New Tennessee coach Butch Jones was thrown into the deep end of the SEC recruiting pool when he became the last new SEC coach hired on December 7th of last year. It didn’t take him long to realize how the search for talent is different in a league that boasts seven BCS championships in a row:
“Everything is accelerated in the SEC. Every day you have to bring your A game, no matter what you’re doing. But it’s invigorating. As a competitor, you want to go up against he best each and every day…
Recruiting is selling. It’s a people-oriented business. it’s about establishing relationships. The big thing is the overall philosophy and the overall intensity on a minute-by-minute basis in recruiting in the SEC.”
With Signing Day 2013 in the books, Jones and the league’s other three new coaches have all given their schools’ fans reasons to be positive about the future.
According to most recruiting services, Auburn’s Gus Malzahn finished with a top 10 class in his first recruiting test. To be fair, having a BCS title ring from Auburn that’s just a couple of years old gave Malzahn a leg up on his new rivals on the recruiting trail. While selling a bright future, he was the lone new SEC coach who could also point to his own recent past at his current school. But he took full advantage of that, er, advantage and landed five-star defensive linemen Montravious Adams and Carl Lawson along with a bevy of four-star prospects.
Tennessee’s Jones had just 31 days of permissible contact to fix the many tattered relationships Derek Dooley and his staff had left behind. When dismissed from UT, many Vol coaches went about finding new jobs rather than working on the Vols’ signing class in the hopes of being re-hired by Jones. Still, in a short period, Jones inked 12 players who weren’t committed to Tennessee when he arrived. Eight of those 12 were committed to other schools. ESPN analyst Trent Dilfer — who worked with a pair of Vol quarterback signees at Elite 11 camps — texted Jones to tell him he’d signed the best quarterback class in the nation.
Arkansas’ Bret Bielema got off to a slow start but finished strong. The lure of his smashmouth brand of football helped the Razorbacks land four offensive linemen and three running backs last Wednesday. Though the recruitment of star tailback Alex Collins from Florida was one of the week’s most bizarre stories, the dominating rusher did ink with the Hogs in the end. In addition, Bielema and crew signed players from Hawaii to New Jersey including three from California and four from Florida. Texas will always be a crucial territory for the Hogs, but Bielema’s national success should provide optimism for a program that can’t survive on in-state talent alone.
Kentucky’s Mark Stoops might have done the mostest with the leastest. UK finished #28 in Rivals’ national recruiting rankings. For comparison, the Cats’ five previous rankings were 62nd (2012), 61st (2011), 50th (2010), 41st (2009), and 57th (2008). Stoops’ message to recruits — “we’re combining Florida State’s defense with Texas Tech’s offense” — resonated. And Big Blue fans have reacted with excitement to Stoops’ first class. The fact that UK’s new coach could use his personal ties in Ohio and Florida to reel in three prospects from the former and nine from the latter is a good sign moving forward as well.
There will be naysayers and nitpickers at every school, but considering the situations they inherited and the time constraints they had to work with, Malzhan, Jones, Bielema and Stoops all did solid work in their first SEC go-round. Fans at Auburn, Tennessee, Arkansas and Kentucky who are inclined to seek out the positive in life have been given enough reasons by their new coaches to crack a smile when considering the future.