I'm extremely impressed with how SEC coaches recruited in their first full cycles
Color me impressed.
When a wave of new coaches in the SEC was introduced after the 2017 season, I tried to have patience. Many took over a program in disarray because of the position their predecessor put them in. Roughly 4 of the 6 SEC schools that replaced their head coaches dealt with that.
That’s not including Texas A&M, which still wasn’t exactly where it wanted to be after repeated SEC West mediocrity ended Kevin Sumlin’s time in College Station. That’s also not including Mississippi State, which watched its best coach in program history leave for Florida. But Jimbo Fisher and Joe Moorhead both came to new territory with major ground to make up as recruiters.
In just over a year’s time, Fisher, Moorhead and every other SEC coach in their first full cycle have been nothing short of impressive.
As it sits today, all 6 of those SEC schools are closing in on Top 25 classes, which will be completely official Wednesday.
In fact, all of them are in position to finish with a class ranking equal to or better than their predecessor’s last full recruiting cycle:
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While these programs had varying degrees of success in 2018, that’s a good sign moving forward.
As we know, it’s really not judge a coach’s ability to recruit until we see that first full cycle. That’s especially true with the Early Signing Period, which essentially gives new coaches 3 weeks to salvage/build their first classes. It comes as no surprise that all of those 6 coaches improved on their 2018 rankings.
Nobody made a more drastic jump than Chad Morris. The Arkansas coach epitomizes this sentiment of why these SEC coaches deserve praise for the classes they put together in their first full cycles.
Morris, we knew, was going to recruit much differently from Bret Bielema. A roster overhaul was expected. That’s why when Arkansas finished No. 48 in the class rankings, it wasn’t much of a surprise. And though many believed the Hogs would be better than 2-10, it wasn’t the stunner of the year that Morris’ team struggled so much in Year 1.
But as for his first full recruiting cycle, Morris couldn’t have asked for much more. They’re expected to sign Treylon Burks and Hudson Henry, who are the No. 1 and No. 2 recruits in the state of Arkansas, respectively. The Hogs could be in position to sign their first Top 20 class since 2008. That’s darn impressive for a program that’s been at the bottom of the division the past 2 years.
I praised Moorhead’s first full class at length back in December, when he all but squashed the notion that his lack of southern roots would hinder him on the recruiting trail. Keeping Nathan Pickering would further confirm that and stealing former Ole Miss commit Jerrion Ealy from the likes of Alabama and Clemson would etch that in stone.
Speaking of Ole Miss, I still think that Luke deserves some credit for putting together a Top 25 class.
Yes, this is the first time he’s been able to recruit without the sanctions looming, but he also dealt with some major staff changes. Despite the fact that he replaced his top 2 assistants and is coming off a 5-win season that ended with an ugly Egg Bowl loss (in more ways than one), Luke is in position to sign 15 recruits from Mississippi. That’s big during what appears to be a talent-rich year for the Magnolia State.
It’s always a talent-rich year in Florida and Texas, which is why some might dismiss the recruiting success of Fisher and Mullen. Besides having the most fertile recruiting grounds, both obviously came in with major Power 5 head coaching experience, too. It’s easy to assume “well of course they’re both recruiting at a high level.” But one could argue that given the in-state competition, it’s even tougher to do just that.
A&M and Texas are in a dogfight to get that No. 3 spot, though it’s worth mentioning the Aggies signed 8 of the Top 25 recruits in the state compared to 4 for Texas. And despite Mullen’s slow start in the Sunshine State, he’s still in position to sign 13 recruits from Florida and finish with a higher-rated class than Florida State and Miami. Unlike Fisher and Morris, Fisher and Mullen don’t need to sell the on-field success coming off impressive Year 1 finishes.
Depending how things shake out Wednesday, it’s actually Pruitt who could earn the most praise among SEC coaches in their first full cycles. It’s not necessarily a surprise that Pruitt is crushing that aspect. His recruiting exploits at Alabama, Florida State and Georgia had to be at the top of his résumé when he got the job in Knoxville. But seeing it in action in the wake of Tennessee’s embarrassing recent run makes it more noteworthy.
If Pruitt lands top-rated unsigned commit Darnell Wright, he’ll have addressed Tennessee’s biggest area of need (offensive line) by adding a pair of 5-star recruits at the position. That’s how you rebuild a program. It would be fitting for Pruitt to make a major jump into the Top 10 after his post-Alabama game promise to recruit a team that wouldn’t get embarrassed anymore.
None of these fanbases really have anything to be embarrassed about when it comes to how their new coaches recruit in their first full cycles. Compare that to places like UCLA and Arizona, both of whom have experienced coaches closing out their first full recruiting cycles, yet neither will finish anywhere near the Top 25.
Heading into Year 2, SEC coaches have already made good on the investments their athletic directors made in them. Is there room for improvement? Sure. As long as there’s a gap between them and Nick Saban, that’s always the case.
But in the meantime, those teams did what they had to do to get into or stay in the top 25 of the on-field rankings.
That’s a February victory worth celebrating.