More misses than hits in new coaches’ first recruiting classes

Maybe it's not a bad thing that the Florida Gators and FSU Seminoles have small 2018 classes.
Published Jan. 26, 2018

While Ohio State, Georgia and Miami were filling almost all of their recruiting classes in last month's inaugural early signing period, the new coaching staffs at Florida and Florida State were not.

The Gators signed 13 players – barely half a class. The Seminoles only landed seven. Miami took almost as many as UF and FSU combined (19).

Dan Mullen and Willie Taggart will add to their hauls with the traditional signing day on Feb. 7, but a bigger crop won't necessarily be better.

Coaches miss more often in their first recruiting class than they do in later years, leading to busts that become deadweight on a roster and attrition that saps a program's depth.

"There's just too many factors," said Mike Farrell, Rivals' national recruiting director. "You have to get very, very lucky for 80 percent of your kids to pan out."

The actual success rate is significantly lower, according to a Tampa Bay Times analysis.

We looked at the first recruiting classes of the 14 Power Five schools that changed coaches in 2014-15 and compared them to their second classes. Year 1 fared significantly worse in two key areas.

Almost a quarter (24 percent) of a staff's first class left, either because they transferred, quit or got into off-field trouble. That figure from a staff's second class: 15.6 percent.

While it's admittedly subjective to determine whether a player was a success, Year 1 recruits were less likely to become impact players. More than half (57 percent) of coaches' first classes developed into starters, top reserves or notable role players. That's 10 percentage points lower than Year 2.

To see how detrimental a poor first class can be, look no farther than Gainesville; Jim McElwain's 2015 class had the highest miss rate in our analysis. Those recruits combined for zero offensive touches and only 40 starts last season during the Gators' 4-7 flop.

Compare those numbers to rival FSU, which didn't have a coaching change that year. The Seminoles' 2015 haul combined for 84 starts this season and produced FSU's two leading receivers, two of its top three tacklers and its No. 2 rusher.

The first class' lower success rate comes down to two main reasons: Timing and fit.

"Fit is the key word," Farrell said.

Coaches usually inherit some oral commitments from the previous staff, and some of those prospects might not fit the new regime's system. The mismatch might be obvious in some cases, but it might be harder to see in others.

The fact that most coaching changes happen around early December makes things worse.

RELATED: Why the early signing period sped up the coaching carousel

Most prospects' seasons are over, so coaches can't evaluate them in person, at either games or camps. Established staffs have months or years to recruit players and vet them carefully. Because new coaches have only a few weeks to build relationships, they might miss an off-the-field red flag.

"Sometimes the kids you can go sign that are actually available are available for a reason," SB Nation recruiting director Bud Elliott said.

Those problems were hard enough to overcome when the only signing day was in February, but the December period has made them even tougher. FSU hired Taggart on Dec. 5. That's only 15 days before recruits could start signing.

RELATED: What we learned from the first early signing period

"In the past when you had this transition, you still had the rest of December and you have January to do those things," Taggart said. "Now you don't have that."

As Taggart and Mullen gear up for the traditional signing day, they're doing so with a smaller pool of available talent.

Although half of Tampa Bay's top 14 prospects remain uncommitted, 220 of ESPN's top 300 prospects have already signed. The lack of possible targets means the Gators or Seminoles might have to reach for riskier prospects to fill positions of need.

"You're no longer having to turn to your Plan B or Plan C," Elliott said. "You're having to dip down significantly more, to Plan E and Plan F."

Coaches, of course, know all this.

"We're not going to fill spots just to fill a spot," Mullen said. "We're going to go find guys that we feel are going to help us take the program to the championship level."

As he and Taggart figure out how to sort through those remaining spots, they might want to look to another powerhouse program: Texas.

Tom Herman cited first classes' high miss rate as one reason why he signed only 18 recruits last year in a haul that finished 25th – Texas' worst ranking of the Rivals era.

This year? The Longhorns signed 19 players (including 15 blue chippers) last month and have four other commits. Their class sits No. 3 nationally.

Lost class

A look back at Jim McElwain's inaugural Gators class (2015, using 247Sports' composite rankings) and its production from last season.

5* OL Martez Ivey: Started every game, earned second-team all-SEC honors at left tackle

5* DE Cece Jefferson: Led Gators in tackles for loss (13 ½) and sacks (4 ½)

4* RB Jordan Scarlett: Did not play (suspension)

4* WR Antonio Callaway: Did not play (suspension)

4* RB D'Anfernee McGriff: Did not play (transfer)

3* RB Jordan Cronkrite: Did not play (transfer to USF)

3* OL Tyler Jordan: Started four games, appeared in all 11

3* CB Chris Williamson: Did not play (transfer)

3* TE Daniel Imatorbhebhe: Did not play (transfer)

3* DE Jabari Zuniga: Six starts, 34 tackles

3* OL Brandon Saandifer: Did not play (transfer)

3* TE Camrin Knight: Did not play (transfer)

3* LB Kylan Johnson: Played in seven games, 17 tackles in injury-plagued season

3* WR Kalif Jackson: Did not play (transfer)

3* DL Andrew Ivie: Did not play (injured)

3* DE Keivonnis Davis: Did not play (suspension)

3* DL Richerd Desir-Jones: Did not play (suspension)

3* OL Fred Johnson: 10 starts at right guard

3* OL Nick Buchanan: Appeared in one game

3* LB Rayshad Jackson: 14 tackles as a reserve

3* DE Luke Ancrum: 4 tackles as a reserve

Taggart's first class

We can't yet analyze Willie Taggart's first class at FSU, but we can look back to see how his first USF class (2013) fared:

All-AAC-caliber players: 6

Other starters/key reserves: 8

Notable contributors: 2

Busts: 1

Transfers: 3

Quit: 4

Off-field trouble: 1

Hits and misses
Comparing the first and second recruiting classes for Power Five coaches hired in 2014-15

Year 1

Starters/key reserves: 45.8 percent

Notable contributors: 11.4 percent

Busts: 13.4 percent

Left (quit/transfer/trouble): 24.1 percent

Injured: 5.3 percent

Year 2

Starters/key reserves: 49.5 percent

Notable contributors: 18.3 percent

Busts: 14.2 percent

Left (quit/transfer/trouble): 15.7 percent

Injured: 2.3 percent