The long arduous journey known as recruiting has come to an end for the Florida Gators’ class of 2014. What began as a talent search involving as many as 200+ recruits well over a year ago was narrowed down into a signing class of just 24.
That big sigh you heard? Well that was Gator fans letting out a collective gasp as they watched once again as the Gators went 0-fer on big splash signing day announcements on ESPN. Not to worry, however, as the staff still reeled in a top ten class one year after signing a consensus top five class and only two months removed from a 4-8 season, the worst in Gainesville since they went 0-10-1 in 1979. In spite of it there are still critics who like to complain about this staff’s ability to “close”.
First, not enough can be said or written about the job the staff did in holding this class together and reeling in some huge targets in spite of the season they had. It generally takes three to four good recruiting classes to bring a program back from a low point similar to where this program was a couple of seasons ago. Will Muschamp’s first two recruiting classes were a wash so last season’s was where the foundation finally began to be laid. Recruiting is a process that is more about relationships than about football and with it beginning earlier and earlier, it usually takes two classes before a coach can start to put a solid stamp on the program and it was obvious in last season’s top rated class what coach Muschamp and company can do as far as bringing in the right combination of athletic talent, academic prowess, and leadership skills on and off the field. It’s called bringing in the right recruits not just talented football players. There’s a huge difference.
Urban Meyer brought in some great football talent that did some great things on the field for the University of Florida. However, by focusing more on talent on the field alone rather than the entire package of talent, academics, and character he brought a lot of criticism and disrepute to the program and ultimately left it in a dire state in terms of the overall long term health.
Muschamp has changed the direction of the program. He and his staff have done a fantastic job of weeding through the maze of high level talent and pinpointing highly talented, high character football players. The type of players he is bringing in have the mindset of putting in the necessary hard work not only on the football field but in the classroom as well in order to reach their full potential. That’s important. Those types of players tend to stick around, tend to graduate, and generally stay out of trouble.
In an age when so many critics decry collegiate athletics as a breeding ground for insolence and entitlement and a ‘win at all costs’ mentality, Will Muschamp is doing it the right way. He’s proving you can recruit high level athletes who are good students and exemplary citizens and still win football games in a football first league. I’ve said it before and I will repeat it again, Muschamp is building a program not a team. The best football played under his direction has yet to be played. For the critics of last season’s painful to watch 4-8 team, I say ‘hide and watch, you’ll be pleasantly surprised.
Secondly, we need to define the term ‘close’. For the critics who say Muschamp cannot close I say ‘poo poo’. Most people using that term really have no understanding of what it means. They use it to mean that he cannot reel in big targets on signing day, namely the aforementioned big signing day splash announcements on ESPN. That’s a disingenuous use of the term ‘close’. Close in the sense of recruiting is a sales term used to denote finalizing a deal. A good closer is one who can get people off the fence and get them to enter into an agreement. In recruiting it’s simply getting the guys you want to sign with you. At no point is there ever a time element involved in the proper use of the term. What difference does it make if a coach gets a commitment from a top recruit a year before signing day or on signing day? Does getting a commitment on signing day make a coach a good closer but getting it a year earlier somehow doesn’t? Nonsense.
There’s two elements that are being overlooked by critics of Muschamp’s signing day prowess. First, all the signing day announcements that had a Gator hat on the table were what are called plus one guys. Guys that will not make or break a class but you will take regardless of the numbers in the class because they are that talented. You sign them and then make the numbers work. Secondly, it is the policy of the University of Florida, which incidentally is a Florida policy, not a Will Muschamp policy even though he has expressed complete agreement with it, to not “oversign” recruits. What I mean by oversign is that NCAA rules limit the number of scholarship football players to 85 maximum. What that means is if a team through graduation or other forms of attrition have 65 players left on scholarship come signing day then they can theoretically only sign 20 players. And that is what coach Muschamp is limited to do by university policy.
There is a loophole in the rule that many teams including most SEC teams use that allow them to sign more than what get them to 85 or “oversign”. The rule says teams have to be down to the 85 limit by shortly before the start of fall camp meaning realistically they can get away with carrying more than that through spring. Alabama has been notorious for doing this. They sign more than allotted then talk some into grey shirting, holding off on enrollment until the following spring, put some on medical hardship scholarship meaning they can still continue to go to school but they don’t count against the 85, or find some alternative method such as academic scholarship and walk on status. Either way it allows a university to sift through more players over time than other schools who don’t oversign, theoretically giving them an advantage.
What it means for Will Muschamp in terms of signing day announcements is the deck is stacked against him. He doesn’t want to be left in the situation he was a couple of seasons ago where he was relying on 8 guys on signing day to make or break a class and he got shafted with no opportunity to find suitable replacements. So now he presses recruits ahead of time to inform him one way or another in time for him to make alternate plans if they are not planning on signing with Florida. So while the recruit may have a Florida hat on the table, realistically he has already informed the staff he’s not coming and they have already moved on. The hat on the table makes for good drama and gives fans unrealistic hope but it really means nothing in terms of a coach’s closing prowess. They weren’t coming anyway. Such was the case with Damien Prince this cycle where they were told on Monday he wasn’t coming to UF and they were able to contact their plan b Andrew Mike and convinced him to flip his commitment from Vanderbilt to Florida. So while to casual fans watching it looks like Florida lost a big fish on signing day, realistically they weren’t even in it and had already signed another in his stead.
Additionally, teams who practice oversigning have an advantage on those signing day announcements because they can lock down their class and still take a plus one where Florida has it’s class locked down and won’t wait on it. To give you an idea of how this works in practice for Florida, the staff knew Cody Riggs was transferring meaning they had a maximum of 26 scholarships. They had 21 commitments as of Monday. They knew at that point Treon Harris and C.J. Worton were coming leaving three slots remaining. They wanted two more offensive lineman Damien Prince and Derrick Kelley. Prince wasn’t coming so they offered Andrew Mike who accepted on Tuesday meaning there were now two slots left. Going into Wednesday morning they thought they had Kelley in the fold and would only be waiting on Adoree Jackson. They knew both Lorenzo Carter and Rocel McWilliams were going elsewhere. On Wednesday morning, Kelley actually reneged on signing with Florida and signed with FSU who had offered him late Tuesday evening. So Kelley and Jackson didn’t sign leaving them at 24 signees in this class. So out of the three recruits who announced on ESPN with a Gator hat on the table, only one was actually in play for the Gators.
In closing, all pun intended, recruiting is fun for those who follow it correctly, mindful that it is a game of impetuous young men who have a myriad of reasons for why they go where they go often lacking in reason or what would appear to be good common sense. It’s not for the feint of heart nor those who are easily offended. Regardless of what fans think about Will Muschamp the fact remains he signed a second consecutive top ten recruiting class and has laid a good foundation to clean up in 2015, which looks to be one of the deepest and most talented recruiting classes in the state of Florida in quite some time. It’s obvious to the trained eye that Will Muschamp is, indeed, a great recruiter and a great closer and the talent he has amassed between last year and this year is unbelievable.