South Carolina’s next football coach will have less than two months to try and finish the 2016 recruiting cycle strong.
There’s no single blueprint for how USC’s recruiting will take shape. Media who covered coaching changes a year ago said to expect a common theme for this “transition class.”
There’s a long way to go and a short time to get there.
“That’s the biggest thing, that initial part of getting in with the recruits to get an idea of who is going to listen and who you can move on (from),” said Blake Alderman, senior recruiting analyst for InsideTheGators.com. “The hire is made so late, there are only so many months until signing day. It’s very crazy.”
National Signing Day (Feb. 3) is around the corner. A month-long recruiting “dead period” kicks in after next week. In other words, the opportunity for a new coach to make an impression on current commitments and targets is a race against time.
Alderman covered Florida’s transition from Will Muschamp to Jim McElwain. Muschamp was fired with two games to play in 2014, and McElwain was announced as the new coach five days after the regular season ended.
With Muschamp set to be USC’s new coach, he’ll have one advantage over McElwain’s arrival at Florida a year ago.
“Muschamp is already known and established,” Alderman said. “When McElwain was hired, not a lot of guys knew about him. A lot had to do their research. I got the response, ‘Is that the guy from Colorado?’ ”
Florida added 16 new commitments once McElwain got rolling. He had about two months to close on the Gators’ 2015 class.
That wasn’t the case at Michigan, where Jim Harbaugh was hired to replace Brady Hoke as the calendar turned to the new year. Harbaugh came aboard during an NCAA dead period and had a little more than a month to address recruiting. The timing was a “huge challenge,” according to Tim Sullivan, football recruiting editor for TheWolverine.com.
During a dead period, contact is limited to phone calls, text messages, mail and social media. Coaches can’t meet prospects at their schools or homes, or host them for on-campus visits.
“You don’t need that in all cases,” Sullivan said. “If you’re trying to win over big-time recruits, you want to be able to talk to them face to face. You want them to see you in your natural element on your new campus. Phone calls are not the same when you’re trying to build relationships.”
Hit the ground running
With Muschamp’s hire at USC official as early as Monday, it will give him one week of normal contact with recruits and a weekend to host official visits. Then, starting in mid-January, the Gamecocks can close with another three-week contact period.
A new coach and staff will have to build relationships with the 15 prospects who are committed to the Gamecocks. As with all schools facing a coaching change, USC’s pledges are in wait-and-see mode, wanting to meet coaches before finalizing their futures.
Broken pledges after the hires weren’t a big issue last year for Florida and Michigan. Most of their decommitments came before and just after the firings, when uncertainty was at its peak. At Kansas, however, at least six decommitted after David Beaty replaced Charlie Weis. The Jayhawks still added 19 more to their class before signing day.
Three from USC’s 2016 class have backed off their commitments, and a handful are taking official visits to other schools.
“A coach has to recruit the guys who are still on the board. They also have to recruit the guys who are in the fold, too,” Alderman said. “Schools come in like crazy. They smell blood in the water. They’re just trying to pick apart your class.”
Interim head coach Shawn Elliott and USC’s current assistants spent the past week on the road recruiting.
A new staff will continue to build on those efforts, likely with a message that includes elements of hope and rebuilding, Sullivan said.
“One of the main messages,” Sullivan said, “is, ‘Hey look, what you’ve seen on the field isn’t what we’re going to be all about. This is an institution where we have a chance to be successful, and that’s what we’re going to do.’ ”
Comparing transition classes of 2015
▪ Fired: Will Muschamp on Nov. 14, 2014 (two games left in season)
▪ Hired: Jim McElwain on Dec. 4, 2014
▪ Decommitments: The three who decommitted after Nov. 14 ended up at LSU, Alabama and Auburn. Also, four top prospects from Florida who had been heavy leans to the Gators under Muschamp ended up following him to Auburn.
▪ New commitments: Florida added 16 pledges. That was led by a seven-player haul on National Signing Day that included two five-star prospects.
▪ Final class rank: No. 21, according to 247Sports’ Composite ranking
▪ Summary: The final class totaled 22 members
▪ Fired: Charlie Weis on Sept. 28, 2014 (four games into season)
▪ Hired: David Beaty hired on Dec. 5, 2014
▪ Decommitments: The Jayhawks class stayed relatively stable with no departures right after Weis left. One prospect eventually flipped to Utah, but another flipped from Ohio State. At least six more decommitted before signing day.
▪ New commitments: Kansas added 19 commits, eight in a six-day stretch soon after the coach was hired.
▪ Final class rank: No. 73, according to 247Sports’ Composite ranking
▪ Summary: Jayhawks finished with 26 commitments
▪ Fired: Brady Hoke on Dec. 2, 2014
▪ Hired: Jim Harbaugh on Dec. 30, 2014
▪ Decommitments: Seven decommitments came before Hoke was fired, and others came after it was clear that was going to happen. Just one broke his pledge after the Harbaugh hire.
▪ New commitments: Added eight new pledges, including four on signing day.
▪ Final class rank: No. 37, according to 247Sports’ Composite ranking
▪ Summary: Michigan’s final class included 14 signees.
Lookahead: South Carolina, Class of 2016
▪ Resigned: Steve Spurrier on Oct. 12
▪ Hired: TBD
▪ Decommitments: Three since Spurrier’s departure: linebacker P.J. Blue (now with Louisville), defensive back Marlon Character (Auburn) and wide receiver Bryan Edwards (undecided)
▪ New commitments: USC has added defensive linemen Darius Whitfield and Griffin Gentry since Spurrier left
▪ Current class rank: No. 49, according to 247Sports’ Composite ranking; the class peaked earlier this year around No. 30
▪ Outlook: USC can sign up to 25 in the class and could take a few more depending on how many enroll in January.
▪ Dec. 12-13: Official visits
▪ Dec. 14 through Jan. 13: Dead period (no in-person contact allowed, on- or off-campus)
▪ Dec. 16: Junior college signing period begins
▪ Jan. 16-17: Projected as USC’s ‘big recruiting weekend’
▪ Feb. 3: National Signing Day