Recruits focusing on Will Muschamp
Players know his history, especially defensive prospects, but they don't know him
It took Florida just four days to find its new coach, former Texas defensive coordinator Will Muschamp. It will take a little longer than that to find out if Muschamp, known as one of the nation's top recruiters, will keep the Gators' five-year streak of top-five recruiting classes going.
Muschamp, 39, may be young but he has pedigree and knows the SEC. He graduated from Georgia, coached at LSU and Auburn and has been learning under some of nation's best coaches in Nick Saban, Tommy Tuberville and Mack Brown. He's also been a force on the recruiting trail at each stop and is considered one of the nation's best recruiters. Last season alone he helped Texas land two five-star recruits in linebacker Jordan Hicks and defensive end Jackson Jeffcoat, and another ESPNU 150 member in defensive end Reggie Wilson.
Being a defensive-minded coach will certainly help recruiting players on that side of the ball. But while prospects know his professional background, they still need to get to know him personally.
"Coach Muschamp called me this morning but I was sleeping so I just called him back," said Louchiez Purifoy, a four-star athlete from Pensacola (Fla.) Pine Forest who projects as a defensive back and has been committed to Florida since July. "He said he's still committed to me. He seemed like a good person but I honestly don't know too much about him. I haven't done any research yet. He did say that he will be his own defensive coordinator. I just need to get to know him. Right now I would still say that I am committed to Florida."
Still, Purifoy plans on visiting Auburn this month and Alabama in early January.
On the other hand, Chris Johnson, a safety from Ocala (Fla.) Trinity Catholic, is pumped about the future and isn't even thinking of looking around.
"I just read the paper and got some good background on Coach Muschamp," Johnson said. "He comes from a great coaching background and he has accomplished a lot. Hopefully we will win a national championship. I will learn, listen and support Coach Muschamp. Mr. [Jeremy] Foley made a great hire. I am solid, excited and happy."
A Perfect Match
When Urban Meyer left, many feared Florida could slip on the recruiting trail, but ESPN Recruiting's Tom Luginbill explains why Will Muschamp is a great fit for the Gators, plus what his departure means for Texas' top-ranked class. Story »
"I talked with A.C. [Leonard, a four-star athlete who projects as a tight end] just though texts last night after we found out who it would be," said Heath Nivens, Leonard's coach at Jacksonville (Fla.) University Christian School. "He's excited it was big name and big hire. But I also know he has grown attached to Coach Meyer, Coach [Scot] Loeffler and Coach [Brian] White, especially of late. Recruiting is all about relationships. He knows Florida is a great place and that they would find a great coach. My take is that he will wait and see what the staff will look like and what kind of offense they are running."
That's not the only hurdle Muschamp is facing. The Gators are sitting on 17 commitments and hope to sign a full class. But he'll need to get to know many of them in a hurry because as many as 11 could graduate this month and enroll in January.
"My initial reaction is that I see that he's a good coach although I don't know much about him yet," said Mike Blakely, Florida's four-star running back commit from Bradenton (Fla.) Manatee. "[Florida running backs coach Stan] Drayton said he's cool. I am trying to speak with him soon or do an in-home visit. I am graduating this Friday so now I just want to get an in-home soon so I can try and get to know him a little."
And that's the point most every prospect made -- they need to get to know Muschamp. Recruiting is all about relationships. While playing time, depth charts, schemes, campus, academics, and other things will factor into a decision, the relationship between a coach and a player is usually the biggest factor and that's what makes Muschamp's job that much tougher. Muschamp and his staff (which is still being put together) will have less than two months to do what other coaches have been doing for nine, 12, 18 months and more -- build relationships with the recruits, their parents and coaches.
Plus, not everyone is familiar with Muschamp.
"I do not even know who that coach is," five-star prospect Tony Steward (St. Augustine, Fla./Menedez), the nation's No. 1 ILB, said in a text message. Steward had Florida in his top five before Meyer resigned. That's obviously up in the air right now.
While Steward is more the exception than the rule as far as knowing about Muschamp, prospects are all still playing catch-up and trying to find out a little about the Gators' new coach.
"I've heard of him but I'm going to have to do a little more research on him," said Kelvin Benjamin, a four-star receiver from Belle Glades (Fla.) Central who was considering Florida before the Meyer resignation. "He's going to have to get his staff together and if they are still interested I can look forward to having more coaches come to my house."
Perhaps Tampa (Fla.) Alonso four-star defensive end Anthony Chickillo, who talked with Meyer last week and had scheduled a visit this weekend before everything happened, summed it up for a lot of recruits: "I don't know much about Coach Muschamp other than he was the Texas defensive coordinator. I don't know him as a person or how he will run the program. I look forward to meeting him and see if they are going to recruit me."
Jamie Newberg has been covering recruiting both in the Southeast and nationally for 19 years. He can be reached at email@example.com. Corey Long contributed to this story.
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