GAINESVILLE — New Florida football coach Will Muschamp has had less than one month to sell himself to high school players who had previously built relationships with other members of the Gators coaching staff.
Some recruits had no idea who Muschamp was when he was hired Dec. 11 to replace the retiring Urban Meyer. And during part of that time, the new coach was still trying to hire key members of his staff.
He recently acknowledged it hasn't been an easy task.
"Recruiting is about building relationships," said Muschamp, the former defensive coordinator at Texas. "As early as recruiting is nowadays, that's the hardest part, and a lot of these young men have been recruited for two and three years. We're coming in here in a month's time to try to flip a decision or convince them that Florida's the best place."
The Gators have lost some high-profile players since Meyer's departure. And this week, Chase Hounshell, the Kirtland, Ohio, offensive lineman who was scheduled to be among the Gators' spring enrollees, decided to delay enrolling, citing, among other things, that he has never met his position coach.
"Florida has lost a couple of highly ranked commitments in Scout four-stars(-rated) Jeoffrey Pagan (defensive end; Asheville, N.C.), Ryan Shazier (linebacker; Plantation), and Nick Waisome (cornerback; Groveland) while other teams have been adding players," said Scott Kennedy, director of scouting for Scout.com. "I don't think there's any doubt there's a direct correlation to the coaching change and Florida having 18 commitments on Nov. 15 and only 16 commitments two months later."
Muschamp hired former NFL assistant and Notre Dame head coach Charlie Weis as his offensive coordinator, 28-year veteran coach Frank Verducci as his offensive line/running game coordinator and NFL assistant Dan Quinn as his defensive coordinator. So far, that hasn't been much of a boost for recruiting.
"I think it will take some time for these kids to get to know the two new Florida coordinators and vice versa," said Jamie Newberg, recruiting analyst for ESPN.com. "Some may know of Weis, but I am sure once they learn about him and his background it will help with the offensive recruits they are recruiting. Certainly flashing those Super Bowl rings and saying he coached Tom Brady will help. At the same time, I still don't know how active Weis will be in the recruiting for Florida."
Weis has not yet arrived in Gainesville, and Quinn is still in the NFL playoffs with the Seahawks.
Then there's the X-factor: Florida State. During most of Meyer's tenure, the Seminoles were struggling, which helped Florida land more of the state's top recruits. But coach Jimbo Fisher has resurrected FSU, and the competition for the state's best is again fierce.
""The Seminoles … are in the running of the No. 1 class in the country," Scout.com's Kennedy said. "That certainly has an effect on Muschamp's ability to come in and hold on to or sway the top talent in Florida. Florida State has gotten several players that were once considered key Florida targets, including Waisome. Having the Seminoles back in the national picture will make it much harder for Muschamp to duplicate the success that Meyer had on the recruiting trail."
Florida's recruiting class is currently ranked No. 19 by Rivals.com and No. 23 by Scout.com. The analysts agree that Muschamp can't be judged on this class, and his best bet at this point is to survive this round, then get ready for next year.
"Florida will still be a top 15 class, which is a good accomplishment in a transition year," Kennedy said.
Antonya English can be reached at [email protected]