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Tuesdays with Gorney: Checking in on second-year coaches

Bryan Harsin
Bryan Harsin (USA Today Sports Images)

So much talk has been centered around first-year coaches and how they’re doing on the recruiting trail but in today’s Tuesdays with Gorney, Rivals national recruiting director Adam Gorney takes a look at how second-year coaches are doing so far - and whether some might already be on the hot seat:

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SHANE BEAMER, South Carolina

Beamer has breathed life back into the South Carolina program after the Gamecocks were floundering toward the end of the Will Muschamp era and had very little identity especially on offense. In his first full recruiting class, Beamer got South Carolina to No. 27 nationally and landed some elite four-stars in Landon Samson, who could catch a ton of balls for the Gamecocks, got four-star QB Tanner Bailey in a heated recruiting battle down the stretch and others as well.

In such a competitive SEC, the Gamecocks finished No. 12 in the SEC last recruiting cycle but there were lots of recruiting wins along the way. So far in 2023, Beamer has commitments from four-star S/LB Jaden Robinson and four-star RB Dontavius Braswell although Georgia could make a run at him after losing out on Justice Haynes. So far, so good for Beamer, who finished 7-6 in his first season after back-to-back losing seasons in Columbia to close out the Muschamp era.

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JEDD FISCH, Arizona

The first season was ugly for Fisch with a 1-11 record (one of the worst campaigns in program history), but did not hurt recruiting one bit. It was an amazing run for the Wildcats as they landed five-star receiver Tetairoa McMillan and finished with the No. 1 class in the Pac-12 team rankings.

Arizona loaded up with players who could provide immediate help in Tucson like McMillan, four-stars Keyan Burnett, Rayshon Luke, Ephesians Prysock and others and intriguing ones like undersized QB Noah Fifita. Fisch has a built-in advantage that things cannot get worse so any improvement will be seen with optimistic eyes.

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BRYAN HARSIN, Auburn

It has been a tumultuous time for Harsin so far at Auburn and there was widespread belief that he wouldn’t make it to the 2022 season. Harsin has survived, though, but the Tigers went 6-7 in his first season, the first losing campaign for Auburn since 2012 under Gene Chizik, and that got him fired even though Chizik had recently won a national title on The Plains. It was Harsin’s first losing season ever as a head coach.

Recruiting has actually been going relatively well even with the offseason uncertainties. Harsin’s first full recruiting class in 2022 finished No. 18 nationally with 12 of 18 signees listed as four-star prospects. The Tigers are off to a slow start in 2023 but all four commits are mid-level four-stars and all very talented in WR Karmello English, RB Jeremiah Cobb, DB Terrance Love and OC Bradyn Joiner. Although he’s not responsible for the 2021 class, it had only four four-stars and three have already transferred.

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BRET BIELEMA, Illinois

Bielema deserves a lot of credit for his first season at Illinois even though the team finished with a losing record. The cupboards were not exactly full when Bielema got to town but his team still beat Nebraska, Penn State in a nine-overtime thriller, Minnesota, Northwestern and Charlotte, and then had some close losses as well that could have swung the other way.

Recruiting is going to be a challenge at Illinois no matter what. The Illini finished No. 41 in Bielema’s first full recruiting class with no four-stars and none of the top 10 in-state players. But four-star Kaden Feagin from Arthur (Ill.) Arthur-Lovington was a huge win early in the 2023 recruiting class and the coaching staff has targeted many overlooked players from the state of Florida, winning often in those recruiting battles over the last couple cycles.

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JOSH HEUPEL, Tennessee

There is excitement in Knoxville once again as Heupel went 7-6 in his first season. Recruiting is going very well and there is talk of big things once again for the Vols. Heupel’s first full recruiting class finished No. 13 in the team rankings, landed Tyre West after a long commitment to Florida State, James Pearce could have star potential, quarterback Tayven Jackson is very good if given a shot because five-star commit Nico Iamaleava is even better and Justin Williams could see carries at running back.

The 2023 class is loading up and isn’t done yet led by Iamaleava and four-stars Chandavian Bradley, Ethan Davis, Caleb Herring, Sylvester Smith and others. Things are going much better recently for Tennessee, which hasn’t won double-digit games since 2007.

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CLARK LEA, Vanderbilt

Vanderbilt has not had a winning season since James Franklin’s last year in Nashville in 2013, so there’s no doubt it’s an incredibly difficult task to win there. Lea went 2-10 and winless in the SEC in his first season. It doesn’t help losing to East Tennessee State by 20 in the season opener and having Stanford on the non-conference schedule.

Buy-in and culture are improving and that’s not an issue, but it’s arguably the toughest job in the country because the conference schedule is just killer. In recruiting, Vanderbilt finished a respectable No. 35 nationally in Lea’s first class with QB AJ Swann (a longtime Maryland commit) and four-star LB Daniel Martin leading the way. More four-stars are needed in 2023, though, as all 11 commits are of the three-star variety.

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STEVE SARKISIAN, Texas

Charlie Strong never had a winning season at Texas. Tom Herman never had a losing one. Neither worked out over the long haul and now after going 5-7 in his first season, Sarkisian has some people guardedly optimistic about what he’s building in Austin. Recruiting almost could not be going better as the streamers are still being picked up following five-star Arch Manning’s commitment this summer. It led to a string of other pledges as the Longhorns sit with the third-best recruiting class in the country.

There are 12 four-stars with DB Derek Williams out of Louisiana and in-state WR Johntay Cook committed. In his first full recruiting cycle, Texas won for top OL Devon Campbell and Kelvin Banks among others. Ja’Tavion Sanders, a five-star in the 2021 class, needs to find his role this season at tight end.

From a recruiting perspective, the program looks energized. On the field for Texas, a 5-7 season is never good, including losing six of its last seven along with an embarrassing loss to Kansas. Year 2 for Sarkisian – and the goodwill he has bought with recruiting wins – could make things even more interesting.

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