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How the FBS first-year coaches fared on the recruiting trail

By Jerry Hinnen | College Football Writer
Bobby Petrino did a solid enough job in his first recruiting cycle at WKU. (US Presswire)

The 2012-13 offseason has produced a stunning amount of coaching turnover, as a full 31 of the FBS's 124 teams -- exactly 25 percent, give or take a Georgia State or Old Dominion -- will enter this coming season with a different head coach from the season before.

All that upheaval made for some chaotic final days on the recruiting trail leading up to Wednesday's National Signing Day. While some coaches thrived under that pressure, some did not. Here are three first-year coaches who succeeded hands-down, three who did enough for some optimism going forward and three who struggled, with all team rankings based on the 247Sports composite rankings:

THUMBS UP

Gus Malzahn, Auburn, No. 11: Only one first-year coach guided his team into the final signing day top 15, and thanks to some outstanding recruiting of his own when it came time to fill out his coaching staff -- "flipping" Rodney Garner from Georgia, Dameyune Craig from Florida State and Melvin Smith from Mississippi State -- that coach was Malzahn. Garner was particularly influential in building arguably the nation's best defensive line class, but Malzahn's presence also helped add late-class playmakers like four-star wideout Tony Stevens and coveted running back Johnathan Ford.

Bret Bielema, Arkansas, No. 22: Maybe 22nd in the country (and sixth in the brutal SEC West) doesn't pop off the page, but it's worth remembering two things: 1. The Hog class wasn't in great shape when Bielema arrived, thanks to the uncertainty concerning the previous coaching staff; 2. Arkansas's classes usually don't pop off the page, thanks to one of the thinnest in-state talent pools in the SEC. (They finished 33rd in 2012 and 23rd in 2011 only due to huge numbers.) With new assistant Randy Shannon helping mine the Miami area for players like now-famous five-star tailback Alex Collins and jumbo guard Denver Kirkland, it only took Bielema two months to assemble a class arguably as good as any that Bobby Petrino ever signed.

Gary Andersen, Wisconsin, No. 37: As for Bielema's old program, again, 37th perhaps doesn't look impressive. But this is a program whose undersized 2012 class was ranked 71st and whose five-year ranking average at Rivals entering 2013 was 53rd. So it's not insignificant that Andersen kept four-star DE Chike Obiseh in state, signed a potent dual-threat QB talent in Tanner McEvoy, corralled Wisconsin's typical sleepers from places like Florida and New Jersey and signed what 247Sports considered the best class in the Big Ten outside its four traditional best-recruiting schools. Given that Andersen arrived in Madison as essentially a state-of-Utah coaching lifer, another year of learning the Midwestern recruiting ropes should produce even bigger things.

THUMBS POISED SOMEWHERE IN THE MIDDLE

Bobby Petrino, Western Kentucky, No. 95: Despite the emphasis placed on them by posts exactly like this one, recruiting rankings are never an exact science. They become that much less exact in the largely unscouted likes of the Sun Belt Conference. So it's hard to know exactly what to think about Petrino's first (and only?) recruiting class in Bowling Green -- was he able to sign the league's third-best class and its third-most three-star prospects because his name recognition and BCS track record dwarfs that of his Sun Belt coaching rivals, or is the large number of prospects in the class (34) helping disguise that concerns over Petrino's commitment to WKU left him badly trailing league recruiting leader UL-Lafayette? The bottom line is that, by both Sun Belt standards and Western Kentucky's standards, this class is well above average; both its sheer numbers and tackle Joe Fennell should provide a solid foundation for the program. But it also won't guarantee any championships if Petrino isn't around to coach it.

Willie Taggart, South Florida, No. 54: Taggart hit the ground running in Tampa and produced a class that most would call a decisive success, given the constraints of the shortened timeframe and USF's disastrous 2012 season; prospects like ballhawking corner Lamar Robbins and QB Michael White gave the Bulls the best class in the future Big East. But that's not saying much given the competition. And between USF's access to one of the most fertile recruiting grounds in the country, a down year for recruiting rival UCF and Taggart's reputation as an oustanding recruiter, there's an argument to be made the Bulls can do better than a class without a single consensus four-star. (Skip Holtz's last class in Tampa featured two and ranked 47th.) With a full cycle to work with, Taggart should produce vastly improved results ... but he'll have to if USF is to become nationally relevant again.

