Pennington: Assembly line is out of whack for Vols

In the late 1990s, General Motors gained market share and huge profits thanks to the increased sales of light trucks and sports utility vehicles.

In 2004, GM took money away from the design of other makes and models to further push its SUV production.

But by 2006, gas prices began to rise. Hybrids became more popular. And in 2008, gas hikes resulted in such a drop in SUV sales, that GM might need a government bailout just to survive.

So what does that Wikipedia view of GM have to do with sports? Simple.

Tennessee football IS General Motors - great in the 1990s, hurting now, and still making SUVs in a hybrid world.

Look around the Vols' marketplace. The SEC is being dominated by a pair of "hybrids." Take the old idea of "my 11 can whip your 11" and upgrade it. Creating favorable match-ups is now just as important as signing the top high school stars.

Four years ago, coach Urban Meyer brought a "gimmicky" system into the league. We now know that his spread offense, which is based on creating bad match-ups for his opponents, works pretty darn well, whether it's using Florida's talent or Utah's talent.

Want to cover the blazing fast running backs out of the Gators' backfield? Congrats, Tim Tebow's going to run it down your throat. Want to take out Tebow? Enjoy tailback Jeff Demps or receiver Percy Harvin zipping past you. Pick your poison.

At Alabama, Nick Saban doesn't run anything as funky as Meyer does. He just uses his personnel in ways that take advantage of their strengths. He doesn't view a running back and say, "Well, you're third team, you'll not be used until our top two backs come out." He finds ways to utilize each player's unique skill set.

Got a safety who can't cover well, but has good speed? He's the new third down blitzer and he never steps on the field for anything else. Got an enormous defensive tackle? He'll also be the goal-line fullback.

Saban comes from the NFL where teams have 53-man rosters. A player might not be good enough to start at his natural position, but he'll be used in ways that take advantage of the talents he does have. That's a must in the pros.

Even Meyer has done it with his super-fast running backs Chris Rainey and the aforementioned Demps who are used as lightning quick punt-blockers.

Aside from Gerald Jones and Eric Berry being used in the Snap-It-To-The-Guy-Who-Runs-Straight-Ahead package, has Tennessee worked to create bad match-ups for their opponents? Or have they simply relied on "out-athleting" opposing teams?

You know the answer. And that's a problem when you don't have as many four- and five-star athletes as you used to have.

Over the last four years, Tennessee has brought in 42 four or five-star recruits. They've won 28 games in that span. Auburn has also brought in 42 top-flight recruits, but it has won 34 games. South Carolina has signed only 33 top prospects, but it has matched UT with 28 wins.

Vol football still relies on having better players than the other team. That's old school, not new school. Tennessee is still building SUVs in a hybrid world.

On The Subject Of Recruiting

There's a myth out there that I'd bought into and even helped to sell over the past few years, and it turns out I was wrong. Here's the myth: Tennessee has to have a spectacular recruiter as its head coach to have a chance in the SEC.

Like many others, I've pointed to the fact that Tennessee doesn't have a great in-state recruiting base (true) and that new SEC coaches have closed the borders to their own states (false).

In looking at the numbers, I've changed my mind. Sure Alabama, LSU, Florida and Georgia get the majority of their talent from inside their own borders, but their state lines aren't un-crossable.

In the last four years, Tennessee hasn't signed a single four/five-star player from South Carolina. But Georgia has landed three. Florida has grabbed one.

Tennessee has signed just two four/five-star players from Georgia. South Carolina has landed three, Florida four, and Auburn six.

UT has landed just one four/five-star guy from Alabama. South Carolina landed one as well. Florida and LSU have both signed two.

Most incredibly, in the last four years Tennessee has signed only a pair of four/five-star recruits from Florida. South Carolina has gone into the Sunshine State and grabbed eight top-caliber players. Georgia has signed five, Alabama eight, Auburn eight and LSU a whopping 11.

