News broke on Monday that Tennessee tight ends and special teams coordinator Mark Elder has been hired away as the next head coach at Eastern Kentucky. While Ole Miss isn't exactly going toe-to-toe with EKU for croots, they definitely are in some battles with the Vols. The loss of Elder, who was one of Butch Jones' best recruiters, might have opened some doors for Hugh Freeze and Co. on the recruiting trail.
That got us thinking about how the coaching carousel at large might impact the Rebs' 2016 signing class. There have been 22 FBS head coaching positions that have come open since the season began back in September, 19 of which have been filled. Some of the notable hires that could trigger some dominoes are Will Muschamp leaving Auburn for South Carolina, Mark Richt being let go at Georgia before resurfacing at Miami and Southern Cal retaining Clay Helton.
Let's take a look at those three hires specifically and how they could create ripples in Oxford.
Will Muschamp to South Carolina
Puncho leaving the Plains brings nothing but good Christmas tidings to Freeze and his staff. The defensive coordinator turned head coach turned defensive coordinator turned head coach really left Gus Malzahn in a bind when he jumped at the head coaching job in Columbia. To add insult to injury, Muschamp is taking Auburn's secondary coach, Travaris Robinson, with him. Muschamp headed up most of the crootin for defensive targets, but Robinson is a tenacious guy on the crootin trail and has really left a gaping hole open in Auburn's staff.
This could affect defensive tackle Rashan Gary, the newly-minted No. 1 player in the country at Rivals.com. The 6'5, 290-pound five-star player from New Jersey has Ole Miss, Auburn, Michigan and Southern Cal as his finalists and seemed to enjoy his visit to Auburn for the Iron Bowl, but the Gary camp wasn't happy once the news broke that Muschamp was bailing. It's no secret that Rashan's mother is a little uneasy about her son going to college in the South and this move by Muschamp could knock Auburn down the pecking order for the Rashan Gary Sweepstakes.
Another head coaching hire that could affect Gary is D.J. Durkin leaving Michigan for the Maryland job. Durkin was Gary's primary recruiter at Michigan. I don't think this completely leaves them out of the running, but it certainly hinders their chances.
Mark Richt to Miami (Fla.)
After 15 seasons, 145 wins and two Southeastern Conference titles, Georgia had apparently had enough. Good riddance, in terms of Ole Miss crootin. With his sudden departure, Freeze will now look to put the clamps down on a few Georgia targets who were already contemplating leaving the state.
The most notable is five-star tight end Isaac Nauta. The IMG Academy star is originally from Buford, Ga. and is considered by most to be a lock to sign with the Bulldogs. The 6'4, 235-pounder has a top five of Alabama, Georgia, Michigan, Ole Miss and Oklahoma State and will more than likely be a signing day decision, which gives Freeze plenty of time to make a more than convincing sales pitch. Still, I'm afraid this one is a lost cause.
Another name to keep an eye on is five-star athlete Mecole Hardman, Jr. Few are considering Ole Miss to have a real shot with him, but the 5'10, 171-pound speedster has been mentioning the Rebs for quite some time now and lists them among his top schools. As of this moment, it appears Georgia and Tennessee are the teams to beat for Hardman's signature, but the No. 15 player in the country will officially visit Oxford the last weekend in January, right before National Signing Day.
Clay Helton promoted at USC
After the unfortunate departure of Steve Sarkisian, Southern Cal turned to their offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach to hold down the interim gig while they conducted a search of their own. After the Trojans won eight games and the Pac-12 South division title, athletic director Pat Haden decided to give Helton the permanent job.
You would think that Ole Miss wouldn't have a dog in the hunt out west in Helton's primary crootin area, but you'd be wrong. Five-star linebacker Mique Juarez is very much in play after his official visit to Oxford for the LSU game. Winning the battle against Helton will be a tall task with him staying in place. A brand new staff would have been pie in the sky for Ole Miss, but prying the West Coast native away from the Trojans doesn't seem likely. Since he is an early enrollee, Juarez will have to make a decision soon. This can be a really good thing or a really bad thing. That's typically how crootin goes.