First-year UF coaches have scrambled to build first class

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Florida defensive lineman Cece Jefferson was one of former Gators coach Jim McElwain's best signees in his first recruiting class. [Kaila Jones/Correspondent]

Florida football coach Dan Mullen’s new best friend is probably the person he’s spending the most time with these days — the UF pilot who has been jetting Mullen to all parts of the country to meet with recruits.

Mullen is in full scramble mode at the moment — the same mode all new coaches are who take over a program in late November or early December.

Recruiting is all about relationships, and there just isn’t enough time for those to develop between a new coach and recruits who are meeting for the first time.

Mullen isn’t days and months behind. He’s years behind, just like all the new college coaching hires across the nation.

There is always a sense of urgency for the new coaches. It’s especially so now with the new early signing period that is only days away (Dec. 20-22).

If recent history is any indication how this will play out for the Gators, Mullen will patch together a solid first recruiting class with some players who were committed to the former staff and other prospects who were not even on UF’s board when Mullen was hired a few weeks ago.

The one near certainty is that Mullen’s second class will be better than his first.

That’s the way it went for UF’s past four coaches, who all came on board late in the recruiting process.

Ron Zook, who replaced Steve Spurrier in January after the 2001 season, put together the No. 20 class in the nation in 2002. A year later, he had the nation’s No. 2 class, one that featured five five-star signees — defensive end Jarvis Moss, defensive end Joe Cohen, wide receiver Andre Caldwell, wide receiver Chad Jackson and cornerback Dee Webb.

In 2005, Urban Meyer had a hard time filling his class, signing only 18 prospects. That class ended up being ranked 15th in the nation by Rivals. Meyer’s second class was bulging with 27 signees, including quarterback Tim Tebow and wide receiver Percy Harvin, and was ranked No. 2 in the nation.

It was a similar scenario for Will Muschamp, who followed Meyer. His first class was No. 12 in the nation. His second was No. 3.

Things went a little differently for Jim McElwain. His first class was ranked No. 23 in the nation and likely would have been out of the top 40 if five-star prospects Martez Ivey and Cece Jefferson had not fallen UF’s way on signing day. McElwain rebounded with the No. 14 class a year later.

Here’s a look at the first signing classes of Zook, Meyer, Muschamp and McElwain, and how things played out for those classes:

Ron Zook’s first class (2002)

Size: 24 signees.

Rivals national ranking: No. 20.

Counting stars: 1 five star, 9 four stars, 9 three stars and 5 two stars.

Highest ranked players in the class: Running back Ciatrick Fason, linebacker Channing Crowder, running back DeShawn Wynn, quarterback Gavin Dickey, wide receiver Jemalle Cornelius and defensive end Taurean Charles.

Went on to become impact players: Fason, Crowden, Wynn, Cornelius, offensive lineman Randy Hand, wide receiver Dallas Baker, defensive tackle Steven Harris, defensive tackle Ray McDonald, cornerback Reggie Lewis and linebacker Brian Crum.

The non-factors: Wide receiver Kenneth Tookes, running back Jimtavis Walker, quarterback Patrick Dosh, defensive tackle Todd Bunce, defensive end Mackenzie Pierre, linebacker Pat Kelly and wide receiver Terrance Holmes.

Urban Meyer’s first class (2005)

Size: 18 signees.

Rivals national ranking: No. 15.

Counting stars: 0 five stars, 8 four stars, 9 three stars, 1 two star.

Highest-rated players in the class: Linebacker Jon Demps, quarterback Josh Portis, safety Dorian Monroe, wide receivers David Nelson and Nyan Boateng and cornerbacks Reggie Nelson and Avery Atkins.

Went on to become impact players: Monroe, David Nelson, Reggie Nelson, wide receiver Louis Murphy, linebacker Ryan Stamper, running back Kesthan Moore and place-kicker Jonathan Phillips.

The non-factors: Demps, Boateng, Portis, Atkins, linebacker Darryl Gresham, offensive lineman Simon Codrington, tight end Brian Ellis, athlete Eric Sledge, offensive lineman Ronnie Wilson, offensive lineman Eddie Haupt and linebacker Kalvin Baker.

Will Muschamp’s first class (2011)

Size: 19 signees.

Rivals national ranking: No. 12.

Counting stars: 0 five stars, 11 four stars, 8 three stars.

Highest-rated players in the class: Quarterbacks Jeff Driskel and Jacoby Brissett, running back Mike Blakely, cornerbacks Marcus Roberson and Louchiez Purifoy, tight end A.C. Leonard and wide receivers Ja’Juan Story and Javares McRoy.

Went on to become impact players: Driskel, Roberson, Purifoy, defensive back Jabari Gorman, offensive lineman Trip Thurman, wide receiver Valdez Showers, punter Kyle Christie and fullback Hunter Joyer.

The non-factors: Brissett, Blakely, Leonard, Story, McRoy, linebacker Graham Stewart, defensive back Chris Johnson, offensive lineman Tommy Jordan and cornerback De’Ante Saunders.

Jim McElwain’s first class (2015)

Size: 21 signees.

Rivals national ranking: No. 23.

Counting stars: 2 five stars, 4 four stars, 11 three stars, 3 two stars.

Highest-rated players in the class: Offensive tackle Martez Ivey, defensive end Cece Jefferson, wide receiver Antonio Callaway, running back Jordan Cronkrite, athlete D’Anfernee McGriff and cornerback Chris Williamson.

Have gone on to become impact players: Ivey, Jefferson, Callaway, linebacker Kylan Johnson, offensive linemen Fred Johnson and Tyler Jordan, defensive end Jabari Zuniga and defensive end Keivonnis Davis.

The non-factors: Cronkrite, McGriff, Williamson, wide receiver Daniel Imatorbhebhe, offensive lineman Brandon Sandifer, wide receiver Kalif Jackson, defensive tackle Andrew Ivie and tight end Camrin Knight.

Contact Robbie Andreu at 352-374-5022 or robbie.andreu@gvillesun.com. Also check out Andreu’s blog at Gatorsports.com.

15 COMMENTS

    • Very true, Vulcan. Not so much a troll of Robbie per se, but I’m always suspicious of a media report in which the headline contains the word, “scramble”. Conjurs up images of hysterical, rapid circling, and generally useless movement and energy…usually applied when the writer wants to portray something as comically negative. I think Mullen’s background in the SEC generally mediates that visual.

  1. I think the main point was that this is par for the course…saving recruiting classes in year 1. There were comments on other articles where some of Gator Nation were on the ledge and dissing Mullen for not saving recruits while on the job for lest than 14 days.

  2. I think coach Mullen is doing a great job. I have have read more positive news about Gator Florida in the past two weeks than I read in the past two years when coach Mac was here. Everyday there are at least ten news items about Gator Football and recruiting. Just hope he can get us one or two top rated QB’s to replace what we presently have here. Corral is a must for us!
    Stay positive Gator Nation.

  3. Thanks for laying out the information, players and statistics. I can’t imagine how a coach could have a better first recruiting class than the second.

    Mullen is in an even tougher position because of the mid-season firing. He’s only been on the job for a couple weeks by the early signing period. These recruits have had a lot of time to find and develop other options.

    There’s also added uncertainty for some recruits based on expected changes to our playing schemes on both defense and offense. They’ve only had a couple of weeks to digest the coaching change and how it will impact their position.