Next Florida coach can inherit talent, if Gators move quickly

While the decision to sever ties with Jim McElwain doesn’t come as too much of a surprise, considering Florida’s lack of improvement on offense over two and a half years, there are some immediate impacts to consider at Florida, especially on the recruiting trail.

McElwain didn’t recruit as well as his predecessor Will Muschamp, especially on defense.

The Gators’ classes in 2015 and 2016 didn’t finish as well as expected, ranking 21st and 12th in the country. As a result, the Gators’ Blue-Chip Ratio, which shows what percentage of a team’s signees are rated four- or five-stars (“blue chips”) as recruits, fell significantly:

Somewhat incredibly, Florida has fallen all the way from 54 percent in 2014 to 37 percent now, easily the lowest they’ve been in a decade. The reason is the inability to land star players in 2014-16, with only 23 four- and five-stars among 70 signees.

Jim McElwain shook up his staff, it paid dividends in the 2017 class, and the Gators are in line to sign an elite crop in the 2018 cycle.

It’s Florida; the Gators should never be signing fewer star players than 18 other teams in a four-year period.

Blue-chip ratio fallers

Team 2014 2017 Net
Team 2014 2017 Net
Notre Dame 63% 56% -7%
Rutgers 12% 4% -8%
Virginia 16% 6% -10%
Nebraska 30% 19% -11%
Oregon 41% 28% -13%
California 22% 9% -13%
Texas 60% 46% -14%
Florida 54% 37% -17%

Defensively, McElwain signed just five blue-chip recruits in his 2015 and 2016 classes combined. Those guys included five-star DE Cece Jefferson in 2015, five-star DE Antonneous Clayton, four-star CB Chauncey Gardner, four-star DE Jordan Smith, and four-star LB Jeremiah Moon. Just two of those players, Jefferson and Gardner, have earned significant playing time at Florida so far, and Moon has gotten some reps this season.

In 2015, Florida had just two blue-chip recruits who signed on offense, including five-star offensive tackle Martez Ivey and four-star RB Jordan Scarlett, who has been suspended along with six others for the entire 2017 season due to his alleged involvement with a credit card fraud case. McElwain’s class the next year had a significant improvement in signing blue-chips on offense, however, getting five of them, including four-star QB Feleipe Franks.

A big reason for that was the changes he made on his staff, which had a positive effect on the recruiting trail. During last year’s recruiting cycle, McElwain’s class finished 11th in the country, fifth in the SEC. There were 11 blue-chip recruits, the majority of whom were from the state of Florida.

But Florida’s 2018 class was shaping up as his best yet. It ranks No. 7 nationally, and second in the SEC per 247Sports, featuring 10 blue-chip recruits, all of whom are four-stars.

One of the most important blue-chips to try and keep during this coaching change, no matter how unlikely it might seem, is quarterback Matt Corral from Long Beach, Calif., who’s the No. 3 pro-style quarterback in the country. Corral was committed to USC before flipping to Florida over the summer.

When any program goes through a coaching change, the recruiting class that year is quite transitional, and typically doesn’t reflect the classes the coach will bring in later. But hanging on to Florida’s momentum on the recruiting trail the last year or so is huge for whoever the Gators hire.

Florida’s interim head coach Randy Shannon was asked on Monday about how he plans to handle communicating with recruits through the transition.

The timing of the hire is also pretty significant, thanks to December’s early signing period, which will go into effect for the first time this year.

“In a perfect world, you would have someone in place in time to positively affect the ability to sign players for the early signing period,” Florida AD Scott Stricklin said. “However, we are going to make the best long-term decision for the University of Florida.”

Whoever Florida hires next, he’ll have the members of the Gators’ last two cycles already waiting for him on the roster. Not to mention, the majority of the talent on Florida’s current roster are younger guys, anyway. Even if the new coaching staff loses some of what currently makes up Florida’s current class, the majority of the class is very strong.

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