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December 21, 2011

Coaching carousel brings old questions to new schools

MORE: Sanctions shouldn't hurt Ohio State recruiting

Every winter the college coaching carousel goes around and around. It not only wreaks havoc on current players on college teams, but it also affects the recruits looking to sign with those schools.

The impact of a certain hire can take a program to a new level, as it did years ago with the Florida Gators and Urban Meyer, or it can set a program back as happened at UCLA with Rick Neuheisel. This year there have already been 10 new BCS head coaching hires led by Meyer - who takes over at Ohio State. But what affect will the new men in charge have on their programs from a recruiting standpoint?

The coaching hires so far this year can be lumped into three different categories according to Rivals.com National Recruiting Analyst Mike Farrell:

"There are the guys that have to answer big questions about their recent past, or even further back, as well as prove that they can recruit in tough areas," Farrell said. "And then there are guys looking to redeem their name and others trying to make one for themselves.

"It's an interesting group overall with a good blend of experience, controversy and aggressiveness."

Here's a look:

WHY DID YOU TAKE THIS JOB?

The first category is the most interesting one as three coaches have many questions to answer on the recruiting trail. Meyer, based on his early success, already appears that he has the answers to all those questions. Time will tell for Arizona State's Todd Graham and UCLA's Jim Mora.

With Meyer, the obvious questions will be asked by recruits:

"Why did you retire from the Gators to spend time with your family only to take the Ohio State job 11 months later?"

"How is your health?"

"How long will you be at this job and is there any assurance you won't resign suddenly as you did at Florida?"

While those questions are surely being asked by recruits and parents, the answer Meyer is giving is clearly the right one. So far he has flipped defensive end Se'Von Pittman from Michigan State and Tommy Schutt from Penn State, but he also stole away five-star Noah Spence from the clutches of Maryland in just a few short weeks on the job. And now that the NCAA has handed down its ruling on Ohio State - one-year bowl ban and loss of nine scholarships - another uncertainty is over.

Rivals.com Midwest Analyst Josh Helmholdt is impressed with the job Meyer has done in such a short time.

"In just three weeks, Urban Meyer has more than fulfilled his promise on the recruiting trail for the Buckeyes. Ohio State has flipped top 100 prospects from Penn State and Michigan State, secured their top running back commitment, who had been seriously wavering (Bri'onte Dunn) and nabbed the nation's top weakside defensive end in Spence," Helmholdt said. "And Meyer does not appear to be finished. Ohio State was outside the top 20 in the team rankings when their regular season came to a close. Now they are knocking on the door of the top five."

For Graham, who bolted Pitt for Arizona State after a year, the goal will be to show that this is the job he really wants and that he won't bolt again. Rivals.com West Analyst Adam Gorney feels Graham has something to prove and a big job ahead of him.

"Graham upset a lot of Pittsburgh players when he informed them he was leaving for Arizona State via text message so from a public relations standpoint it doesn't look good," Gorney said. "Those kinds of things are quickly forgotten though, especially if Graham can recruit well and win some games in his first season. But the problem at Arizona State in recent years is that the state's top players all leave. There is a possibility of that changing this season with at least one top player, four-star athlete D.J. Foster, who will still consider Arizona State once he gets to talk with Graham more. Because there is a lot of buzz in Tucson with Rich Rodriguez being hired, locking up Foster would be huge."

Finally, Mora has been out of coaching for a few years and didn't do himself any favors back when he was with the Atlanta Falcons in 2006, when he said on a radio show that he would take the Washington job, a job that wasn't even open at the time, if offered. This was while the Falcons were still in the playoff hunt and many feel he gave up on his team. He was fired at the end of that season. But the biggest question that needs to be answered from Mora is this - can he recruit head-to-head with USC? Gorney is interested in finding out.

"Mora's hiring at UCLA is definitely intriguing because of his NFL experience," Gorney said. "A lot of fans liken the decision to hire him to when USC hired Pete Carroll. There are some similarities but we'll have to wait to see if the success follows.

"We know this so far -- Mora has been aggressive on the recruiting trail showing up with a handful of assistant coaches at the California state championships this past weekend. Hiring Adrian Klemm from SMU and Demetrice Martin from Washington as ace recruiters was a wise move.

"Recruiting to UCLA is tough because USC gets pretty much every player it wants from Los Angeles. Former coach Rick Neuheisel went to the Inland Empire, to Hawaii, to anywhere to find competitive players. Mora might make a bigger splash in Los Angeles, but only when he wins, 9, 10, 11 games a season regularly will the elite players starting looking more at the Bruins."

LOOKING FOR REDEMPTION

While Mora could be lumped into the redemption category if we wanted, his transgression was so long ago that redemption for others is far more vital. Arizona's new head coach, Rich Rodriguez, had great success at West Virginia only to be labeled a complete flop at Michigan, especially on defense. But the spotlight is not quite as bright at Arizona and the conference itself could be an amazing fit for his spread offense.

"The Pac-12 could be the perfect conference for him because it's heavy on offensive players and oftentimes questionable on quality defenses," Gorney said. "That means if Rodriguez can find the right players again he could find the success he had at West Virginia.

"Clearly the Pac-12 is a tougher conference than the Big East. If he's going to implement the same system then he needs dual-threat quarterbacks and fast. There has been an exodus of quarterbacks at Arizona fearing that drop-back passers won't be wanted or needed. Rodriguez's earliest challenge is to get a quarterback or two that can run, throw and everything in between."

