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Jim Harbaugh's recruiting strong, but how'd others do at their crucial first full classes?

The first full recruiting class is a coach's first real chance to leave his mark on his program's roster.

Rey Del Rio/Getty Images

Last offseason brought a handful of high-profile coaching transitions. Among them, Michigan replaced Brady Hoke with Jim Harbaugh, Florida replaced Will Muschamp with Jim McElwain, Paul Chryst took Wisconsin's job after Gary Andersen left for Oregon State and Pitt hired Pat Narduzzi to replace Chryst.

There's usually a lag of about two months between end-of-season coaching changes and National Signing Day, which means it's exceptionally hard for new hires to make a dent in their first recruiting classes. New coaches have to pull together staffs, get to know their rosters, build local relationships and uproot their families, all in a few weeks.

That's what makes a coach's second class at a new school so important. It's the coach's first chance to dig in for an entire recruiting cycle and capitalize on a new-car smell that hasn't quite worn off yet, not having to cram years' worth of recruiting into an eight-week period.

"It's crucial because coaches can make promises and claims that can't be judged, since they lack a track record at the new school," SB Nation recruiting analyst Bud Elliott said. "After a few years, the excitement generated by the newness wears off and it gets harder to sell playing time and hype if the wins don't come."

Here's how last year's new hires fared, based on Bill Connelly's analysis of their 2016 class rankings and how their two-year average rankings changed. (Learn more about the methodology here.)



2016 class rank New 2-year avg. rank 2-year avg. rank change
Michigan Jim Harbaugh 10 14 0
Florida Jim McElwain 16 20 -7
Nebraska Mike Riley 27 29 1
Pittsburgh Pat Narduzzi 31 35 7
Wisconsin Paul Chryst 34 33 2
Houston Tom Herman 39 61 18
Oregon State Gary Andersen 47 52 11
Colorado State Mike Bobo 71 76 13
UNLV Tony Sanchez 74 86 22
Kansas David Beaty 77 77 -8
SMU Chad Morris 79 82 4
Central Michigan John Bonamego 85 91 19
Tulsa Philip Montgomery 92 89 -6
Troy Neal Brown 101 107 10
Buffalo Lance Leipold 105 114 -10

Last season's new hires came into drastically different situations, of course.

Harbaugh and McElwain got the reins of traditional heavyweights, while Riley and Chryst took over second-tier Big Ten recruiters and Narduzzi went to a program mired in mediocrity but with plenty of talent. Herman took over an ascendant Houston and accelerated its rise, while coaches like Beaty and Leipold took huge challenges.

No new Power 5 coach totally tanked

Harbaugh was the best of the bunch. He grabbed No. 1 recruit Rashan Gary, a defensive tackle who was physically comparable to NFL players as a high school junior. His class was a masterpiece for a second-year coach, and bettors now like Michigan as a national title favorite.

Harbaugh and McElwain made it clear that the problems at Michigan and Florida were about management, not recruiting. Neither's talent base changed drastically, but both won more games than their programs had been doing previously. (Although McElwain could stand to do better in recruiting blue-chippers.)

Give a lot of credit to Narduzzi and Andersen, too. Narduzzi took over a perpetually disappointing but legitimately skilled Pitt, had a nice season and parlayed that into a seven-spot jump in two-year recruiting average. Andersen recruited really hard for the Beavers, putting together a top-50 class in a place where wooing high-end talent isn't easy.

Riley didn't drastically improve Nebraska's recruiting, and the Huskers became one of the least impressive bowl-winning teams of all time. But the Huskers have a top-30 national talent base over the last two classes and should get better.

Beaty's Jayhawks have a long road ahead.

Tom Herman and Houston headline the Group of 5

Herman followed up a one-loss, New Year's Six bowl-winning season with a top-40 2016 class. The Cougars signed five-star defensive tackle Ed Oliver, keeping the local product out of the clutches of the region's powers. Herman signed four players among Houston's 10 most-touted since the turn of the millennium. As long as the Cougars have their coach, there's no reason to think they won't keep rising.

Sanchez did a nice job at UNLV, as did Bonamego at Central Michigan. Neither team will threaten on a Houston level any time soon, but both saw significant talent jumps. The same goes for Brown at Troy, although the Trojans have millions of miles left to travel.

It's not a great time for Buffalo, which went 3-5 in the MAC and isn't exactly thriving on the trail.

Who's next?

A lot of major schools made coaching changes this offseason. We'll be watching USC to see what sort of hype a coach promoted from within, Clay Helton, can generate. Georgia's Kirby Smart and Miami's Mark Richt are in major hotbeds of talent. Who do you think will top this list next year?