That's 42 stud recruits from Florida who have left their home state for other top SEC schools. Only two of those 42 have landed in Knoxville.

So this "closed borders" business isn't exactly accurate. Several teams are still walking away with good players from states like Florida and Georgia. Steve Spurrier and Tommy Tuberville aren't considered ace recruiters, but they've been able to cross state lines that Tennessee recently hasn't.

And the UT program hasn't been dominant in its home state, either. In the last three years, the Vols have signed six four/five-star players from the Volunteer State. Alabama has raided the state for four.

Time To Change The Mindset

Look, I understand the importance of recruiting. Winning is easier the more talent you have. But my message to UT athletic director Mike Hamilton is this: Winning can lead to good recruiting, so worry about winning first. Tennessee needs a coach who can win with less in the outset, then turn those wins into eventual recruiting success.

Florida (65), LSU (56), Georgia (52), and Alabama (50) all have more four/five-star players on their rosters than the Vols do (42). Tennessee needs to find a coach who doesn't have to have the best talent on the field to win. And those coaches are out there.

This year alone, Mike Leach is 10-1 in the Big 12 with just nine four/five-star guys on his roster. Earlier this season he beat Texas which has 51 top signees.

Oklahoma, which whipped Texas Tech this year but lost to them last year, has 55 top players. When you can go 2-2 against teams that out-man you five-to-one in star power, you're doing a pretty good job of "coaching up."

At North Carolina, Butch Davis is 7-4 with just 19 four/five-star guys. His recruiting is improving, too, just as it did at Miami.

Brian Kelly is 9-2 at Cincinnati with exactly zero four/five-star players. Big East or not, that's pretty solid work.

So go forth, Mr. Hamilton, and find someone with an outlandish system who can create bad match-ups via formations. Someone who can trick, deceive and confuse his opponents a la Meyer. Someone like a Leach or a Kelly, for example.

Or find someone with an NFL background. Someone like Saban who's learned how to take advantage of every player's skills, even if that player isn't good enough to start at his natural position. Someone like Carolina's Davis might fit the bill. Or the rumored choice, Lane Kiffin, who spent two years in the NFL.

Winning should be the first worry for Tennessee, not recruiting. Win and the recruiting avenues will open back up. Sure, there will be more work involved for UT's coach than for the coaches at Florida, Alabama, LSU and Georgia, but it's not the impossible feat that some (including myself) have made it out to be.

If it were, Tennessee wouldn't be one of the 10 winningest programs in America since 1930, since 1950, since 1970 and since 1990.

Worry about coaching players up, not out-talenting teams. Worry about X'ing and O'ing teams to death, not National Signing Day.

Tennessee doesn't have to have the most stud players. Tennessee needs a stud coaching staff.

In other words, stop building SUVs and start building hybrids.

John Pennington hosts the Hall's Salvage Sports Source on Sunday at 11 a.m. on WATE.

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Comments » 53

xvolx writes:

haven't you heard. there has been a layoff.

blitzshoot writes:

...and I beleive that is what UT is trying to do. Just so you know, UT's head football coach is coaching his last game Saturday. UT is in the process of hiring a new coach and staff. Check back in a couple of weeks and we'll let you know how things worked out.

CampVol writes:

I think Lane Kiffin will be able to do both: recruit and coach players up. I hope so anyway.

cainclifton23 writes:

You're article on recruiting is the smartest thing you have ever said.

Thats why Kiffin would be a great hire, bring able to get those players... along with Coach O.

FlaVol2 writes:

Good article Mr. Pennington.

shipperman#280095 writes:

I really believe Kiffin can and will do a great job

blitzshoot writes:

When I read an article, I want to discover new information. What is in this article that you did not know?

blitzshoot writes:

in response to shipperman#280095:

I really believe Kiffin can and will do a great job

Any word on a Monday press conference?

