The clear winner is Gus Malzahn. Auburn was a team of destiny. After winning their last two regular season games via impossible last plays against Georgia and Alabama, they proceeded to dismantle Missouri for the SEC Championship. Malzahn, with his 12-2 record, is the cream of the crop of first year coaches, hands down, even though they lost to Florida State in the last BCS title game. A lot of coaches will be looking at his shotgun triple option offense.
Here's how I see things for the first year coaches. I've included the pre-National Signing Day recruiting for 2014 just to show how well the coaches recruit, but NSD begins the 2014 football season. It is also the end of the 2014 recruiting cycle and the "official" beginning of the 2015 recruiting cycle.
1. Gus Malzahn, Auburn Tigers - Auburn finished with a 12-2 record and an SEC Championship. Auburn's 2013 recruiting class was ranked #8 and the 2014 class is currently ranked #10 by Rivals. This class will move up a few notches by signing day. Auburn was winless in the SEC in 2012, now they've played Florida State for a national championship. Malzahn was picked as the National Coach of the Year and Auburn was #2 in the A/P final poll.
2. Mark Helfirch, Oregon Ducks - Oregon finished up with a 11-2 record and was ranked highly until their loss to Stanford, followed by their loss to Arizona. Oregon was #9 in the final A/P Poll. Helfirch signed 19 for his first class, and brought in 6 players after Chip Kelly left. The average star rating for his recruits was 3.00. Oregon was ranked # 21 with an average rating of 3.26. The 2014 class ranks 34th with an average star rating of 3.24.
3. Gary Anderson, Wisconsin Badgers - Wisconsin finished with a 9-4 record and is also an A/P top 25 team (#22). When Bret Bielema left, though, Anderson's first recruiting class was ranked #57 with an average star rating of 3.00. This 2014 saw some improvement and the Badgers currently stand at 28th with an average of 2.92.
4. Kliff Kingsbury, Texas Tech Red Raiders - Texas Tech has ended their season at 8-5. The jury is still out on recruiting. Klingsbury was able to manage a 51st place in recruiting for 2013 with an average star rating of 2.61 after Tuberville left. He's improved to 39th and an average of 2.85 stars per player.
5. Butch Jones, Tennessee Volunteers - Tennessee finished with a 5-7 record. Tennessee signed 21 players for the 2013 class. Jones brought in an additional 11 players to go along with Dooley's 10. The average rating for those new commitments brought in by Jones was 3.00 compared to Dooley's 3.30 average rating. Tennessee ranked #20 with an average 3.19 star rating. Jones has 33 commitments, including two 5 stars for 2014 and his class ranks #4 which is behind Alabama and Texas A&M in the SEC.
6. Bret Bielema, Arkansas Razorbacks - Arkansas signed 23 players for 2013, 9 of which were committed before he was hired. So, he brought in 13 new players for his first class. The average star rating of those 13 was 2.85. Arkansas was ranked #27 by Rivals with an average rating of 2.96. Arkansas finished their season with a 3-9 record (0-8 in the SEC). His 2014 class is ranked #31 with an average star rating of 2.95 which includes three 4 stars.
7. Mark Stoops, Kentucky Wildcats - Kentucky finished with a 2-10 record (0-8 in the SEC), but Stoops signed 22 players for his first class. Nine of the previous staff's commitments were retained and he signed another 13 as the result of his efforts. Result: An average Rivals star rating of 3.05 and a Rivals Team Ranking of 29th, both the highest for Kentucky since Rivals started with the 2002 Class. When Stoops was hired, UK was #62 in the Rivals Team Rankings and had 15 commitments with an average star rating of 2.93. Six recruits were advised that they should de-commit and look elsewhere. That brought the remaining players' average up to 3.00. The new players that Stoops signed had an average Rivals star rating of 3.08 What Stoops has shown is that his staff can recruit. Kentucky ranks 13th in the Rivals 2014 team rankings, just ahead of Texas. Proposed renovations to Commonwealth Stadium and the newly announced privately funded renovations over at Nutter are attracting recruits. If Stoops can win a couple of SEC games this coming year, things will really take off. I've put Stoops behind Bielema only because Arkansas won one more game that Kentucky. If we judge a coach only on recruiting, then Stoops would be ranked third behind Jones and Malzahn.
The rest of the pack (in no particular order)
Sonny Dykes, California Golden Bears - The Golden Bears ended at 1-11 for 2013. The 2013 recruiting class ranked #32 with an average star rating of 2.96. His 2014 class is ranked #42 with an average rating of 2.80
Darrell Hazell, Purdue Boilermakers - Purdue may be the worst team in a major conference after finishing a 1-11 season. Hazell's 2013 class was #56 and his 2014 class is ranked 67th.
Mike MacInyre, Colorado Buffaloes - Colorado finished 4-8 and the Buffalos had a 2013 recruiting class that was ranked 68th. This current class is ranked #62. Colorado ranked #87 in total offense this past season.
