The Monday Morning Quarterback: Florida Failures Fuel Rivals Success


by Eric P. Burdette

by Eric P. Burdette

As the Florida Gators limp into national signing day 2015 with perhaps their lowest rated class in over twenty years, The Monday Morning Quarterback believes the Gators impotent in-state recruiting over the last five to six years has fueled the success of their rivals, FSU in particular, and left the Gators as a mere after-thought among programs nationally.

It’s no secret that the state of Florida is one of the top division one (ahem, FBS) talent producing states in the country. Every major program as well as most minor programs maintain some level of recruiting presence in the state of Florida annually.

Howard Schnellenberger made it a point of emphasis when he took over a lowly Miami program in the late 1970’s to focus on locking down the surrounding counties of Broward, Dade, Palm Beach, etc… In order to build a championship team.

He did just that and took them to a national title within five years of taking over. That is the blueprint for success for state of Florida teams.

Bear Bryant once called Florida a “sleeping giant”, a team that would potentially be dangerous once they got a coach that could recruit the state of Florida properly.

Charlie Pell did just that when he took over the Gator program and it led to the Gators first SEC title (subsequently stripped but no less won on the field) and the talent he recruited was also responsible for the Gators first number one ranking.

The Big Three programs in the state of Florida, FSU, Miami, and the Gators historically have seen their football fortunes go up and down and The Monday Morning Quarterback believes that cycle is directly correlated with the Gators ability or inability to recruit the state of Florida.

When Bobby Bowden took the reins at FSU, the Gators were in a down cycle recruiting-wise under then head coach Doug Dickey. It allowed the “aww shucks” personality of Bowden to clean up in-state which got them into the Orange Bowl in consecutive years and top ten finishes in the national polls while the Gators were sinking to the depths of an 0-10-1 season in 1979.

When Pell took over before that winless season he began to out recruit Bowden for top in-state kids which led to the rise of the Gator program and a slight decline in the Seminole program.

After Pell was investigated for recruiting violations and the Gators were put on probation (back when NCAA sanctions still had teeth) it once again gave FSU a leg up on in-state recruiting and we saw a subsequent rise by the Seminoles and decline by the Gators.

The rare time when all of the Big Three were recruiting the state on all cylinders (much of the decade of the 90’s), all of the three were at or near the top of the polls. Those three getting all the top Florida prospects was holding off out of state programs from doing so and keeping them from being competitive with the Big Three.

The next decade and a half saw the rise of Miami (2000-04), the rise of the Gators (2005-2009), and the rise of the Seminoles (2010-2014).

The recruiting prowess of Davis at Miami, Ron Zook and Urban Meyer at Florida kept the Noles down for the first decade. Miami slid down post-Davis and Florida left a huge void when Urban Meyer stepped down, stepped back, then stepped down for good one year later.

This gave Jimbo Fisher the opportunity to clean up in-state and build a championship team much like Miami and Florida had earlier this millennium.

What does all this mean? It means Florida can’t afford anymore coaching misses.

While Will Muschamp had some success on the recruiting trail, clearly he was a step behind Fisher on evaluating talent, particularly Florida talent.

Another coaching change at Florida has not only been great for FSU recruiting, but it has certainly helped some out of state teams as well including Alabama and Auburn and surprisingly Ole Miss who have all been able to cherry pick top skill talent for several years. It’s why those teams were all top ten ranked teams last season and the Gators made a coaching change.

So it’s quite apparent to The Monday Morning Quarterback that it is imperative for the new staff to rebuild old in-state recruiting strongholds for the Gators particularly Tampa and Jacksonville as well as make serious inroads into the fertile south Florida areas surrounding Miami.

Without that, the Gators will remain irrelevant while allowing rivals in-state and out-of-state to flourish at the Gators expense.

The good news for Gator fans is that when McElwain took over he pointed out their first goal was to take back in-state recruiting and he hired staff with that goal in mind bringing in Randy Shannon who has deep ties to south Florida and Miami as well as Kirk Callahan who has deep ties to the Tampa area with his father, Sean, the longtime head coach of Armwood high in Seffner.

While this staff will be severely tested coaching up some young talent the previous staff failed at coaching, perhaps the old saying “it’s less about the x’s and the o’s and more about the Jimmys and the Joes” applies here.

Maybe the old staff didn’t fail so much on coaching but rather on talent evaluation.

The new staff can’t afford to do that. They get a pass on this class, but for certain they must out-recruit the other schools in-state and out-of-state starting immediately with the 2016 class if they hope to stem the tide of success for FSU, Alabama, etc… And finally get back on top themselves.

The old standard of 70-80% in-state recruits (top level) and cherry picking top skill talent from other states as needed (Percy Harvin/Jameis Winston once-in-a-lifetime types) should be applied. This means to quit wasting so much time recruiting Georgia, South Carolina, and North Carolina and focus on top in-state recruits primarily.

The Monday Morning Quarterback believes Bear Bryant was right. Florida is a sleeping giant. One that has been awoken only a few times but has three national championships to show for those awakenings.

It’s time to awaken that beast again and take back the state of Florida recruiting from rivals who have benefitted simply from Florida’s previous malfeasance on the state of Florida recruiting trail.

I’m The Monday Morning Quarterback, and I’m out!

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