RJ_Vol writes:

You can't coach speed or size. Let's get real. You have to have talent AND then coach 'em up...South Carolina is closer to Florida which is why it's easier to pull kids from that state...they're closer to home(novel idea I know). When FSU and Miami have programs that are back in the top 10, then UF will suffer mightily on the recruiting front. I think Pennington has had too much turkey...or maybe I have had too much.

OldNumber7 writes:

There isn't a shred of data that Kiffin can do this. Big time roll of the dice.

pms151 writes:

You have no clue.

ANGRYWOLF writes:

I guess Pennington was one of those laid off as it seems he no longer has the noon show on the sports animal.
I think that's a shame as I enjoyed the show.
I guess Rush and Hannity and the others aren't making enough money for Citadel Broadcasting.
Oh well.
I agree with what the article says. Although some people still claim gimmicky offenses can't win in the SEC, something Meyer and Fla have proven isn't true.You just need the persoannel to run them.TN doesn't have the personnel to run one of those offenses that's why they need a more traditional offense.
So we'll see who they hire and if they can turn things around.

pms151 writes:

There is no way Mike Hamilton is going to bring anyone here with more experience and smarts than him. This guy is not a Doug Dicky or Bob Woodruff. Just look at who he is working for. John peterson? Give us a break. The whole university is out of control at that level. Thanks Haslam, Thornton and cronies. The vast majority of us Joe the alumni are tired of you running our school.

jax3333 writes:

I wonder if everyone who is wanting Kiffin so bad will be wanting him fired if he loses 8 next year.

blitzshoot writes:

Hamilton brought Pearl. I think he deserves the benefit of a doubt. No one is going to receive 100% approval, no matter who Hamilton brings in. He was smart enough to cut
UT's football coach.

eduardo writes:

No Kiffin...Please! We are not a training ground for head coaches. This guy has no,absolutely no experience to be a head coach at this school. This is the worst hire we could make. I hope that all those rumors are just that rumors about this kid being our head coach. Lame choice!!!!

yabadabadoo1026 writes:

in response to blitzshoot:

When I read an article, I want to discover new information. What is in this article that you did not know?

Why you always so negative??--------obviously you know everything there is to know about everything and journalists everywhere should just quit writing all together out of concern for wasting the time of the know-it-all

volbald writes:

No matter who UT hires, the Vols will be playing catchup for the next 7-8 years. Fulmer's light burned out 7 years ago but nobody changed the bulb. If Ala., Fla., Ga., LSU, and S.C. had mediore coaches, the rebuilding and winning chores would be a lot easier. They got better - we got worse. In today's football programs, as in the sorry state of the economy, it's expensive to make serious mistakes. UT made a big one by letting Fulmer hang around while the program was in steady decline.

TommyJack writes:

I think Pennington is on the mark. Naturally, the Fulmerons and Chavisites won't take kindly to it because it calls a spade a spade. The Fulmer regime of the past 8-9 years has been operating on analog in a digital world.

hotrodvol writes:

One season of the Clawfense and we are one of the worst teams in the country. If it is Kiffin, he will have his work cut out for him, and he better bring in new QBs, just to start fresh with.

newtonrail writes:

in response to ButchIsBack:

(This comment was removed by the site staff.)

John's column was right on track. Unfortunately those with an agenda on something he's written or said in the past simply attack him. If you wish to go through the training in playing a sport that Bruce Pearl or Mike Leach have, you come up blank. Don't care for Leach, but love Pearl, but you should see the point. Pennington's column, was telling you in simple terms you have to have a good product before you can sell it. I was never a Fulmer fan until everyone seemed to attack him after 2005, but it finally reached a point we all had to agree the "product" had deteriorated. I lived through two cycles of UT football being "down". The worst was the end of Bowden Wyatt's tenure, and the Single Wing. Actually, the single wing would still work if you had the players. Back then the high schools had stopped running it for the most part, "drying up the talent Pool". That's where we are today Mr. Butch. Bad Product and less talent. Doug Dickey got enough respectability quickly out of available talent to help with the recruiting. That's what John's trying to tell you today, and I personally don't think Lane Kiffin can do it. Butch Davis or Brian Kelly could, but for some reason, apparently Mr. Hamilton got his feelings hurt with Kelly.

jsm67vol writes:

in response to blitzshoot:

...and I beleive that is what UT is trying to do. Just so you know, UT's head football coach is coaching his last game Saturday. UT is in the process of hiring a new coach and staff. Check back in a couple of weeks and we'll let you know how things worked out.

