It’s amazing really.
For all the things that I find myself criticizing coaches for, there’s one thing that I can’t help but applaud. It blows my mind what new coaches did to salvage their recruiting classes with the Early Signing Period.
A 2-month window shrunk into 3 weeks, yet new coaches still managed to sign the majority of their recruits. That’s on top of hiring a new staff and doing all of the day-to-day duties that come with being the new multi-million dollar face of a program. The hours spent on accomplishing such a task is the very reason they can make that kind of money.
Even a coach like Chad Morris, who implemented a new system and took over a 4-win Arkansas squad, managed to make up some ground with his 2018 class. He signed eight recruits in December, and he picked up verbal pledges from six more since then.
Morris will sign more on National Signing Day 2.0 this Wednesday and likely rise from that No. 55 national ranking. For now, though, his 2018 class ranks last in the SEC.
Amazingly enough, the rest of the SEC’s new coaches aren’t at the bottom of the pack with him. A couple even moved into the top half of the conference after taking over in December. On Wednesday, both will somehow have a chance to close with top-20 classes. That’s saying a lot considering what both of those new coaches inherited.
So which new SEC coach made up the most ground since taking over?
One could argue that title should belong to Dan Mullen. After all, Florida was a complete dumpster fire in 2017. And while the Gators weren’t a class in shambles, they still had plenty of questions in their 2018 class. The biggest one, of course, was who was going to become Mullen’s first quarterback signee.
Mullen already answered that question in a big way by signing 4-star dual-threat and former Ohio State pledge Emory Jones. Florida’s biggest position of need got a huge lift with the addition of Jones, who wouldn’t have signed with the previous staff.
In addition to Jones, Mullen also flipped 4-star safety Trey Dean from Tennessee, and former Texas pledge Justin Watkins gave his verbal commitment to the Gators a couple weeks ago. Mullen also deserves credit for keeping previously-committed 4-star recruits like Kyle Pitts, David Reese, Amari Burney, Dameon Pierce and Iverson Clement.
With that foundation in place, Florida is in place to sign a top-15 class, especially if 5-star offensive tackle Nicholas Petit-Frere and 4-star receiver Jacob Copeland (a former Florida commit) sign with the Gators on Wednesday. It would be an incredible start to the Mullen era in Gainesville.
Having said that, he didn’t have to make up as much ground as Jeremy Pruitt.
Two months ago, Tennessee was the butt of every joke. An incompetent athletic department botched the coaching search and it was up to Pruitt to try and save some face in the recruiting world. Five days after Pruitt was hired, Tennessee had the No. 11 class in the SEC and the No. 39 class nationally.
Now, Pruitt could potentially sign a top-20 class that ranks in the top half of the SEC. After the offseason that was, that would be a major credit to Pruitt’s recruiting prowess, which was never in question. Alabama, Florida State and Georgia fans could’ve told anyone that after the 5-star talent Pruitt recruited as an assistant at those places.
In his first 2 months as a head coach, Pruitt already signed a half dozen 4-star recruits, four of whom committed after he was hired. The Vols also picked up a verbal pledge from JJ Peterson earlier in the month, who could be their top-ranked 2018 recruit if they can hold off a late Alabama push.
The Vols’ top-20 status will likely be determined by how they close on Wednesday. If 4-star linebacker Quay Walker picks Tennessee over Alabama and Georgia, it’d be a major Signing Day victory for Pruitt. And even if 5-star cornerback Olaijah Griffin picks USC over Tennessee, it says a lot about Pruitt that one of the nation’s best recruits dropped his previous verbal commitment after a late Tennessee offer and an official visit to Knoxville.
No matter how Wednesday shakes out, the jobs that Pruitt and Mullen did to salvage their 2018 classes is a positive sign going forward. And sure, they suffered their fair share of decommitments (both lost pledges from 4-star quarterbacks), but they made an extremely difficult task look easier than it was.
Shoot, look at someone like Jimbo Fisher. With a national title and his recruiting ties in Florida and Texas, he barely has one of the SEC’s top 10 classes heading into Signing Day. Locking in an elite class with the new Early Signing Period is nearly impossible for a first-year coach.
Even someone with a similar offensive system who inherits a top-25 class like Joe Moorhead at Mississippi State is fighting an uphill battle. That’ll be the case as long as kids are willing to flip their commitments based on some assistant who recruited them but left for another program.
On Wednesday, new SEC coaches will breathe a brief sigh of relief knowing that the work they put in on the recruiting trail over the last couple months was worth it. The focus will quickly shift entirely to spring ball, where another uphill battle awaits.
After all, recruiting rankings don’t guarantee on-field success. If they did, Jim McElwain wouldn’t have felt the need to make up death threats for sympathy points and Butch Jones would’ve been more than a champion of life. Instead, Mullen and Pruitt are left cleaning up their messes.
It’s still gonna take a lot more elbow grease to do that.