SEC Football Recruiting: Which New Coach Will Become the Best Recruiter?
Starting off as a first year coach in the SEC has to be a daunting task, especially when you consider recruiting.
The SEC is known for being the conference that has the biggest draw with elite recruits, but that's because it also features some of the most prominent programs in college football, and some of the most well respected coaches and recruiters.
Recruiting against Nick Saban and Alabama is tough for even the most established coaches, let alone first year head coaches.
Gus Malzahn (Auburn), Butch Jones (Tennessee), Mark Stoops (Kentucky) and Bret Bielema (Arkansas) are all first year head coaches in the SEC.
Which coach will become the best recruiter?
First, let's analyze each coach and their respective situations:
Mark Stoops, Kentucky
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Mark Stoops has a very tough job ahead of him at Kentucky, so everything he does needs to almost be graded on a curve.
Kentucky is a basketball school first and foremost, and for Stoops to change that he would arguably have to be the greatest recruiter of all time.
I just don't see that happening...
That said, he has the Stoops name going for him and a great coaching pedigree.
He'll improve the brand of Kentucky football and I think that's saying a lot.
Butch Jones, Tennessee
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Butch Jones is making quite a big leap from Cincinnati to Tennessee, and I'm not sure if he'll be able to handle it successfully.
What does he have going for him?
Tennessee is a big-name brand in college football and the Volunteers can draw SEC recruits. We should also see a different looking offense at Tennessee which could be a draw for recruits as well.
Jones' offense is known as a fast-paced, no-huddle system that will most likely feature a very strong running game (h/t Daniel Lewis of Nooga.com).
That said, Jones couldn't even recruit top classes in the Big East, so I have to seriously wonder how he'll be able to hold up against the better recruiters in the SEC.
This could end up being a tough transition for Jones.
Bret Bielema, Arkansas
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Arkansas is a big-time football program nationally and Bret Bielema is a very recognizable name for recruits.
At Wisconsin, Bielema's teams were always very physical on both sides of the ball and that identity should translate well into the SEC. He's also the most experienced head coach on this list by far, so those years of experience recruiting should really help him get off to a quick start in the SEC.
That said, his recruiting classes at Wisconsin were average for the most part, and its worth noting that the Big Ten is a far less competitive conference than the SEC.
Average is not going to cut it in the SEC, so while Bielema gets the benefit of the doubt because of his experience, he's going to have to step it up in the long-run.
Gus Malzahn, Auburn
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Gus Malzahn has a ton of experience as an assistant coach in the SEC and he was one of the big coaching names the year Auburn won the National Championship.
He was given a lot of credit for the success Cam Newton and the Tigers experienced that year, so now that he's back at Auburn there is a ton of buzz surrounding the program's future.
He runs an exciting brand of offense and Auburn should put up a ton of points with him at the helm. Malzahn also went out and hired a top-notch assistant staff, which should really help him out in regards to recruiting.
It may have been a very bad year for Auburn football, but the future is bright now that Malzahn is head coach.
Who Will Be the Best?
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Verdict: Gus Malzahn, Auburn
Malzahn may have the most upside out of all four new coaches in the SEC. His exciting brand of offense should be a huge draw with recruits, and he has a lot of SEC experience as an assistant—which means SEC pipelines.
He'll also benefit from the fact that Auburn, in general, is a big recruiting draw by itself. The Tigers boast one of the more well-known college football programs in the country, so they'll be on the radar with a lot of recruits.
Malzahn was smart and hired a great assistant coaching staff, and overall, he seems to be walking in to the best situation.
Sometimes being a great recruiter is just as much about the coaches and situation around you as it is about your skill-set on the recruiting trail.
In Malzahn's case, it looks to be a combination of all of those factors.