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Signing day is hard for new coaches. The early period makes it harder

Recruiting is all about relationships. USF’s Jeff Scott and FSU’s Mike Norvell haven’t had much time to build those relationships.
USF Bulls football head coach Jeff Scott gives a speech in front of a packed room at the University of South Florida Sam and Martha Gibbons Alumni Center in Tampa, Florida on Wednesday, December 11, 2019.
USF Bulls football head coach Jeff Scott gives a speech in front of a packed room at the University of South Florida Sam and Martha Gibbons Alumni Center in Tampa, Florida on Wednesday, December 11, 2019. [ OCTAVIO JONES | Times ]
Published Dec. 17, 2019

TAMPA — Based on the workload greeting him at his new gig, Jeff Scott is bound to sweat for every nickel of the $500,000 de facto signing bonus due him in January.

Since landing in Tampa on Dec. 10, the new USF coach has met with prominent boosters, pulled off a triumphant introductory press conference, has met with the holdover assistants, dismissed them all, has begun working to assemble a new staff, and has started assessing the roster he inherited.

All of which might seem manageable, if Scott didn’t also have to attempt to salvage a signing class in an eight-day span.

Related: Coaching change means modest early signing period for USF

Eight days.

“I think the early signing period has really added to the tray, if you will, and it’s just very difficult,” Scott told The Athletic’s Andy Staples on a podcast released Monday.

“I’ve had to call some recruits and talk to their parents, recruits that have never been to the University of South Florida, recruits that have never met me in person, and I’m trying to talk the mother into allowing her son to sign with the University of South Florida (on) Wednesday.”

Wednesday marks the commencement of the NCAA’s early signing period for football, which runs through Friday. Installed in 2017, it was created in part to ease pressure and anxiety for recruits who had settled on a school and wanted to end the often-chaotic recruiting process.

But that anxiety and pressure was transferred over to coaches, namely those such as Scott who are hired in mid-December (or late November) and must hit the ground sprinting when it comes to recruiting.

Related: Can USF’s Jeff Scott cultivate Blythewood magic with the Bulls?

UCF’s Josh Heupel (hired Dec. 5, 2017), Florida’s Dan Mullen (hired Nov. 26, 2017) and Florida State’s Mike Norvell (hired two weekends ago) are familiar with that breakneck, 11th-hour pursuit of prospects.

Florida State head football coach Mike Norvell speaks at a press conference Sunday, Dec. 8, 2019, in Tallahassee, Fla. Norvell is Florida State's new coach, taking over a Seminoles program that has struggled while he was helping to build Memphis into a Group of Five power. (AP Photo/Phil Sears)
Florida State head football coach Mike Norvell speaks at a press conference Sunday, Dec. 8, 2019, in Tallahassee, Fla. Norvell is Florida State's new coach, taking over a Seminoles program that has struggled while he was helping to build Memphis into a Group of Five power. (AP Photo/Phil Sears) [ PHIL SEARS | AP ]

“I'm starting (recruiting) right now,” Norvell said during his Dec. 8 introductory press conference. “The minute I get off this stage, that's all of our focus.”

Actually Norvell started beforehand; he shook a recruit’s hand before he even made his first public remarks as the Seminoles’ coach.

The immediate push is vital because most top prospects will end their recruitments this week. Almost 76 percent of last year’s class signed during the early period, including 260 of ESPN’s top 300 recruits, according to ESPN national recruiting director Tom Luginbill.

Because so few recruits will still be on the board in February, new coaches must scramble to identify and land the ones they can.

“A lot of it is the relationships,” Mullen said. “There are a lot of guys you haven't recruited, you didn't know, you haven't met. The positive is a lot of guys stuck with us.”

Indeed, Mullen hauled in some of the top recruits who committed to his predecessor, Jim McElwain. Tight end Kyle Pitts, offensive lineman Richard Gouraige (Cambridge Christian) and linebacker/defensive back Amari Burney (Calvary Christian) all committed to UF before Mullen’s arrival and already have been valuable contributors in Gainesville.

Related: Florida Gators’ Dan Mullen: ‘I plan on being here for a long time’

But the miss rate is high, too. Five members of Mullen’s 2018 class already have transferred or been kicked off the team; two others have medically retired.

Although attrition happens with every class at every program, it’s a greater concern when new coaches have so little time to vet prospects.

Willie Taggart’s first USF class (2013, before the early signing period) had six transfers/departures plus one who didn’t qualify academically. Six members of his first FSU class (2018, with the early signing period) have already entered the transfer portal or were away from the team at the end of the season. That number will likely grow.

Taggart left Norvell a better recruiting situation than the mess he inherited from Jimbo Fisher. But Norvell is still scrambling to salvage a top-20 class.

Related: Gus Malzahn: ‘The sky’s the limit’ with FSU’s Mike Norvell

“The reality is, in recruiting it all comes down to relationships,” Norvell said. “That’s going to be something that has to be built.”

And it’s something that’s going to take more than two weeks.

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