Mark Helfrich, Oregon, No. 19: Helfrich's inaugural class has been labeled a failure in some corners, since the rampant advantages the Ducks have on the trail -- a program that hasn't missed a BCS bowl since 2008, Phil Knight-funded facilities (and uniforms), the most consistently explosive offense in the country -- are sometimes expected to translate into automatic top-10 finishes. While it's true that this is the lowest-ranked class for the Ducks since 2009, the lack of local prospects means Oregon was never a recruiting juggernaut under Chip Kelly (they finished 13th each of the last two seasons), and the per-recruit average ranking for Helfrich's 19-member class is right in line with (or slightly better than) Kelly's classes. Could Oregon do better? Quite possibly. But with players like Thomas Tyner still making their way to Eugene, there's no real difference between Helfrich's first effort and the classes that have made the Ducks an annual national title contender.

THUMBS DOWN

Butch Jones, Tennessee, No. 25: As written in this space previously, taken in the vacuum of the Vols' back-to-back 5-7 seasons and his late arrival, Jones's first class at Tennessee isn't a disaster and might even be a mild success after the additions of MarQuez North and Joshua Dobbs. But Jones isn't coaching in that vacuum -- he's coaching in the real world, where his cash-strapped athletic department needs immediate results, where the Tennessee faithful aren't offering the benefit of the doubt to a coach who wasn't their first, second, third or likely 14th choice, and where real progress is going to require doing more than just missing on a game-changer like Vonn Bell or Carl Lawson. Tennessee fan blog Rocky Top Talk summed it up; "While I'm not prepared to lessen belief in Coach Jones because of missing on Bell and Levenberry (and Lawson, and Ford, etc.)," it states, "they were all opportunities for him to inspire hope, and the opportunities were missed."

Steve Addazio, Boston College, No. 91: Recruiting to Boston College is hard, recruiting to Boston College on a shortened time frame is harder and recruiting to Boston College on a shortened time frame in the wake of two dreadful seasons is hardest. But that still doesn't mean finishing between UAB and Texas State in anyone's recruiting ranking system is acceptable by ACC standards -- the Eagles finished dead last among all "Power Five" conference schools, 12 spots behind Georgia Tech -- and that goes double, arguably, for a coach whose Northeastern recruiting ties are one of his major selling points.

Dave Doeren, NC State, No. 60: According to the 247Sports composite, here is a comprehensive list of out-of-state schools that signed a higher-ranked recruit from the state of North Carolina than the Wolfpack: LSU (x2), Tennessee (x2), South Carolina (x3), Clemson, Stanford, Ohio State, Virginina Tech and Virginia. Doeren is a Midwestern coach who's going to take some time to forge local recruiting ties, but it looks like he'd better make them in a hurry.

How the rest fared: Here are the other 22 first-year FBS coaches and their final 247Sports composite team ranking, bearing in mind (again) that differences are more neglible and the scouting less precise toward the bottom of the rankings:

SEC: Mark Stoops, Kentucky, No. 36; Big Ten: Darrell Hazell, Purdue, No. 62; Big 12: Kliff Kingsbury, Texas Tech, No. 52; Pac-12: Sonny Dykes, Cal, No. 39; Mike MacIntyre, Colorado, No. 67; ACC: Scott Shafer, Syracuse, No. 77; Big East: Tommy Tuberville, Cincinnati, No. 57; Matt Rhule, Temple, No. 85; Non-BCS: Todd Monken, Southern Miss, No. 82; Skip Holtz, Lousiana Tech, No. 84; Brian Polian, Nevada, No. 94; Bryan Harsin, Arkansas State, No. 98; Rod Carey, Northern Illinois, No. 104; Matt Wells, Utah State, No. 107; P.J. Fleck, Western Michigan, No. 110; Doug Martin, New Mexico State, No. 112; Ron Turner, FIU, No. 113; Paul Haynes, Kent State, No. 116; Sean Kugler, UTEP, No. 120; Ron Caragher, San Jose State, No. 122; Paul Petrino, Idaho, No. 123; Trent Miles, Georgia State, No. 124.

 
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