Coaching carousel affects recruits
Kadron Boone was set to join Mike Leach's program at Texas Tech. The 6-foot-2 receiver from Ocala (Fla.) had visions of being the program's next Michael Crabtree and chose the Red Raiders over offers from several in-state and regional programs.
On Dec. 30, Boone's plans changed. Leach was fired from Texas Tech and eventually replaced by former Auburn coach Tommy Tuberville.
"I was completely stunned," Boone said. "I had to take a step back and decide what I was going to do."
Boone has since reopened his recruitment and taken trips to Louisville, Georgia and West Virginia, with a trip to LSU planned. Those four schools, along with Texas Tech, are his five finalists, and an announcement is scheduled for national signing day.
"[Leach's firing] made me open my eyes and now I've got a few options," Boone added. "They are all good programs."
Leach's firing was one of the many major coaching changes that happened over a wild three-week period from the end of December to the middle of January.
When the smoke cleared, there were new staffs at USC, Notre Dame, Tennessee, Florida State, Louisville, South Florida, Cincinnati and Marshall, among others.
There was also Urban Meyer's strange one-day resignation that turned into an abbreviated leave of absence at Florida.
But arguably the biggest shock of the offseason came when Lane Kiffin left Tennessee after just one season to replace Pete Carroll at USC.
"That one really surprised me," said Lithonia (Ga.) running back and Florida commit Mack Brown. "He was doing well in Tennessee and I thought he was going to be there for the long haul."
The Volunteers' recruiting class was approaching a top-five ranking from Scouts Inc. before Kiffin's departure. Shortly thereafter, the Volunteers lost defensive end Brandon Willis (Duncan, S.C./Byrnes) to North Carolina and linebacker Michael Taylor (Pensacola, Fla./Booker T. Washington) to Florida.
Despite those losses, Tennessee had eight early enrollees stick to their commitments, and new coach Derek Dooley will have the opportunity to salvage the remainder of the class and could finish with a top-10 ranking.
"They took a hard hit immediately following Lane Kiffin's departure," said ESPN's national recruiting analyst Tom Luginbill. "But Derek Dooley is now in the introductory phase of who he is and what he is all about and I think it will pay dividends for [signing day]."
Meanwhile, Kiffin's transition to USC saw his method change from being an aggressive recruiter to a caretaker of a class that will be small in numbers but big on talent.
"We don't feel like they will have a top-five class, but it will be very strong nonetheless," added Luginbill. "As long as they don't lose any verbals from California between now and next Wednesday, they will be fine."
Kiffin was able to shore up the commitments of wide receiver Kyle Prater (Hillside, Ill./Proviso West) along with top in-state prospects Robert Woods (Gardena, Calif./Junipero Serra) and Dillon Baxter (San Diego/Mission Bay).
And don't be surprised if the Trojans pull off a surprise or two on Feb. 3. USC is currently in the running for several ESPN 150 blue-chip prospects, including defensive lineman Jackson Jeffcoat (Plano, Texas/Plano West) and offensive lineman Seantrel Henderson (St. Paul, Minn./Cretin-Derham Hall).
One name that might be crossed off of Kiffin's last-minute wish list is Ronald Powell (Moreno Valley, Calif./Rancho Verde). Even though the nation's top-rated prospect is from the Golden State, he doesn't appear to be wavering from his commitment to Florida.
"Not me, I'm happy with my decision," Powell said. "Florida is the right fit for me and I'm happy that Coach Meyer is getting better."
Florida hasn't suffered a coaching change, yet. Meyer's original decision to resign left everyone in Gainesville reeling, but a day later he adjusted it to a leave of absence and Florida has reaped the recruiting benefits.
"It was definitely a surprise when he said he was going to take a break," Powell added. "But when I was able to talk with the coaches and some of the other recruits about it, I knew it was going to be for the best."
The staff's ability to reassure recruits has been one of the keys to the Gators' success, despite Meyer's uncertain status.
"Urban Meyer and Florida have not missed a beat -- in fact, they have improved their recruiting efforts tremendously since late December," Luginbill said. "On paper, they may have the best recruiting class in recorded history."
