In the Q & A we ran Sunday with recruiting coordinator Billy Napier, I asked Napier about the effect Clemson’s coaching turnover had on this year’s class now that it has mostly taken shape.
“Ultimately the determining factor is your success as a football program during the season,” Napier responded. “That’s where the recruiting class took a turn. So winning is the most critical factor when it comes down to it.”
Wouldn’t argue that results will ultimately dictate the caliber of recruits a team lands on a yearly basis, although I generally believe that a team’s successes or failures usually show up in the following year’s class. By the time teams’ seasons are halfway through, the majority of seniors already know where they want to go. Only the elite prospects have the leverage to hold out making a decision.
Back to my point … yes, Clemson’s recruiting probably would have taken a dive regardless of the coaching change. Who knows how the rest of the season would have played out, but when the Tigers dropped three of their opening four ACC games, Tommy Bowden’s chances of salvaging the year certainly were bleak.
And even if he had pulled off what Dabo Swinney did to make a bowl, Clemson’s finish would have been looked at in a much different light by media, recruits, opposing coaches recruiting vs. Clemson, etc.
But … I don’t think Napier can legitimately deny the impact that staff uncertainty had on this year’s class.
Just look at the BCS conference teams with the fewest commitments as of Monday:
1. Syracuse (11)
2. Clemson (12)
3. Kansas State (15)
See a recurring theme? All four programs exiled their coaches. And in the case of Syracuse, Clemson and Washington, forthcoming coaching changes were apparent by midseason.
As an interesting aside, Florida (16) and Southern California (17) rank among the next-smallest classes – I’d assume because they are awaiting decisions from a handful of the blue-chippers with the clout to wait making an announcement until signing day.
Among others who swapped coaches – Tennessee has 18, which comes as no surprise to me given the name recognition and recruiting reputation of some of its well-paid staffers. And Mississippi State has accumulated a whopping 24 commitments (although, it should be noted, 15 are from in-state kids, and 17 of their 24 are rated as three-star prospects or below).
Of course, what makes Clemson’s situation unique is the caliber of prospect they were able to retain in light of the coaching change – which speaks to the continuity of keeping Swinney and most of the staff, as well as the staff’s ability to forge relationships.
The Tigers have seven 4-star commitments, according to Rivals.com – fourth-most in the ACC behind UNC, Miami and FSU.
Thus Rivals has its class ranked No. 31 nationally, while Scout.com put Clemson at No. 38.
None of the other small classes were in the top half of Division I.
In addition Syracuse (No. 105), Kansas State (72) and Washington (84), Clemson has a higher rated class than Texas Tech, Oregon and Missouri.
On the other hand, all three SEC teams with coaching changes rate higher: Tennessee (15), Mississippi State (22) and Auburn (24).
Clemson coaches believe that having a small class this year won’t hurt them because they only had room for about 18-20 scholarship enrollees as things stand right now. So if they wind up with about between 12-15, they can use the handful of leftovers toward next year’s class.
And in their view, the more room, the better. With recruiters such as Kevin Steele, Charlie Harbison and Danny Pearman added to the likes of Napier, future recruiting coordinator Jeff Scott and Swinney, they like their chances in scoring a large number of higher-end prospects.
It will be a couple of years before we can fairly judge the quality of Clemson’s forthcoming class. But I think it’s pretty safe to now suggest there will be a correlation between the coaching change and its quantity.