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February 10, 2012

First class can be key for new coaches

Three years is the new five, at least for grace periods for some coaches.

The window of opportunity for coaches to build their programs is closing. Five years used to be the standard, but that has shrunk. Without significant improvement, coaches will be lucky to stay for five seasons at many schools.

This trend makes the first signing class of a coach's tenure that much more important. The high school seniors signed Feb. 1 will be juniors three seasons from now, and ideally, part of a veteran backbones of teams across the country.

For first-year coaches, these classes were assembled in some cases under less-than-ideal circumstances due to NCAA issues (Ohio State, North Carolina), poor records (UCLA, Illinois, Ole Miss, Texas A&M, etc.) and unexpected coach departures (Pittsburgh, Rutgers).

The coaches who did the best job salvaging - and in some cases excelling - in recruiting in this first class may be the ones most likely to stick around.

Here's a breakdown of classes for first-year coaches in the six major conferences.

New coach: Urban Meyer
Hired: Nov. 28
Class rank: Fourth overall, first in the Big Ten
Buzz: In a matter of months, Meyer helped Ohio State forget about having to fire one of its most successful coaches, the 6-7 season and the looming bowl ban. Meyer's first class in Columbus also relegated Michigan's strides in recruiting, with most of its class assembled in the spring and summer, to old news. Meyer plucked players from other programs, and almost all were among the top 250 prospects in the country. Besides making national headlines, the class filled major needs. Taylor Decker, Kyle Dodson and Joey O'Connor form an impressive trio of offensive tackles while Noah Spence and Adolphus Washington give the Buckeyes two five-star defensive ends. This was an average class back in October and finished as one of the best in the country - much to the consternation of Wisconsin's Bret Bielema and Michigan State's Mark Dantonio, who were vocal in their displeasure with Meyer's recruiting tactics.

New coach: Jim Mora
Hired: Dec. 10
Class rank: 14th overall, third in the Pac-12
Buzz: Mora's scant NFL experience was a major question for the new Bruins' coach, especially when conference rivals brought in seasoned college veterans such as Mike Leach, Rich Rodriguez and Todd Graham this offseason. At UCLA, Mora used his staff to fill in his gaps in experience by hiring Demetrice Martin from Washington and Adrian Klemm from SMU plus Noel Mazzone and Eric Yarber from Arizona State. UCLA also was the biggest beneficiary of the implosion of Cal's recruiting class. Former Bears commits Ellis McCarthy (UCLA's only five-star signee), Jordan Payton and Kenneth Walker eventually all made their way to UCLA. The Bruins stretched its class East by landing Rivals100 athlete Devin Fuller from New Jersey days before Signing Day.

New coach: Kevin Sumlin
Hired: Dec. 10
Class rank: 15th overall, fifth in the SEC
Buzz: The Aggies had much of their class in place before Sumlin was hired, but that didn't prevent some late action in the A&M group. Wide receiver Bralon Addison switched to Oregon on Signing Day, safety Corey Thompson went to LSU and Darion Monroe went to Tulane. Still, the Aggies brought in more than they lost. Rivals250 athlete Edward Pope remained committed to TCU despite pressure from LSU and Arkansas until he ended up signing with A&M. Three-star defensive tackle Edmund Ray ended a longtime commitment to Missouri for A&M as well. Thomas Johnson, the fourth-ranked wide receiver in the country, picked the Aggies on Signing Day as well. Meanwhile, A&M kept the jewel of the class, five-star running back Trey Williams. After a coaching change and a 7-6 season, Texas A&M could have done much worse in its first signing class for the SEC.

RUTGERS
New coach: Kyle Flood
Hired: Jan. 31
Class rank: 23rd, first Big East
Buzz: What happened in Piscataway in the final weeks before Signing Day was among the most unexpected of situations. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers, rebuffed by Oregon's Chip Kelly, hired Greg Schiano on Jan. 27. Florida International coach Mario Cristobal turned down the opportunity to replace Schiano on Jan. 31, and later the same day, Rutgers promoted Flood. Somehow in that span, Rutgers' class improved. Rutgers had 17 commitments in a class ranked 32nd overall when Schiano left. The Scarlet Knights finished with 19 signees and ranked in the top 25 for the first time in school history. Landing defensive end Darius Hamilton was huge, giving Rutgers the Big East's first five-star signee since 2008. Rutgers also held onto Rivals100 offensive lineman Chris Muller.

New coach: Todd Graham
Hired: Dec. 14
Class rank: 37th overall, ninth in the Pac-12
Buzz: Graham's predecessor, Dennis Erickson, didn't shy away from signing junior college transfers. He signed six of them in three of his five classes at Arizona State. Graham topped that by adding nine JUCO prospects in this class. The highest-rated JUCO of the group, running back Marion Grice, was one of three prospects to announce for Arizona State on National Signing Day. The biggest victory came from D.J. Foster, the state of Arizona's No. 2 prospect, in the final week. He'll give the class a little bit of star power. Arizona State did a good job of holding onto four Long Beach Poly prospects - wide receivers Josiah Blandin and Richard Smith and linebackers Salamo Fiso and Matthew Rowe. However, one of their teammates, Randall Goforth, elected to sign with UCLA.