The Gators' class of 26 verbal commitments reads like a who's who from the Class of 2010 and includes both MVPs from the Under Armour All-American Game, Michael Taylor (Atlanta/Westlake) and defensive lineman Dominique Easley (Staten Island, N.Y./Curtis).
Florida also added the top in-state prospect in Matt Elam (Palm Beach Gardens, Fla./Dwyer), who was recently named Florida's Mr. Football.
Elam, who had committed to Florida before the start of his junior season, backed off after Meyer's initial announcement and actually changed his verbal commitment to in-state Florida State before changing back during the U.S. Army All-American game.
"It all came down to Coach Meyer," Elam said during his announcement. "I have a great relationship with Coach Meyer and I have a lot of faith in him."
The Gators are not finished either, as they are also in the running for Henderson along with top linebacker prospects Jordan Hicks (West Chester, Ohio/Lakota West) and Christian Jones (Oviedo, Fla./Lake Howell).
For Notre Dame's Brian Kelly and South Florida's Skip Holtz, the recruiting situation is a little more complicated. Both coaches are inheriting recruiting classes and have had limited time at their schools.
"In all fairness, [Kelly] has spent much of his time evaluating this class that he did not necessarily recruit and try to keep it together," Luginbill added. "The same can be said for [new Texas Tech coach] Tommy Tuberville. It's too early to tell on Holtz because he was hired too late."
Other coaches -- like John "Doc" Holliday at Marshall and Charlie Strong at Louisville -- were able to make an immediate splash.
"Much to the disliking of West Virginia fans, [Holliday] has stolen three committed prospects from them," Luginbill said. "Strong has shown some promise with his ties in Florida and getting players like wide receiver Michaelee Harris."
One new head coach who has stood out for ESPN The Magazine writer Bruce Feldman, who covered recruiting in his book, "Meat Market," is Jimbo Fisher from Florida State. In Fisher's case, he was groomed to take over the head-coaching duties from the legendary Bobby Bowden during the past three seasons. The plan appears to have worked as the Seminoles' class is currently ranked ninth overall and features many in-state prospects like linebacker Jeff Luc (Port St. Lucie, Fla./Treasure Coast) and cornerback Lamarcus Joyner (Miami/St. Thomas Aquinas).
"I've been so impressed by FSU since Fisher was named the head guy," added Feldman. "He brings in an ace recruiter like Eddie Gran who has such ties in South Florida that it really helps the Noles close on a handful of elite kids down there."
Fisher could have one of the most impressive closing weeks in the nation if he can secure the commitments of top in-state prospects like Jones, Christian Green (Tampa, Fla./Tampa Catholic) and Corey Lemonier (Hialeah, Fla./Hialeah).
"The question over the next week will be whether Jimbo Fisher proves to be the same closer that Bowden was down the stretch," Luginbill added.
With all the coaching changes, it would be natural to think that top recruits in the future may wait longer before making a verbal commitment. In Boone's case, his high school, Trinity Catholic (Ocala, Fla.), doesn't allow students to graduate early.
"In hindsight, that was a blessing because I might have thought about enrolling early at Texas Tech," Boone added.
Feldman says while recruits may become more cautious with their early verbal commitments, the college coaches will still try to force the issue even though it could eventually backfire for the prospect.
"The trouble is schools can still force their hands saying if they don't commit they might not have room later," Feldman said. "It's really tricky."
Several coaches had suggested that the NCAA consider an early signing period for football so programs could better protect the recruits who commit early. But as January coaching changes become the norm, an early signing period would be tough to implement.
Brown says that it's important to be patient during the process, but there doesn't have to be a particular length of time attached to it.
"There's always going to be reasons to commit early or not to commit early; the main thing is that you have to commit when you're ready," Brown said. "And at the end of the day you want to be able to commit to the school and not necessarily the coach."
Corey Long is a freelance writer in Florida.
COUNTDOWN TO SIGNING DAY
The day that high school seniors -- and the coaches courting them -- have been waiting for has arrived. Feb. 3 marks a new beginning for programs. ESPN.com will be following all of the action. Recruiting home