Which Second-Year College Football Coaches Are Winning and Losing in Recruiting?
It's hard to judge a coach on his first recruiting class.
The recruiting cycle lives for 365 days a year, and with so many coaches accepting jobs at the tail end of the calendar, their first class is instead referred to as a "half" and often given a mulligan if it's bad or an asterisk if it's good.
The second class, however, is different. This time, new head coaches are given a full cycle to parse through the masses and search for "their guys." They get to flex their recruiting muscles for the first time in their new position, setting the tone for how their program will recruit during their tenure.
Many of these second-year coaches moved up into their new position, getting promoted from a lesser conference or program to a bigger one. For them, this is their first full chance to prove that they belong with the bigger boys, that they can hang against the teams that reign their league.
You never get a second chance to make a first impression. Or, in this case, to make a first full one.
Note: All-star rankings, class rankings and class scores courtesy of the 247Sports composite.
Honorable Mention: Gus Malzahn, Auburn
It would feel remiss not to mention Gus Malzahn, who has parlayed Auburn's on-field success and SEC championship into a very nice class.
The Tigers' new class currently rank No. 7 in the country and has a chance to go even higher, provided Auburn lands uncommitted 5-star linebacker Rashaan Evans. He would put this group over the top and send Malzahn soaring past the honorable mention part of this list.
For now, though, Auburn's class is more or less on line with its three-year average. It's a little, but not discernibly, better than the classes Gene Chizik was bringing in, which suggests that maybe the logo and the tradition are doing just as much work as Malzahn.
There are six other "winners" on this list that have far outperformed their predecessors. Gus is doing a very good job, but he can't match the improvements of some of the following programs.
Winning: Mark Stoops, Kentucky
Mark Stoops made a quick impact at Kentucky during his first half-class, landing a small group of impressive players like Jason Hatcher, Marcus McWilson and Za'Darius Smith.
That momentum didn't carry over onto the field in 2013, but despite another lousy season and a 2-10 record, Stoops continues to pave the future with his work on the recruiting trail.
After outrecruiting Alabama for massive defensive tackle Matt Elam, the Wildcats now, unthinkably, have a top-20 class, checking in at No. 19 in the country. That's more than 20 spots higher than their prior three-year average, which was way down at No. 41.
Between Elam and 4-star quarterback Drew Barker, who is supposed to be the future for UK under center, Stoops' exploits might soon make him the finest recruiter in Lexington—on par even with basketball coach John Calipari.
He's not there yet, but it's a discussion. And that fact alone should say all you need to know.
Struggling: Mark Helfrich, Oregon
Chip Kelly, where art thou?
Oregon's class is down more than 20 points from its three-year average, dropping out of the national top 20 on Thursday after Kentucky signed Matt Elam. It's third in the Pac-12 behind Stanford and UCLA, and Arizona State and USC are lurking not far behind.
For Helfrich, there is no excuse not to land a top-15 class. He has a program with a proven track record of winning, uniforms that every high schooler wants to wear and a $68 million facility that looks more like Versailles than a team house.
There should never be 20 classes better than the Ducks'—not when Phil Knight is pumping in the resources. For that, the blame almost has to fall on Helfrich's shoulders.
Winning: Butch Jones, Tennessee
Butch Jones has Tennessee heading in the right direction—both on and off the field.
Even if it didn't translate to a winning record and a bowl game in 2013, the Vols restored some terror for opponents walking into Rocky Top, beating South Carolina and nearly doing the same to Georgia.
Now that momentum has continued into recruiting, where Jones has currently landed the No. 6 class in America. No program has more 4-star commits than the Vols' 16, and few can boast more than the 18 3-stars he has to back them up.
The eminent brand of Tennessee football has helped, for sure, but this program still averaged out as roughly the No. 20 class in America over the past three years. Now its flirting with the top five.
That's a job well done.
Struggling: Kliff Kingsbury, Texas Tech
Kliff Kingsbury hasn't been a total bust on his first full recruiting tour, as the Red Raiders' current position at No. 37 is just seven spots behind its three-year average.
The problem here is relative—compared to what could have (and arguably should have) been.
Here you have a hot young coach, who deejays his own practices and whose players love playing for him. They started the 2013 season with seven straight wins and end it by clobbering the champion of the Pac-12 South.
Why don't more people want to play in Lubbock? As exposed by a tipster to Deadspin, part of the reason Kingsbury was hired in the first place was to make Texas Tech a new, hip, trendy place to play. How come the Red Raiders haven't signed a single 4-star recruit?
It feels like they're selling themselves short.
Winning: Dave Doeren, N.C. State
Dave Doeren's first full class in Raleigh looks remarkable.
