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This is how much better college football coaches do on Signing Day in Year 2 than Year 1

It’s hard to recruit players in a month or two after taking a job. Give a coach a year, and it gets a lot easier.

NCAA Football: Maryland at Central Florida
UCF’s Scott Frost and Maryland’s DJ Durkin were both hired before Signing Day 2016. UCF signed the top Group of 5 class in 2017, and Maryland signed its best class ever.
Reinhold Matay-USA TODAY Sports

Adjusting to a new job is hard. For college football coaches, it’s especially difficult — not just because of the demands of the job and the uprooting of families, but because of timing.

The coaching carousel spins fastest during late November and December, just as the season is ending. National Signing Day is the first Wednesday in February, when programs need to sign the recruits who are to be their lifeblood.

The result is a compressed timeframe that makes it tough to sign a good class in a new coach’s first season on the job. Maryland coach DJ Durkin explained this to me last year, two months after he took his job and a few days after his first Signing Day:

The hardest part in recruiting, it's about building relationships. I'm the type of recruiter that kind of stays on it and consistent and relentless about it, and just keeps going. But when you shrink that time down, it's hard to do that. Relationships are built, and you may be able to recruit a certain player, but you don't know everything, or the mom, the dad, the aunt, the grandmother – whoever all is involved, and everyone has different involvement, where if you get a full year you get an evaluation of that whole picture. And the best recruiters can identify things and say, "OK, he's the most important piece here," and they can recruit to someone else. It's circled back in the end, because that's who that guy's leaning on to make his decision.

When you're shrunk down to this much time, it's hard to even figure that whole puzzle out, let alone effectively recruit to that puzzle. It's not the first time I've been up against that. I've been at a couple different programs now where we took over. And you take over in the winter; that's just the timetable when things happen. And you've just gotta do it and do the best you can. You're going to get the guys you're supposed to get, and there may be some guys in a normal year you would've gotten that you're not gonna get. You can't sit there and worry about it. You just live with it, and you keep going.

Durkin signed a pretty decent class in his first year at Maryland, but the real achievement there was getting a class that wasn’t downright bad. Two of the team’s best commits flipped to Ohio State shortly before Signing Day, and Durkin had to keep as much as he could in place while adding wherever it was possible. It wasn’t easy, and Maryland wound up signing the country’s No. 42 class, an ordinary finish for the Terps.

By Signing Day 2017, Durkin had been in his job for 14 months. And on that day, he locked in the best class Maryland has ever signed, ranked 18th nationally.

How coaches fared on Signing Day in Year 2

Team Coach 2016 Rk. 2017 Rk. Change
Team Coach 2016 Rk. 2017 Rk. Change
Georgia Kirby Smart 8 3 5
USC Clay Helton 10 4 6
Miami (FL) Mark Richt 21 13 8
Maryland DJ Durkin 42 18 24
South Carolina Will Muschamp 25 21 4
Virginia Tech Justin Fuente 40 25 15
Rutgers Chris Ash 61 42 19
Missouri Barry Odom 43 50 -7
Iowa State Matt Campbell 55 53 2
UCF Scott Frost 66 54 12
Syracuse Dino Babers 64 55 9
Virginia Bronco Mendenhall 63 56 7
Memphis Mike Norvell 62 59 3
BYU Kalani Sitake 51 67 -16
UTSA Frank Wilson 107 73 34
Toledo Jason Candle 91 75 16
East Carolina Scottie Montgomery 78 78 0
Southern Miss Jay Hopson 98 79 19
Ball State Mike Neu 111 84 27
Texas State Everett Withers 110 85 25
Bowling Green Mike Jinks 116 86 30
Louisiana-Monroe Matt Viator 118 96 22
Georgia Southern Tyson Summers 73 97 -24
Hawaii Nick Rolovich 106 98 8
Tulane Willie Fritz 85 104 -19
North Texas Seth Littrell 102 114 -12
Illinois coach Lovie Smith is excluded, because he took his job after Signing Day 2016. Southern Miss coach Jay Hopson took his job just days beforehand. 247Sports Composite

Of the 26 head coaches who signed their second class at their current school on Wednesday, only five signed a lower-rated class this time than last time. The average change in 247Sports Composite class ranking from Year 1 to Year 2 was an improvement of eight spots in the national ranking. That was also the median change.

Former Oregon offensive coordinator Scott Frost took over at UCF on Dec. 1, 2015, after the Knights wrapped an 0-12 season. Two months later, he signed the nation’s No. 66 class, the fifth-best in the American Athletic. Fourteen months later, he signed the best-rated class anywhere in the Group of 5 conferences. Former LSU assistant Frank Wilson took UTSA from Conference USA’s fourth-worst class to its second-best.

This is why Texas shouldn’t lose hope after a poorly rated 2017 class.

Tom Herman’s first Signing Day in Austin was objectively not good. Texas’ top available target on the board, four-star defensive end K’Lavon Chaisson, picked LSU instead. The Longhorns didn’t close strong, and they signed America’s No. 26 class. It was Texas’ worst-rated class since classes started getting rated. It led to Herman giving this quote, which is not a quote you want to hear from the coach at Texas:

A year before, when Herman was at Houston, he signed the country’s No. 36 class, a huge achievement for a team outside the power conferences. Herman is a good recruiter, much in the same way that water is moist. That’s how he got here. He’s got longstanding roots in Texas, but he only had two months to update and expand them as the head coach at the state’s namesake university. Now, he has a year.

That doesn’t mean it’s impossible to recruit well right after taking a job. New Baylor coach Matt Rhule arrived from Temple in December to a class with exactly one verbal commitment. Rhule did close strong, getting Baylor up to 27 signees and landing the No. 5 class in the Big 12. But even then, of course Baylor wasn’t going to sign single-digit recruits. Rhule has a lot of room to do better, and the numbers suggest he will.