself and a bowl-eligible team at Kentucky, but his job just got a lot harder.
Some prospects just want to leave Florida and that’s understandable, but the ones who leave because they feel their best chance of skill development is elsewhere will have a lot more to think about.
3. Florida’s already underwhelming recruiting under McElwain will come under a greater microscope
This was touched on up top, but as good of a game-day coach as I believe McElwain is, I’ve never gotten the impression he’s a great recruiter. I don’t think I’m alone in that belief and that’s a stigma he must change.
Florida’s recruiting class is 20th nationally going into the dead period – 8th in the SEC.
Florida needs to hit big on its next two recruiting classes. The Gators need to restock the talent they will lose on defense and upgrade nearly every position on offense. The program needs a legitimate nationally-regarded prospect at quarterback. That isn’t going to get done with the 8th-best class in the conference.
While USF or FAU’s recruiting shouldn’t be in the same conversation with Florida, the rise of those programs will put Florida’s recruiting struggles in the spotlight, and that will make life uncomfortable for a lot of coaches in Gainesville.
4. Kiffin could restore his head coaching profile at FAU
FAU wants to be a player in college football. The university is investing a lot of money into the program, from building a new indoor practice facility and football offices to new workout facilities attached to the on-campus stadium. The school has a lot of money and is willing to invest more in a staff and recruiting budget than any other Conference USA program and most AAC programs.
On top of that FAU’s location in Boca Raton puts it in between Palm Beach and Broward counties and less than an hour north of Miami-Dade County. Heisman Trophy Lamar Jackson went to high school 20 miles north of the Owls’ campus.
That’s a large talent pool to choose from and he might have already spotted his quarterback reclamation project.
— Deandre Johnson (@DredaDon14) December 10, 2016
Unlike Tennessee or USC, Kiffin doesn’t have to deal with crazy expectations at FAU. The Owls have won three games or fewer in five of the past six seasons. They don’t want a playoff spot; just bowl eligibility and a shot at a C-USA championship.
Kiffin’s goals reach higher. He wants back into the “show.” He wants to be in the spotlight. He thinks FAU is the right path to get him there. Only time will tell, but he’ll have everything he needs to make it work.