New coaches face added pressure in recruiting season

Derek Dooley's hiring at Tennessee didn't create much buzz nationally, but he's done well by retaining recruits who were already committed before Lane Kiffin left Knoxville.

For Brian Kelly, Lane Kiffin and Derek Dooley, the first priority at their new jobs was just keeping it together.

 

Keeping together the recruiting class, that is.

Coaching changes at Notre Dame, Southern California and Tennessee have added intrigue to the end of the recruiting season as three of the nation's marquee programs have scrambled to hold on to their blue chippers.

"This is maybe the most suspenseful recruiting season in the 12-plus years I have been doing it," said Jeremy Crabtree, the national recruiting editor for Rivals.com.

The end is near, however. National signing day is Wednesday.

Kelly became coach of the Fighting Irish in December in what was expected to be the most dramatic hire in college football after the 2009 season.

The timing of Notre Dame's switch from Charlie Weis to Kelly was fairly typical, giving Kelly about eight weeks to put his stamp on a class that for the most part will be Weis' last mark on the Fighting Irish. Kelly's task was to quickly establish relationships with players who had spent months getting to know Notre Dame football through Weis and his staff.

"That's probably the most difficult part," said Kelly, who was recruiting before he even had a staff in place.

Kelly and the Irish lost the highest-rated player who had given Weis a nonbinding verbal commitment. Defensive end Chris Martin of Aurora, Colo., is now expected to sign with California. Another highly touted defensive end, Blake Lueders from Zionsville, Ind., switched his commitment from Notre Dame to Stanford.

If Kelly started the recruiting race late, then Kiffin and Dooley were practically running with refrigerators on their backs. Each took over less than a month before signing day.

Kiffin, a former Southern Cal assistant with a reputation as a relentless and charismatic recruiter, was able to keep most of Pete Carroll's commitments locked up and add to them.

Though the Trojans probably won't land a top-five class, which was the norm under Carroll, signing day shouldn't be a letdown for Southern Cal fans.

Nor is it likely to be a gloomy day in Knoxville, Tenn.

When Kiffin left Tennessee, panic ensued among Volunteers fans. He had already lined up a recruiting class that was expected to be among the 10 best nationally.

Before Kiffin was even introduced as the Trojans' new coach, there were reports he and his staff were trying to lure some of those Tennessee recruits to Los Angeles. Kiffin said he would recruit a Tennessee commitment only if the player reached out to him and was interested in making a change.

Though several players decommitted to Tennessee after Kiffin left, through Monday, none of them had committed to Southern Cal. The most prominent player to bail on Tennessee was defensive end Brandon Willis from Duncan, S.C., but he's now committed to North Carolina.

Receiver Markieth Ambles of McDonough, Ga., cooled on Tennessee and took a visit to Southern Cal, but he still could end up with the Vols or North Carolina.

 

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