The next month of Florida’s search for its next football coach should be fun for fans and reporters who strictly cover the team, but it will suck for recruiting writers.
There won’t be much going in with the Gators and the recruits they’re pursuing until a new staff is in place. UF’s current assistants will continue to keep the lines of communication open until then, but there’s a lot of uncertainty for both parties.
The coaches don’t know if they’re going to be retained by the incoming coach, and prospects are unsure if they’ll like him. Florida’s 2015 class hinges on this hire.
On to the questions!
Which recruits do you see flipping or going elsewhere with the departure of Will Muschamp? — @tshoemaker2423, @TigerCatZeroZero, @NickStow15, @Bigro94, @jamere8n, @ryan_grimaldi
Of the nine verbal commitments, quarterback Sheriron Jones, wide receiver Derrick Dillon and offensive linemen George Brown and Mike Horton are the ones to watch out for.
Nebraska doesn’t have a quarterback for 2015 and has turned up the heat on Jones, who already wanted to go on visits before Muschamp was fired. Dillon has also wanted to take some trips, and I expect him to follow through with those plans while waiting to see who Jeremy Foley hires.
Horton visited Tennessee last Saturday and Brown will officially visit Mississippi State this weekend. While both linemen have several offers, it’s unclear how many other schools would be willing to take them at this time. They’re more likely to stick with Florida than flip elsewhere, but their recruitments are worth monitoring nonetheless.
As for the uncommitted UF targets, Muschamp personally recruited all of them in some capacity. Defensive prospects will be affected most by his departure.
Five-star defensive ends Byron Cowart and CeCe Jefferson are the obvious names to point out, and both had a close relationship with Muschamp.
In my opinion, the Gators have a better shot at landing Jefferson than Cowart in the aftermath of the coaching change. Jefferson is surprisingly attending the EKU game this weekend, while Cowart told a couple reporters Wednesday that Florida State was his leader before claiming he doesn’t have one Thursday morning on Twitter.
There’s still a good chance both could come, especially if defensive line coach Brad Lawing stays on staff. If he doesn’t, it could get dicey for the Gators. Another factor helping UF with Jefferson is his signing day decision. Cowart will announce at the Under Armour All-America Game and may have just two weeks to meet and/or speak with Florida’s new coach.
Linebacker Roquan Smith is another recruit who’s been impacted by Muschamp’s firing. Unless Smith loves the next guy and the defensive staff he puts together, a commitment from him is unlikely.
Which coaches need to be retained to help this year’s recruiting class the most? — @DevinLamarr, @Jmapus01Clark, @ZonaGator77
Secondary coach Travaris Robinson is a must-have. He’s the lifeblood of South Florida recruiting for UF and has also shown the ability to bring in out-of-state recruits, namely five-star cornerback Jalen Tabor.
Lawing and offensive line coach Mike Summers would be valuable assets to keep because of their coaching experience and relationships with several 2015 linemen prospects.
Defensive coordinator D.J. Durkin was named Rivals’ national recruiter of the year in 2012. Also, tight ends coach Derek Lewis landed Florida its first Louisiana prospect (five-star defensive lineman Gerald Willis III) in more than a decade and has another one committed for 2015 (Dillon).
Does UF gain any recruits on offense with potential hire of offensive-minded coach? Lose any on defense? — @RickDanese
I mentioned Cowart, Jefferson and Smith above. But if they don’t come, it won’t be because an offensive-minded coach scared them away. It’s just difficult to build relationships in less than two months (or two weeks in Cowart’s case).
However, a high-profile coach with a track record of success on offense could entice some recruits — such as Clemson commits Deon Cain and Ray-Ray McCloud III — to take a second look at the Gators.
Cain and McCloud seem solid to the Tigers, but both want to take visits and Florida was their second school of choice. Maybe they’ll reconsider it with a splash hire.
What’s the biggest position of need before losing anyone early to the NFL draft or via transfer? — @mmajosh
The Gators have to come up big at linebacker. They lose senior starters Neiron Ball and Michael Taylor after this season and didn’t sign any LB recruits in their 2014 class. Starting middle linebacker Antonio Morrison, a junior, is expected to forgo his senior season and declare for the draft.
His departure would leave Florida with five linebackers next year, and only two have playing experience. So it’s important for UF to add depth as well as talent to the position for 2015. Florida had commitments from two of the nation’s top linebackers, Jerome Baker and Adonis Thomas, but they decommitted in October.
Thomas is still considering the Gators, and they’re in good shape with Jeff Holland, an Under Armour All-American. Other targets, including Smith, are waiting to see who UF hires as its next coach.
Which realistic head coaching candidate will be able to bring us the highest possible ranking for the 2015 class? — @WaffleWolf90
My top five coaching candidates for Florida are Bob Stoops, Gary Patterson, Mike Gundy, Hugh Freeze and Jim Mora.
All of those coaches, attainable or not, are household names and would attract recruits. Brian Kelly, Dabo Swinney and … wait for it … Lane Kiffin also would draw a lot of attention, but I think Kelly is the only hire that could happen out of those three.
Who would bring UF the highest ranking for 2015? Foley is not going to make his hire based on that, but my guess would be Freeze. He’s been recruiting defensive guys like Cowart and Jefferson for months and has a strong enough reputation to land some big-time offensive recruits. But again, all the aforementioned coaches would recruit well for Florida.
Do you think we will have a top-10 class even with the coaching change? How many players do think we sign in this class? — @justiwood, @ryan_grimaldi
The Gators might finish with a highly-ranked class on ESPN because they’re currently 32nd on that site, but I doubt they’ll have a consensus top-10 team ranking.
UF just needs to make sure the remaining needs are filled at linebacker, defensive end, offensive line, wide receiver, defensive back and running back. If at least one top-100 recruit and an extra prospect or two is added to the class at all of those positions, Florida will be fine.
Probably 21-23 sign with the Gators on Feb. 4.
That’s all for this week! Be sure to leave your questions for the next mailbag in the comment section below.