Early signing period, coaching vacancies made for high drama

Willie Taggart speaks as he is introduced as Florida State's new football coach during an NCAA college football news conference in Tallahassee, Fla., Wednesday, Dec. 6, 2017. (AP Photo/Mark Wallheiser)
Willie Taggart speaks as he is introduced as Florida State's new football coach during an NCAA college football news conference in Tallahassee, Fla., Wednesday, Dec. 6, 2017. (AP Photo/Mark Wallheiser)
Published Dec. 13, 2017

Florida State president John Thrasher lost his national championship-winning coach, Jimbo Fisher, to Texas A&M on a Friday.

Thrasher spent that weekend considering possible replacements and flew across the country to woo Willie Taggart on Monday. By Wednesday morning, Thrasher was back in Tallahassee to introduce Taggart as the Seminoles' new coach and reflect on the last five challenging days.

"I'm beginning to think," Thrasher said, "it's the new normal."

For that, Thrasher and administrators across the country have the early signing period to thank.

College football's new recruiting calendar — centered on the Dec. 20 early signing day — has pushed the coaching carousel into overdrive, leaving schools, prospects and coaches scrambling to figure out the aftereffects.

Excluding vacancies at Kent State and Louisiana-Lafayette, 16 schools have changed coaches since the end of the regular season. Eleven of those jobs were filled before Dec. 7.

Compare that to last year, when 15 coaches were hired between the end of the regular season and the start of bowl season. Only five were in place before Dec. 7.

Eleven of this year's searches lasted fewer than six days from the end of the season or the previous coach's departure. Last year, only six wrapped up that quickly.

The early signing period might not be the only explanation for the shift, but it has played a role. When Florida and Jim McElwain parted ways in late October, athletic director Scott Stricklin said he wanted to choose a new coach in time to influence the early signing period.

Two days after the Gators' season ended, Dan Mullen was being introduced as the new coach and preparing to hit the recruiting trail.

"Recruiting is going to go over the top of everything," Mullen said.

It has to. The early signing period is frenzied enough without a coaching change.

RELATED: Early signing period a new wrinkle for Florida's coaching search

Second-year Temple coach Geoff Collins wants to visit all 21 of his oral commitments before signing day. Last year, he could have divided those stops over two months; this year, he's trying to cram them all into two weeks while preparing for the Dec. 21 Gasparilla Bowl.

"It's just been a whirlwind," Collins said.

And it's even more chaotic for new coaches.

When Fisher arrived at Texas A&M, he first had to break down his current roster and recruiting class to see which positions need the most attention and new bodies. Then he could move on to evaluating specific players.

"We have to get on that road and get to that process extremely quickly," Fisher said.

A day after his first Aggies news conference, he met with the president of the Texas High School Coaches Association and a prominent 7-on-7 coach.

Players have also been swept up in the coaching carousel.

In the days before and after Fisher's departure, FSU lost eight commitments. Armwood High receiver Warren Thompson and Wesley Chapel High cornerback Isaiah Bolden were among the six recruits who decommitted from Oregon after Taggart left for Tallahassee.

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While the head coaching changes are mostly over, the assistants' merry-go-round is just beginning. Taggart is evaluating the Seminoles' current staff during bowl preparation, so he doesn't yet know which assistants will remain. That uncertainty doesn't help prospects who want to know whether the coaches visiting their homes will be on the field with them next season.

Taggart will try to convince them to trust him to hire someone great, but some of those prospects are just getting to know him.

"It's difficult because of the relationships you have to build — which is so important in recruiting," Taggart said. "And you have such a short time building those relationships."

Taggart has tried to waste as little of that time as possible to salvage an FSU class that has fallen from the top 10 to No. 37.

Hours after Thrasher introduced him at the end of a challenging five-day sprint, Taggart and his staff were across town, checking on four-star linebacker commit Amari Gainer.

Whatever they said, it worked.

"1000%," Gainer tweeted afterward. "#Tribe18."

Contact Matt Baker at Follow @MBakerTBTimes.