Tommy Tuberville, Cincinnati Bearcats - Cincinnati finished 9-4 with a bowl game loss to North Carolina. His first class at UC ranked #71 and this year's class has jumped up to 48th.
Todd Monken, Southern Miss. Golden Eagles - Southern Mississippi finished at 1-11.The only win came against UAB in the last game of the season. His first class was ranked #74 and his second class stands at #76.
Scott Schafer, Syracuse Orange - Syracuse at 7-6 with a new coach plus playing in a new conference after moving to the ACC. His first class ranked #74 which was tied with several other schools and this year's class ranks 69th.
Skip Holtz, Louisiana Tech Bulldogs - Louisiana Tech's 4-8 record didn't help with Holtz's recruiting. Tech was ranked 81st in 2013 and ranks 86th for 2014.
Matt Rhule, Temple Owls -The Owls obviously didn't have a great season at 2-10. Rhule didn't have a good 2013 recruiting class either. Temple ranked 85th for 2013, but he's improved his 2014 class and has them ranked at 55th for 2014.
Steve Addazio, Boston College Eagles - Boston College finished with a 7-6 record, losing to Arizona in their bowl game. Addazio only signed 15 for his first class which ranked Boston College at 88th for 2013. He's done a far better job with the 2014 and has them currently ranked at #38.
Bobby Petrino, Western Kentucky Hilltoppers - Petrino showed he IS a good coach accumulating an 8-4 record including a win over Kentucky. His 2013 recruiting class came in at #91 with an average rating of 2.09. This is typical Petrino recruiting, but he's managed to stay ahead of the price for bad recruiting by bolting to another gig. This time it was to Louisville.
Brian Polian, Nevada Wolf Pack - Nevada finished at 4-8 and his first class ranked 93rd. This 2014 recruiting class currently ranks #90. You have to wonder how long Polian is going to last.
P. J. Fleck, Western Michigan Broncos - Western Michigan went 1-11 in the MAC. His 2013 class ranked 103rd but his 2014 class is ranked tied st 57th.with TCU. He may be able to bring Western Michigan back into contention for a conference title. Time will tell.
Matt Wells, Utah State Aggies - Wells took Utah State to an 8-5 record, but his first recruiting class came in at #105. His current class ranks 119th. I have a feeling Wells will be looking for a job in the next year or so.
Paul Haynes, Kent St. Golden Flashes - Kent State had a decent team a couple of years ago, but they 4-8 under Haynes in his first year. His recruiting class ranked 105th for 2013. They've lost ground this year and rank 115th.
Bryan Harsin, Arkansas St. Red Wolves - Harsin replaced Gus Malzhan at Arkansas State and finished 8-5 with a win over Ball St. in their bowl game. His 2013 class was ranked 108th. This year he's improved the rank to 80th.
Rod Carey, Northern Illinois Huskies - Northern Illinois lost their first game in the MAC championship and finished at 12-2 after losing to Utah State in their bowl game. NIU finished 5th in total offense, according to the NCAA. His first recruiting class, however, ranked #110, but he's bumped up his 2014 class to 86th. Not a bad jump.
Ron Turner, Fla. International Golden Panthers - Florida International - FIU's 2013 class ranked tied with Northern Illnois at 110th and Turner had a 1-11 season. FIU finished dead last in total offense. He's followed up, though, with a #81 ranking for his 2014 class.
Doug Martin, New Mexico St. Aggies - The Aggies finished at 2-10 and had a 2013 recruiting class that ranked tied for 112th. Martin's 2014 class stands at 115th
Sean Kugler, UTEP Miners - The Miners had a 2-10 season. Their 2013 recruiting class ranked 121st. They've upped it to #119 for 2014. The future doesn't look bright for Kugler.
Paul Petrino, Idaho Vandals - Unlike his brother, Paul Petrino is sticking around for another season after going 1-11. He's got his work cut out for him. Idaho isn't what I'd consider a choice destination. Petrino's first recruiting class ranked #122 and his second stands at #113. The Vandals are not going to become a football powerhouse.
Ron Caragher, San Jose St. Spartans - the former Kentucky assistant coach finished his first season with a 6-6 record. And, he managed to do that with a 2013 recruiting class that ranked tied with Buffalo at #123. Caragher's 2014 class has some upward mobility and ranks 102nd.
Mark Stoops walked into the Kentucky situation with eyes wide open. If you'll recall, the talking heads believed that Bret Bielema would make the biggest impact of all the SEC's first year coaches because of his success at Wisconsin. Big Whoop. It didn't work out that way. Gus Malzahn had the biggest impact by far. Plus, Butch Jones and Mark Stoops have out-recruited Bielema for two straight years. While Malzahn walked into a talented but underachieving situation at Auburn, Butch Jones and Mark Stoops had to almost start from scratch. Jones had the advantage because Tennessee has a football tradition that Kentucky can only dream of. I would have to give Stoops a lot of kudos for the job he's done at Kentucky and his high impact 2014 recruiting class is another step forward.