Column: Florida Is Pretty Good at Recruiting. Are They Good Enough?
Although Florida has signed a really good 2020 recruiting class, it still feels as if Florida left much to be desired on both signing days.
The Gators filled the 2020 class with an outstanding quarterback, playmakers at receiver, huge and athletic specimen in the trenches on both sides of the ball, a future star at linebacker, and also hauled in many high profile defensive backs.
Overall, Florida had a great class on paper, that will finish in the top 10 rankings on any site you use. However, the Gators missed on some team changing targets on both signing days, as Florida only signed one of a few the Gators chased on announcement day.
Florida did land a late signee in defensive end Princely Umanmielen from Manor, Texas, as he chose the Gators over in-state schools Baylor and Texas, but missed on some of their bigger targets, primarily safety Avantae Williams.
Going back to the early signing period, Florida had a chance to flip elite defensive tackle Timothy Smith, who ended up sticking it out with Alabama. Sure this is understandable, but it still hurts when you have a prospect visit your school over 10 times, to no avail.
The Gators also had the last visit before he signed, yet couldn't beat out Nick Saban for his services. Defensive line coach David Turner had built a solid relationship with Smith, but ultimately it wasn't enough to get Smith to come to Gainesville.
Missing on Smith was a total gut punch to the Gators as many felt good about his chances to flip to Florida leading up to Early Signing Day, but Saban will always get his.
It's battles like these that you are going to have to win if you want to compete in the SEC year in year out, and Florida did just that by keeping defensive lineman Gervon Dexter away from Georgia. Florida is making significant progress, but throughout these next few years, these battles need to be won more often than not.
Moving forward to the National Signing Day in February, everyone expected Williams, arguably the nation's top safety, to become a Florida Gator. Though, Williams ultimately decided to take the road less traveled and signed with Miami.
"I like him. I thought this was a really good place for him to be for the type of kid he is," Mullen said of Williams at his National Signing Day press conference.
"I think he's a really good person and like him as a kid, and I always wish guys the best. I think we had one of the top defensive back signing classes already in the country, so really not that much. It would have been kind of a nice addition to that at the end, but I think if you look at who we brought in, in this DB class, I think we have one of the top DB classes already in the country, so it's not that big a deal."
As a recruiter, you cannot force a prospect to come to your school, but you can build relationships to ensure you have the best chance possible of that happening, which is the reason Williams is headed to Coral Gables instead of Gainesville.
"I have a great relationship with [co-defensive coordinator and safeties coach Ephraim] Banda, [head coach Manny] Diaz, [director of recruiting David] Cooney, everyone on the defensive staff," Williams told AllGators' reporter Zach Goodall.
"Everyone overall, I have a great relationship with them. It was a gut feeling I had. I felt like that's where I needed to be, so that's how I made the decision."
Relationship building is the number one reason linebacker Derek Wingo made the decision to flip to Florida, and there's no question the staff prides themselves on doing so. Still, some coaches are not as productive as others when building these relationships, which is something that Mullen will address this offseason.
I evaluate it, did you do a quality job recruiting guys in your area, did you do a quality job recruiting guys at your position, not just the guys that we got, did we do a good job recruiting. When you look back and say, did we do everything we could to get this guy, and if the answer is yes, you know, hey, he just didn't come to you, he went somewhere else.
You know, if the answer is no, then what were the mistakes, what were the issues, what did we do wrong, what could we have done differently, and you know, and that's kind of what would go into their evaluation. I'll tell you you did a great job, you did everything we could have done to get this guy, and as I look at it, I go back and hey, we talked to him, I wrote him letters, we did this, we visited him. Every time we could get to the school, we went to the school. We saw him play a game. We had him on campus multiple times. We had him on campus with an official visit, with the family, home visits, everything we could do. Kid decided to go somewhere else, I mean, that happens.
This Florida staff is simply stuck at being "very good" recruiters right now.
This is not a bad thing, but is it enough?
Florida can become that top school in the SEC again, but the Gators must take that next step to become an elite program - that requires better finishes in recruiting and on signing day. That requires prospects putting on the orange and blue cap, not only hovering their hand over it.
For example, running back recruiting was a giant question mark after Florida whiffed on five-star Damarkcus Bowman. Some will say Florida wasn't worried about the position after landing Miami transfer Lorenzo Lingard, which is a problem in itself. Part of taking that next step to becoming elite is to stack talent, which is occurring at other positions that are up to par on the team.
Yet, Jahmyr Gibbs wore the Georgia Tech cap. Ashaad Clayton will change his number from 2 to 24, at Colorado.
Needless to say, Florida must close better on these top talents. Especially the ones from Florida, and Mullen will be the first to tell you that.
Well, I think it's huge. You look, we are the University of Florida. This is the flagship school of the state, and this is where kids in the state want to come play. They want to represent the state of Florida and play at their home university. So I think that's so important for us to have those top players come here and play.
You go back and you look at the 2006 and 2008 National Championship teams, there were a lot of guys from the state of Florida on that roster. We still nationally recruit, but a lot of the top players in Florida back then we always deciding to come to school here, and it's great that we're kind of building that again back into the future.
The Gators lack a true recruiting "closer", which is concerning as Mullen continues to build talent.
Now, Florida has a void to fill with tight ends coach Larry Scott's departure, a role where Mullen has an opportunity to nail yet another hire. First and foremost, the Gators need to add an elite recruiter at tight end coach.
Mullen also hinted at the possibility of coaches on staff having their duties shifted.
Yes. Well, we might shift a bit. I think we might shift certain duties around, but we'll probably hire a tight ends coach. Or a guy that's more of a background with tight ends. But if we shift out, we might shift some -- in the next couple weeks I might have some stuff that I'm going to shift certain duties around on our staff of what they're doing besides their actual just -- individual what their position coach would be.
As of now, the 2021 class is off to a great start, as the Gators rank first in the SEC as the 2021 cycle officially kicks off on Thursday.
This next class will be telling in Mullen's recruiting outlook, as this will be his third full cycle as the head coach of the Gators.
The haul has started off with a bang, but Mullen and his staff must continue to chase and land top in-state talent to keep the ball rolling in Florida's chase of being back in national contention as the powerhouse they once were over a decade ago.
Even after some bad signing day misses, Florida is still trending up as much as any team in the country at this point in time. Mullen is the guy that has promised Florida fans to bring this program back, and things are looking good heading into his third season in charge.
There is room for improvement, but Mullen is confident in his abilities and his team to get back Florida back where they belong.