Transitional Classes Usually Disappoint

This is the fifth time I've watched a new Gator Football coach put together a recruiting class on very short notice and one thing I can say without fear of contradiction is that the first four times the results were less than stellar. I don't count Galen Hall in this mix because he took over in mid-season and his first two classes were severely limited by NCAA sanctions.

From Charlie Pell (1980) to Steve Spurrier (1990) to Ron Zook (2002) and Urban Meyer (2005), the classes signed during the transition from one staff to another has always come up short of what you would hope for. And that's not at all surprising.

There are two factors that virtually guarantee that a transitional class will have more "misses" than "hits".

First of all, the new coaches hardly know the players they are recruiting on or off the field. That are late building relationships with the obvious "A-list" prospects that everyone is after, and they are late evaluating "B-list" prospects that might fit their approach or style of play perfectly.

The second factor is that with coaching change comes schematic change. The previous staff make like certain players because they fit a certain role or niche in the team they currently have, but the new staff may have completely different ideas about the most important qualities for their scheme or style. New coaches generally honor scholarship commitments that were made be their predecessors whether they are confident in those individuals or not. That may result in one of those square peg/round hole situations that you would prefer to avoid.

None of this means you cannot have tremendous successes within a transitional class. Let's examine briefly the highlights of the last four such signing groups.

1979 ---- Charlie Pell's first group of Gators is headlined by one of the two best fullbacks in Gator history in James Jones. Jones was a standout on the field and a class act off it and had a great career in Orange and Blue. The class also got solid performances from linemen Danny Fike and John Redmond, defensive backs Ivory Curry and Sonny Gilliam, kicker Donnie Van Wie and quarterback turned tight end Mike Mularkey.

1990 ---- Steve Spurrier signed some good ones in his first class led by QB Terry Dean who was a part-time starter for two seasons. Receivers Aubrey Hill and Harrison Houston was good gets as were defensive backs Michael Gilmore and Eddie Lake and special teams demon Kedra Malone.

2002 ---- Ron Zook was a surprise hire for the Gators, but one thing the Zooker could do is recruit. Despite getting the latest start of any new Florida coach he was able to bring in Channing Crowder, Ray McDonald, Jemalle Cornelius, Ciatrick Fason, DeShawn Wynn and Dallas Baker. That's an incredible haul for a transitional class and would be considered good for a full class, especially when compared with the others on this list.

2005 ---- Unless you give Urban Meyer credit for Reggie Nelson who originally signed with Florida in 2003 this class did not produce much at all. Ryan Stamper, Louis Murphy and David Nelson were excellent contributors and Kestahn Moore, Dorian Munroe and Jonathan Phillips earned their keep, but the 18 players signed that year combined for more arrests than All-SEC honors by a wide margin.

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There's plenty of reason to believe this year's transition class will be closer to the 2002 group than the others. Will Muschamp's first class includes seven early enrollees who will begin competing for playing time from the start of spring practice. Florida may have signed a start QB and should get a lot of help in the defensive backfield, but that's really just idle speculation at this point.

The most important thing to keep in mind is this; each previous transitional class was followed up with a big time arguably No. 1 type signing group. That gives Muschamp a pair of challenges. Get the 19 kids he signed to be as productive as possible and make certain to capitalize on the full class he and his staff get to sign in the year ahead.

We'll look back on the strength of those types of classes next.


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