This is not a dignified time of year for college football coaches. Look no further than Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh — who recently held a “sleepover” with one recruit and climbed a tree to impress another — as an example to how tough the lead-up to National Signing Day can be.
If this is true for Harbaugh — a coach that leads a heritage program like Michigan that seems to be on the rise — then it stands to reason it’s even tougher for programs that might have a little less to sell —including some in the SEC.
The first programs that come to mind are probably those traditionally found at the bottom of the conference. But those aren’t actually the toughest recruiting jobs in the SEC, because while it’s almost impossible to convince top recruits to play at Kentucky or Vanderbilt, no one really expects schools like that to win many recruiting battles anyway. The truly tough jobs, when it comes to recruiting this season, belong to coaches that are faced with a combination of high expectations and an unusually tough case to make.
These are those coaches:
Gus Malzahn, Auburn
Despite the opinions of some, Gus Malzahn is likely on the hot seat at Auburn. Why? It’s because Malzahn coaches at Auburn and Auburn apparently really enjoys firing coaches. So what if Malzahn had Auburn playing for a national title two years ago? Auburn fired Gene Chizik in 2012 just two years after he won the national championship and forced out Tommy Tuberville in 2008 just four years after he’d produced an undefeated season. To Malzahn’s credit he’s put together a good recruiting class so far — ranked No. 11 so far by 247 Sports — despite the questions regarding his job status. However, those recruits choosing Auburn should be aware that the Tigers have lost a total of 11 games in the last two seasons. If 2016 brings a similar disappointment then those players will finish their careers playing for a different head coach.
Will Muschamp, South Carolina
Muschamp has a history of good recruiting. As head coach at Florida from 2011-14 his classes never finished lower than No. 11 in the 247 Sports rankings. However, Muschamp has never had a task as difficult as the one he’s facing at South Carolina — especially when it comes to offensive recruits who are no doubt aware that Muschamp’s great failing as the Gators head coach was on that side of the ball. Muschamp’s last team at Florida ranked 98th out of 128 teams in Football Outsiders offensive efficiency metric. More than a few prospects will likely be skeptical that a number like that will improve at South Carolina knowing that the offensive coordinator responsible for that performance with the Gators — Kurt Roper — has followed Muschamp to the Gamecocks. To make matters worse, Muschamp now works in a state that has talented high school players, but — because of South Carolina’s small size — fewer prospects than other Southern states, and South Carolina’s in-state rival Clemson just played for the national title, employs an exciting up-tempo offense, and may be even better in 2016 than it was this past season. That means Muschamp not only has to sell recruits on South Carolina, but also has to make the case why those players shouldn’t go to Clemson. That won’t be easy.
Kevin Sumlin, Texas A&M
Back during the 80s there was a popular soap opera that aired on CBS in prime time known as “Dallas.” In 2016 the soap opera in the Lone Star State has apparently shifted to College Station, Texas, and Aggies fans are most assuredly tired of the drama. Two former five-star prospects at quarterback, Kyler Murray and Kyle Allen, recently transferred out of the program, and another highly rated quarterback, Kenny Hill, bolted the year before that. Imagine being a recruit at that position who’s being pursued by Kevin Sumlin right now. It would be like going on a first date and finding out the person you’re with has recently been divorced three times. Check please!
Make no mistake, a scholarship offer from Auburn, South Carolina, and Texas A&M typically represents a premium opportunity for the players that receive them, but this season for varying reasons the coaches that lead those programs better be prepared to pull out all the stops for a more effective sales pitch.
Maybe they should call Jim Harbaugh for advice.