- LSU's Ed Orgeron landed the top recruiting class of any new head coach, while Cincinnati's Luke Fickell led the new Group of Five coaches.
It’s the first thing a new head coach can be graded on, but it’s often not entirely fair. Sure, first-year head coaches can scramble to land quality recruits and might even be able to bring some with them from their prior jobs. But most only have a month or two at their new schools and some get just a few weeks.
So while it’s worthwhile to consider what kind of talent these new head coaches were able to land in their first classes, don’t write anyone off if his class leaves something to be desired. Still, first-year or not, the recruiting classes these coaches landed on National Signing Day will be the talent they have to work with down the line, so they could be critical to whether these coaches can build winning programs.
Here’s who did the best, according to Scout.com’s rankings:
1. LSU’s Ed Orgeron
Orgeron’s knack for recruiting and his continuity after spending most of the 2016 season as the interim head coach paid off as LSU landed the top class of any program with a first-year head coach. Even though the Tigers missed out on the top prize of signing day, five-star defensive tackle Marvin Wilson, they still finished No. 7 in the country and closed strong with some key additions like five-star K’Lavon Chaisson.
2. Oregon’s Willie Taggart
Despite battling through some scandals since his hiring (players hospitalized after off-season workouts, co-offensive coordinator David Reaves fired after his arrest on a DUII charge), Taggart managed to sign the second best class in the Pac-12. Beating out Nebraska and Mississippi State for No. 59 overall recruit Deommodore Lenoir on signing day was a nice way to cap the class.
3. Texas’s Tom Herman
If Tom Herman is going to be a successful coach for the Longhorns, this will almost certainly have to be the worst class of his tenure. No. 28 overall simply won’t cut it at Texas. Herman had a rough finish to his first class, as he watched four-stars Stephan Zabie and Chevin Calloway and five-star Chaisson all opt to leave the Lone Star State rather than sign with the Longhorns.
4. Baylor’s Matt Rhule
The fact that the Bears managed to get 27 recruits at all is a remarkable feat considering they had just one commit when Rhule was hired in December. And some of those 27 have serious potential too, particularly four-star wide receiver Gavin Holmes, who chose Baylor over Arizona State, Oregon, Nebraska, Utah, UCLA and Notre Dame. The Bears finished with the No. 36 class in the country, third best in the Big 12.
5. Minnesota’s P.J. Fleck
Fleck caught some flak for flipping recruits from Western Michigan to Minnesota, but there’s no reason for him not to if he thinks they can play in the Big Ten and no reason for them not to want to play at a higher level. Still, it is the Gophers’ earliest commits, four-star offensive tackle Blaise Andries, who headlines the 38th-ranked group.
6. Indiana’s Tom Allen
One spot behind Minnesota in these rankings, Indiana’s class trails the Gophers rather considerably overall. The Hoosiers’ haul ranks 56th in the country and 13th in the Big Ten, five spots behind Minnesota in the conference rankings. Still, given the unexpected firing of coach Kevin Wilson, Allen deserves credit for keeping this class in line with the past few. Indiana’s last two recruiting classes ranked 54th (2016) and 57th (2015).
7. Cincinnati’s Luke Fickell
The top Group of Five coach on this list, Fickell’s first class trailed only Boise State among the non-power conferences. It’s a group that should put the Bearcats in position to contend for American Athletic Conference titles down the line, especially if Fickell and his staff can continue to perform well with talent in the Cincinnati area and across Ohio.
8. Cal’s Justin Wilcox
Hired on Jan. 14, Wilcox had very little time to put his first class with the Bears together, and the members of his staff had even less time (defensive coordinator Tim DeRuyter had just over a week after his hiring). So it’s not a huge surprise to see Cal at the bottom of the Pac-12 recruiting standings, ranked 65th overall with a class of just 15 players. There were a few nice pickups here though, including four-star Elijah Hicks and Taariq Johnson. Both were early-enrollees, however, from before Wilcox was hired.
9. Houston’s Major Applewhite
This year’s Cougars class lacked the flash of last year’s under Tom Herman, which featured five-star-turned-All-America Ed Oliver. There’s definitely no one of Oliver’s class (few recruits in the entire country are), but Houston’s No. 71 ranked group, fourth in the AAC, isn’t bad for a first-year head coach.
10. Fresno State’s Jeff Tedford
Tedford likely benefitted from getting hired in early November, giving him plenty of time to build relationships for his first class with the Bulldogs. The results were a 27-member haul that ranks 74th in the country and fourth in the Mountain West. That’s a promising start given Tedford was selling a 1–11 program and he hasn’t had to recruit since Cal fired him after the 2012 season.
Next five: Western Michigan’s Tim Lester (No. 76 overall), Purdue’s Jeff Brohm (No. 77), FAU’s Lane Kiffin (No. 78), San Jose State’s Brent Brennan (No. 79), Nevada’s Jay Norvell (No. 83)