The challenge is a bit different for Leach, who was fired at Texas Tech because of the well-documented Adam James situation. Leach has since come off as a bitter man who is suing everyone in sight and it clearly hindered his ability to find a new job despite his on-field success at Texas Tech. Leach clearly has the mind and talent to win in a tough place, but is he faced with an impossible task in the Pac- 12 at Washington State?

"There is no more challenging job in the Pac-12 than Washington State because Pullman is a difficult place to recruit to, there is not a sustained winning tradition there and with Steve Sarkisian at Washington, the Huskies have locked up all the state's top talent," Gorney said. "If the state's best players don't stay home at Washington then they usually go elsewhere in the Pac-12, so Leach and his staff will have built-in challenges to deal with. But if there is one person that can get the job done it might be Leach, who recruited standout players to Lubbock. So far, the Cougars have been very aggressive, just as they need to be. Some Southern California players who feel they were under-recruited are considering visits there. Plus, a lot of speedy, athletic prospects might be intrigued to play in Leach's offense."

Rounding out this group is new Kansas head coach Charlie Weis, who coached at the highest level possible in college football when he took the reins of Notre Dame a few years back. While Weis had limited success on the field, no one could question his recruiting ability as he reeled in numerous top 10 classes. However, Kansas is a different animal, a place where five-star basketball recruits line up to play but top football recruits are a rarity. Rivals.com Southwest Analyst Brian Perroni thinks Texas is the key for Weis.

"Kansas has made the state of Texas a huge priority in recruiting, but Weis has very few ties there," Perroni said. "He didn't recruit there much at Notre Dame and not at all at Florida (where he was offensive coordinator). Kansas will probably dip into the Sunshine State a bit, but its bread and butter will still need to be Texas. Weis is probably going to have to hire a couple of young assistants who know the Lone Star State well. Even though he didn't do so well at Notre Dame on the field, he is still seen as a 'name coach' by prospects so that should serve him well."

TAKING A STEP UP

As always, the majority of the new head coaching hires are taking a big step up from non-BCS programs into the world of BCS recruiting. While each has had some success recruiting without that BCS status, the challenge will be great as they begin to deal with a different level of player. Of the four on this list, North Carolina head coach Larry Fedora might have the leg up.

"Fedora has always been known as a very good recruiter on a non-BCS level, reeling in five-star DeAndre Brown away from BCS programs and also stealing away some four-star and high three-star talents along the way as well while at Southern Miss," Farrell said. "Recruiting in SEC country against the best in the country is tough to do without that BCS status, but he and his staff always held their own so he should do well moving up a category in recruiting."

Fedora is moving into a state that has been cherry picked by others more often than not.

"Fedora's first priority will be to work inside out," Farrell said. "By that I mean he needs to take back the state of North Carolina for the Heels. North Carolina has suddenly become a state, once again, where outsiders can come in and pluck away talent and UNC is the one in-state program that can slow that down.

"Only one of the current top 10 players in state is committed to North Carolina after the Tar Heels were able to keep four in state a year ago. North Carolina needs to be priority number one and overcoming impending NCAA action is a part of that. This is not an easy job to take over. Fedora is replacing Butch Davis, who had a big name to sell, he's trying to overcome the NCAA violations that sent Davis packing and he's at a basketball school, where the commitment to football has been questioned. He's a good recruiter with a tough job ahead of him."

While Fedora could be the best recruiter of the coaches taking a step up, Texas A&M head coach Kevin Sumlin could be stepping into the best situation.

"Sumlin did about as well as someone could do at Houston," Perroni said. "Houston had trouble landing kids from the Greater Houston area before he got there, but he made it a priority. Most of their recruiting was done within 100 miles of the campus and that is the same market that A&M needs to corner so he has the experience and relationship with local coaches to do that.

"Houston also recruited East Texas and the state of Louisiana well for a non-BCS school. Those are two regions that were very kind to the Aggies in their heyday of the 90's. Sumlin will be going after a higher level of recruit now though so it will be interesting to see if he can sell A&M to those prospects, but don't forget he is also now selling the SEC and that can make a big difference."

Finally, Ole Miss and Illinois are getting coaches who are making arguably the biggest leaps. Rivals.com Southeast Analyst Keith Niebuhr feels the Rebels have hired the right man for the job.

"To win at Ole Miss, two things on the recruiting front absolutely have to happen," he said. "First, a coach must do well in the talent-rich Magnolia State. Second, he also has to tap into the nearby Memphis area. In Hugh Freeze, the Rebels really believe they have someone who can do this. He not only has strong ties to Memphis, where he once was a very successful high school coach, but he served on the Ole Miss staff from 2005-07. During his previous stint with the Rebels, he helped produce two strong classes as recruiting coordinator.

"Freeze is not some outsider who doesn't understand the region and the prospects who live there. Besides the fact he had on-field success during his short stint at Arkansas State, the one thing you had to like about Freeze during his time there is that he aimed big. Freeze didn't care if a prospect had an SEC offer; he still went after him and went after him hard. That confidence will be needed in Oxford."

Helmholdt breaks down the Illinois hire.

"Under Tim Beckman, Toledo was first to offer many of the top prospects in the state of Ohio and they also picked up some of the top sleeper prospects in the Midwest for the 2012 class. That tells me Beckman and his staff are very adept at identifying talent and that will benefit the Illinois program," Helmholdt said. "Ron Zook came to Champaign known as a great recruiter and he started off fulfilling those expectations, but he eventually lost Chicago. Beckman's ties to Midwest high school programs should help, but his first order of business needs to be finding inroads with Chicago area schools. Beckman has a lot of work to do before now and National Signing Day to finish with a respectable class for 2012."



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