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Four final signing day thoughts on Florida, FSU

FSU’s worst recruiting class of the Rivals era looks better with context, while things could still be moving in Gainesville.
Calvary Christian kicker Aidan Shahriari, here with Florida State football coach Mike Norvell, will be a preferred walkon at the school. (Courtesy of Aidan Shahriari) [AIDAN SHAHRIARI | Special to the Times]

Even in its toned-down version, the traditional signing day still delivered a lot of information and news. Here are four final thoughts and takeaways on what we learned at Florida and Florida State on Wednesday, beyond the initial headlines:

1. FSU’s No. 22 class deserves context.

Pinellas Park High's Lawrance Toafili is one of the headliners of FSU's 2020 recruiting class. [DOUGLAS R. CLIFFORD | Times]

Barring late movement, the Seminoles just signed their worst class of the Rivals era (two spots lower than 2007) with their third-fewest number of blue-chip signees (eight). That’s not good. But maybe it’s not that bad, given the circumstances.

Recruiting rankings usually suffer in a coach’s first class, and the early signing period has condensed the timeline, making it even harder for newcomers to land top-end talent.

Related: What two coaching changes in three years means for FSU recruiting

In that light, Mike Norvell had the top-ranked class of any new Power Five coach (who wasn’t an internal promotion) in this coaching carousel; Mike Leach at Mississippi State was next at No. 27.

Include all the other external hires in the three years of the early signing period, and FSU’s 2020 class would rank fourth out of 29. The only three better: Jimbo Fisher’s first class at Texas A&M, Dan Mullen’s inaugural class with the Gators and the top haul of them all … Willie Taggart’s first crop at FSU.

2. Florida’s staff still isn’t set.

In this Saturday, Oct. 17, 2009 photo, Minnesota coach Tim Brewster encourages his players during a timeout in an NCAA college football game against Penn State in State College, Pa. Minnesota fired Brewster on Sunday, Oct. 17, 2010, one day after the Golden Gophers lost to Purdue to fall to 1-6 in his fourth season on the sideline. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster) [CAROLYN KASTER | ASSOCIATED PRESS]

Multiple outlets reported Thursday that North Carolina tight ends coach Tim Brewster would be joining the Gators as an assistant. Brewster, an elite recruiter and a former Minnesota head coach, coached under Mullen at Mississippi State in 2012 before joining Jimbo Fisher’s FSU staff. He would take the spot vacated by Larry Scott, who left to become the head coach at Howard.

Related: Florida Gators’ recruiting class looks better than its ranking

Even when the move is finalized, UF’s staff will still be fluid. Mullen said he might “shift certain duties around” with his assistants, and he has a list of candidates who could join UF as analysts in the coming weeks. Two long-rumored contenders: former UF quarterback and USF assistant Kerwin Bell and Charlie Strong, the former USF head coach and ex-Gators assistant.

3. Mullen looks for more than signees when he evaluates assistants’ recruiting.

Florida Gators head coach Dan Mullen watches his team take the field for pregame warmups before facing the Georgia Bulldogs at TIAA Bank Field in Jacksonville, Florida on Saturday, November 2, 2019. [OCTAVIO JONES | Times]

Obviously Mullen cares about whether UF signed the top players it wanted. But he considers other factors when looking at how his staff recruited. Did the assistants talk to a prospect enough? Write enough letters? Visit him at school? Watch him at a game? Get him on campus repeatedly? What about an official visit to campus? And a home visit with his family?

If the assistant did everything he could and the player still signed elsewhere, so be it.

“If there's something we missed,” Mullen said, “then that's what you've got to fix, and that's what you put as the negative aspect of what would be in the evaluation of the recruiting process of that coach.”

4. There’s an interesting Memphis parallel at FSU.

Memphis wide receiver Damonte Coxie (10) celebrates with running back Kenneth Gainwell, center, and wide receiver Calvin Austin III (84) after Coxie caught a 49-yard touchdown pass against SMU during the second half of an NCAA college football game Saturday, Nov. 2, 2019, in Memphis, Tenn. Memphis won 54-48. (AP Photo/Mark Humphrey) [MARK HUMPHREY | AP]

Before tearing his labrum during his senior season, three-star defensive back Sidney Williams claimed offers from programs like LSU, Georgia and Texas A&M. But the injury slowed his recruitment down, his high school coach told al.com, and FSU didn’t even offer him a spot until Tuesday.

Similarly, three-star receiver Darion Williamson was a Tennessee commit before he tore his ACL during his final year of high school. The ’Noles nabbed them both late.

This isn’t the first time Norvell has signed high-ceiling recruits with recent injuries that scared off other coaches.

Related: What Memphis can tell us about FSU's Mike Norvell

Damonte Coxie was originally an LSU commit, who, like Williamson, suffered a knee injury in high school. When bigger programs backed away, Norvell’s staff at Memphis swooped in.

Coxie became the second receiver in Tigers history with back-to-back 1,000-yard seasons. We’ll see whether Williams or Williamson can be a similar success story for Norvell’s new team.

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