The Wolfpack have a three-year average ranking of 62 and score of 159. In his first complete cycle at N.C. State, Doeren has those numbers up to 33 and 203, respectively—ahead of teams like Michigan State (which just won the Rose Bowl) and Missouri (which just won the SEC East).
The group is highlighted by a couple of 4-star recruits, including a potential quarterback of the future in Jalan McClendon. Defensive end Kentavius Street is the third-ranked prospect in the Tar Heel State and chose the Wolfpack over offers from Auburn, Clemson, Florida, Florida State, Georgia, Miami, Notre Dame and Ole Miss.
Doeren proved that he could win with mediocre talent at Northern Illinois. Now he's bringing in some very good talent, which should make N.C. State a fascinating ACC dark horse in the coming years.
Struggling: Sonny Dykes, California
Struggles are nothing new for Sonny Dykes, at least not after the abject disaster of his first year with Cal.
The recruiting circuit hasn't been quite as miserable as the 1-11 season, but it's comparable. The Bears are just three years removed from having the No. 15 class in America, and now they're all the way down at No. 44.
Dykes is new to Northern California, so he deserves time to learn the ins and outs of the region. He did, however, coach at Arizona for three seasons, so it's not like he's speaking Martian. He should know at least a little bit about how to make this work.
So long as Dykes can keep the class in the top 50, he'll have earned enough rope to avoid criticism. If he can't, he'd better hope the team makes massive on-field improvements in 2014.
Winning: Gary Andersen, Wisconsin
Wisconsin's recruiting was surprisingly mediocre toward the end of Bret Bielema's tenure, checking in with a three-year average of 48th in the country.
In just one full season—his first as head coach of a power-conference program, no less—Andersen has that number up to No. 30 and rising. He's landed four 4-star recruits and might be able to push for a top-25 class, which is rare to land in Madison.
The incoming group is scheme-specific, too. Powerful linemen like Jaden Gault and George Panos are classic Wisconsin archetypes, while dual-threat quarterback D.J. Gillins has the tools to be Andersen's new Chuckie Keeton.
This is a perfect kick-start to Andersen's second year.
Struggling: Bret Bielema, Arkansas
Bret Bielema, Gary Andersen's predecessor and the man responsible for the recently low standard of recruiting at Wisconsin, is having a pretty hard go of it at Arkansas, too.
Yes, Bielema has the Razorbacks in the top 35 nationally, sitting currently at No. 32, but that is still eight spots below their three-year average of 24th.
He has done a good job in-state, landing five of the top seven Arkansas prospects and fighting to hold off Boise State for a sixth, linebacker Zack Wary. Still, Bielema has let the standard of recruiting for the Arkansas program continue to slip from its glory years, which is not where he expected to be more than a calendar year into his new job.
With a team good enough to win some games in the SEC West next season, though, he might be able to right the ship in short order.
Winning: Steve Addazio, Boston College
Steve Addazio was easily one of the best coaches in the ACC this season, although he was (rightfully) overshadowed by David Cutcliffe and Jimbo Fisher.
Still, Boston College was competitive in almost every game it played for its new head coach, and that plucky spirit has translated into more success on the recruiting trail. After a three-year average ranking of 66, Addazio has the Eagles almost 20 spots higher at No. 45.
That average is backloaded, too, so this class is all the more important. The last two seasons, Boston College has ranked No. 87 and No. 71, respectively. It couldn't afford to have another lackluster class on the heels of a surprisingly successful season.
Thanks to Addazio, it didn't.
Struggling: Tommy Tuberville, Cincinnati
Tommy Tuberville's first season at Cincinnati was backwards.
The talent at his disposal was merely decent, so conventional wisdom said the team might struggle on the field. However, with his SEC background and ability to say he's coached "the best," Tuberville was expected to bring a new grade of recruiting to the AAC.
Instead, the opposite has occurred.
Cincinnati played surprisingly well under Tuberville, going 9-4, but recruiting has been surprisingly poor. Not catastrophically poor, mind you, but nearly ten spots lower than its three-year average, currently sitting at No. 61 in nation.
That might need some fixing.
Winning: Willie Taggart, South Florida
Willie Taggart's stock took a hit during USF's awful 2013 season, which is a shame because he might have otherwise made a very good candidate at some of the bigger jobs that came open this offseason.
But those schools' loss is South Florida's gain.
For as bad as Taggart's team was on the field in 2013, he and his staff have been equally impressive off of it. The Bulls have the No. 39 class in the current team rankings, tops in the AAC—even ahead of conference castoff Louisville—and almost 20 spots higher than their three-year average.
That's not bad for the first full class of Taggart's tenure. One can only hope that his second full season falls in line with the first.