When Mike Norvell finishes his inaugural Florida State signing class this week, it will mark the end of a choppy period in Seminoles recruiting: Two transition classes in a three-year span.
Because new coaches have so little time to identify, evaluate and get to know prospects before signing day, their first recruiting crops are spotty. Recruiting rankings are usually lower in a coach’s first haul — a program’s transition class — than in his second year. Attrition rates are higher, and the players who do stick around are more likely to become dead weight and less likely to become stars.
So if one coaching change causes recruiting hiccups, what are the effects of two in three years?
To find out, the Tampa Bay Times analyzed the recruiting and on-field results of eight* recent Power Five programs that, like FSU, made two external coaching hires in three years. Here are four takeaways:
1. The second transition class is even worse than the first
With the nation’s No. 20 class according to 247Sports (as of Monday afternoon), Norvell is on track to take a slight dip from predecessor Willie Taggart by signing FSU’s worst haul since 2007. That fits with historical precedent.
The schools we looked at averaged a class rank of 39.4 in the two cycles before their first coaching change. The rank dropped to 44.1 in the first transition class. For the second? It fell even more, to 47.5.
The average rating for each signee also dipped, from an average three-star recruit to just above a low three-star level. And six of the eight schools signed fewer blue-chip prospects during the second transition class than their previous average.
The noticeable decline in talent means…
2. Year 1 is a struggle
Only three of the eight programs finished with a winning record after their second coaching change: 2009 Boston College (8-5), 2014 Penn State (7-6) and 2015 Wisconsin (10-3). The Badgers were the only ones that ended the season in the top 25; they finished 21st in Paul Chryst’s first season.
As if the sub-par recruiting didn’t hurt rosters enough, attrition makes the problem worse.
Almost half (47.5 percent) of the signees from the first transition class failed to last through the start of their fourth season, around the time the second new coach should be getting up to speed. The top six signees from Lane Kiffin’s top-10 Tennessee class all flamed out, which helps explain why the Volunteers lost seven games every year from 2010-13.
The turnover and talent dropoff should temper immediate expectations for Norvell in Tallahassee, where a third of Taggart’s first class has already left or was away from the team at the end of 2019.
3. There are plenty of gems in transition classes
Although the raw numbers weren’t positive, classes like the one Norvell is finishing at FSU can produce impact players.
Jim Harbaugh’s 2007 Stanford class featured at least three NFL players (Pro Bowl receiver Doug Baldwin, tight end Coby Fleener and former Bucs offensive lineman Matthew Masifilo). Frank Spaziani signed one of the best players in Boston College history, Luke Kuechly, in his first class (2009).
Chryst’s inaugural Wisconsin crop included all-Big Ten offensive lineman Dave Edwards plus quarterback Alex Hornibrook, who had the best winning percentage in Badgers history before joining FSU as a grad transfer.
And James Franklin’s 2014 haul outperformed its rank (24th) with two of the top 10 tacklers in Penn State history (Marcus Allen and Jason Cabinda), its all-time leading passer (Trace McSorley) and Bucs Pro Bowler Chris Godwin.
4. Programs can bounce back from the turnover, even after a rough Year 1
Poor Kansas has never recovered, but four of the other seven teams we studied had the kind of success Florida State would take.
Harbaugh built Stanford from a four-win program into one that finished fourth in the country in Year 4. The turnover Chryst inherited at Wisconsin hasn’t stopped him from winning at least 10 games in four of his five seasons.
Franklin inherited much more turbulence at Penn State than Norvell faces at FSU but still won the Big Ten in his third season. And Mike MacIntyre’s first Colorado class (2013) formed the backbone of the team that won the Pac-12 South in ’16.
So the good news for Norvell and Florida State is that a program can rebound in recruiting and on the field from two coaching moves in three years.
The bad news: It might take a while.
*The eight programs the Times looked at: Boston College (coaching changes before the recruiting classes of 2007 and ’09), Colorado (’11 and ’13), Kansas (’10 and ’12), Penn State (’12 and ’14), Stanford (’05 and ’07), Pitt (’11 and ’12), Tennessee (’09 and ’10) and Wisconsin (’13 and ’15).