New coach: Larry Fedora
Hired: Dec. 9
Class rank: 42nd overall, sixth in the ACC.
Buzz: A new coach at North Carolina recruiting under the shadow of an NCAA investigation isn't an enviable task, but Fedora had a couple of key recruiting victories. Greensboro (N.C.) Page four-star quarterback James Summers de-committed from N.C. State to join the Tar Heels in late January. Gaffney (S.C.) wide receiver Quinshad Davis followed on Signing Day. Fedora, a high-energy coach with an offense to match, could get a further boost if Rivals250 receiver Davonte Neal signs. The next challenge is keeping the top North Carolina players in state. All of the top eight crossed state lines on Signing Day.

New coach: Hugh Freeze
Hired: Dec. 5
Class rank: 44th nationally, 13th in the SEC
Buzz: The Rebels averaged 29 signees in seven classes under Houston Nutt and Ed Orgeron. Freeze, a former Orgeron assistant, signed 17 in his first season. A top-50 class is good news, but only Kentucky was ranked lower in the conference. Such is life in the SEC. Ole Miss' greatest recruiting victory was landing defensive end Channing Ward, the state's top prospect who also considered rival Mississippi State. The Rebels landed safety Trae Elston on Signing Day, earning a victory over LSU. Still, Freeze pushed for jumbo-sized quarterback Jeremy Liggins, who hails from Oxford (Miss.) Lafayette, only to lose him to the Tigers. Ole Miss now has to gear up for a strong year in the state and in nearby Memphis for 2013.

New coach: Rich Rodriguez
Hired: Nov. 21
Class rank: 45th overall, 11th in the Pac-12
Buzz: Rodriguez was able to hang onto four-star prospects Kyle Kelley, a defensive end, and Zach Hemmila, and offensive lineman, who committed to the previous staff. This isn't a highly rated class, but Rodriguez's best teams at West Virginia weren't built on four- and five-star recruits. Quarterback Javelle Allen from Prosper (Texas) could thrive in Rodriguez's version of the spread. The Wildcats also signed former Arizona State linebacker commit C.J. Dozier to enroll early. The class will try to add one more in Rivals250 wide receiver Davonte Neal, who will visit on Feb. 10.

New coach: Paul Chryst
Hired: Jan. 6
Class rank: 46th overall, third in the Big East
Buzz: Compared to the previous signing class, which endured the coaching changes from Dave Wannstedt to Mike Haywood to Todd Graham, this class held together nicely. Part of the credit can go to Rivals100 running back Rushel Shell, Rivals250 quarterback Chad Voytik and Rivals250 offensive lineman Adam Bisnowaty, who never wavered when Chryst replaced Graham. Linebacker Dakota Conwell followed a handful of Pitt assistants to Arizona, but the Panthers ended up adding four-star linebacker Deaysean Rippy on Signing Day. It's a small class with only 16 signees. Worth noting: When these recruits become upperclassmen, they will play in the ACC. Pitt's class would have ranked seventh in the league.

New coach: Bill O'Brien
Hired: Jan. 6
Class rank: 50th overall, seventh in the Big Ten
Buzz: Following the death of Joe Paterno, the Jerry Sandusky scandal and the drawn-out search for a coach who can't give his full attention to Penn State until after the Super Bowl, the Nittany Lions signed its lowest-ranked class since 2003. Once Urban Meyer took over, Ohio State raided this class for defensive tackle Tommy Schutt, linebacker Camren Williams, offensive lineman Joey O'Connor and cornerback Armani Reeves. All four were Rivals250 prospects who were committed to the Nittany Lions in July. Other top prospects left for Wisconsin (offensive lineman J.J. Denman), Notre Dame (defensive tackle Jarron Jones) and Florida (quarterback Skyler Mornhinweg). Penn State held onto wide receiver Eugene Lewis and defensive tackle Jamil Pollard, who are now the anchors of the class. The Nittany Lions scrambled to fill the class with players who had low FBS scholarship offers, if that. Penn State will have its struggles in the post-Paterno era. This class affirmed that much.

New coach: Tim Beckman
Hired: Dec. 9
Class rank: Not ranked nationally, 10th in the Big Ten.
Buzz: Beckman scrambled to fill out his first class, adding 12 of the 19 members of the class after he took over in December. Eight of those picked Illinois after Jan. 22. He hit the Midwest hard, especially Cleveland Glenville. He didn't get every recruit he wanted there, but he landed three-star defensive back V'Angelo Bentley. Beckman focused on Ohio and Illinois, but one of the biggest gets in the class was Fort Lauderdale (Fla.) St. Thomas Aquinas running back Dami Ayoola. This class didn't make the big splash Ron Zook's early classes did, but Illinois hopes Beckman will lay a more stable foundation for the program.

New coach: Charlie Weis
Hired: Dec. 8
Class rank: Not ranked nationally, eighth in the Big 12
Buzz: Weis' biggest additions came from Division I quarterback transfers rather than this signing class. Dayne Crist arrived from Notre Dame and will be eligible in 2012. Jake Heaps arrived from BYU and will be eligible in 2013. Both were major recruits out of high school but couldn't hang onto the starting job with either of their teams. The Jayhawks aimed to boost their roster with junior college prospects with seven total transfers, including two defensive tackles.

New coach: Mike Leach
Hired: Nov. 30
Class rank: Not ranked nationally, 12th in the Pac-12
Buzz: Washington State finished last in the Pac-12, but the Cougars still have a stronger class than normal. Part of that is the arrival of Rivals100 wide receiver Gabriel Marks, who will give the Cougars a top-rated receiver for Leach's offense. He'll make a nice addition to a receiving corps that already includes Marquess Wilson. The Cougars hit Southern California hard in this class, which can't hurt.

David Fox is a national writer for Rivals.com. He can be reached at dfox@rivals.com, and you can click here to follow him on Twitter.



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