Certainly that recruiting ability would have been slowed by losses during the season and the ever ending question of the staff's longevity in Gainesville but even so, recent statements by Justin King and some others prove that this staff was on the verge of a tremendous recruiting class. What could have been a great class is now in limbo, particularly since a number of the potential early enrollees are now playing a wait and see game.
The list of early enrollee possibilities included cornerback Justin King, safety Reggie Nelson, offensive lineman Eddie Haupt, wide receiver Derrick Williams, and offensive lineman Ronnie Wilson. Any or all of these could still make a pledge to Florida, but at one point they were all close to certainties had the Gators finished their season strong and the staff had been retained. Now there is reason to believe that some may still be Gators, but nothing is for sure.
The fact is the current staff did a great job of identifying talent and getting that talent interested in the University of Florida. During this time when so much is unknown about the future coach and staff, there are still a lot of outstanding football players who grew up Gator fans who will maintain their solid interest in the UF program at least until a new coach is named. There are also a lot of kids out there whose position is one of need at UF. Those kids will likely keep their options open when it comes to the Gators.
Because so many kids were interested in becoming Gators before Zook was dismissed, the timing of naming a new coach could be crucial. If that coach is a high profile coach with a track record of success, Florida could be back in the running for almost all of the players who were locks to join the recruiting class before Zook was fired. Also, a coach with a strong enough pedigree and instant name recognition could have a positive effect on players who were not previously interested in UF. Obviously, it is all going to depend on who it is, when it is, and who on the previous staff the next coach keeps around.
If it is a big name offensive coach, you can expect the offensive recruits to at least give it a look. If the offensive-minded coach brings in a big name defensive coordinator, then it could be possible to keep recruits on both sides of the ball motivated to give Florida a long, serious look. It is also very important as to when the head coach can be named. Time is precious in December and January for the current recruiting season and the sooner the better.
If the new coach can be named by mid-December, some or perhaps even most of the recruits who were expected to enroll in Florida early could be salvaged. To save these recruits, the new coach will have to sell them quickly on his ability and the ability of this new staff, a tough, but not impossible job. Also, the sooner the new coach is hired the sooner January visit dates can be scheduled. If the new coach retains some of Zook's staff, it's possible that this could still be a January that produces a bonanza for recruiting on the signing day in February.
There are a few very good reasons why the new coach would be wise to retain at least a few of the current staff. First, it could help smooth some of the rough edges left by the awkward situation that is the Florida football program today. While wins and losses were key issues in Zook's firing, there was never a question that he and his staff were popular with recruits and in recruiting, the benefits of familiarity cannot be underestimated. If the coach who was recruiting certain kids remains on the staff, then those kids are likely to maintain their interest in coming to UF.
The staff as a whole is also very familiar with team needs and the strength of the projected class. While some players such as Justin King are in all likelihood lost as potential UF recruits, maintaining the right assistants from Zook's class could be the catalyst to keeping other high profile players. The strengths and weaknesses of the current roster are a key to evaluating the recruiting needs of this next class and classes that follow. The relatively weak 2001 and 2002 classes in quality and quantity forced the 2003 class to be a little bigger than necessary. Hopefully, some balance can be applied to the roster situation with the right moves made in this recruiting class.
It is unreasonable to expect a top five class at this point. The Gators were in store for at least a top five class, perhaps best in the nation but that possibility is diminished greatly if not completely disappeared. It is hard to imagine a complete staff of recruiters as good as the one that was already in place can be assembled in enough time to recruit a class that will be ranked among the very best. The previous staff came through with two straight outstanding classes by hard work and perseverance. The fact that they worked so well together and had a real chemistry played into their ability to bring in great talent. How quickly a new staff can be assembled and hit the road will have a lot to do with the success of the next class. The new head coach will have very little time to make staff decisions, so his margin for error is very slim.
Soon we will be listing the recruits we feel the Gators still have a legitimate shot at landing, no matter who is the next head coach. After that we will go into more depth, even assessing which recruits would be likely to sign with UF based on who is the next head coach.
Stay tuned. It's going to be a roller coaster of a ride.