Correction:Check back with us this time next year and we will let you know how things work (ed) out.

copan07#220906 writes:

in response to TommyJack:

I think Pennington is on the mark. Naturally, the Fulmerons and Chavisites won't take kindly to it because it calls a spade a spade. The Fulmer regime of the past 8-9 years has been operating on analog in a digital world.

You might be deadly accurate. I have wondered about this for awhile. Are younger coaches(head coach and assistants) ahead of some of the older guys because of computers. It makes sense if you think about it. When Fulmer became our head coach there was no internet. Now your recruiting, your scouting of other teams and even research of play calling can all be done via the web. I know many people who are just not computer savvy nd many of them just happen to be older(not all). It is something to think about.

jsm67vol writes:

in response to hotrodvol:

One season of the Clawfense and we are one of the worst teams in the country. If it is Kiffin, he will have his work cut out for him, and he better bring in new QBs, just to start fresh with.

If you look at Clawsons history you will notice that the teams he worked with always had a down year the 1st year. But as Clawson has said, his system has been successful everywhere it has been implemented. It would take longer than that at UT because Fulmer would be unwilling to let him have control of the offense. Lets be straight on something:Fulmer knew that UT needed a new look. Give Fulmer credit for that. Then he took the second step, he actually hired someone to bring in the new look with a successful history. The problem arose when Fulmer would not give his new hire control of his offense by chosing the plays and the personel. Fulmer may have tried some of Clawsons off.(very little IMO) but he never gave Clawson reigns on who ran the plays. Thus no success. I'm not saying that UT would have won all their games this year but I would bet at least 2-3 more than they did, will. If Fulmer had really shown the confidence in the hire he himself made, we as fans would have gotten to eventually seen Clawsons true system. It would have worked if only Fulmer would have shown confidence in his decision to hire Clawson. The team never bought in to the system because the HC never bought into it either. Hamilton did the right thing by decommiting to Fulmer because it was obvious no matter who was brought in as OC, Fulmer would still continue to have a major influence over the offense.
There I'm glad to get that off my chest. It has been like a big orange tumor eating my heart for at least 9 weeks now. Go Vols!!!

txsvol#372416 writes:

I think Pennington's article is dead on! ButchIsBAck was probably just making a gratuitous insult, and doesn't realize how smart Corporal 'Johnny Reb' really was! I recommend "Tennesseans in the Civil War--Part 1" for a history of the units that served from our state, or if you just want to read about individual soldiers, try "Company Ayche," by Sam R. Watkins (which you can now download from the Gutenberg project). Or, if you can find it, Dr. Noblitt's "History of the 44th Tennessee Infantry Regiment." (Published in the 1964 work cited above). If you want to learn about commitment and honor of earlier men who called themselves Tennesseans, google 'Sam Davis.' We're not trying to revise history here, the North won, and their history of the 'War Between the States' prevails. Nevertheless, men died and suffered extreme privations so that we can complain about a football program that doesn't win enough! SAVol

WeLoveTennesseeVols writes:

Nice these guys have it all figured out. These sportswriters, whoever's winning they are siniging their praises, just like the media singing Obama's praises, makes us sick, sycophantic behaviour. At least Florida has done more than community organizing. Like Acorn organizing to cheat at elections and get people loans they could never repay through Fannie Mae. The subject's bailouts, right? GM anyone. Personally I like SUV's. They are the bomb! Now with gas prices down, it should be no problem selling them, right? So who and what made them , the gas prices go up? NO DRILL CROWD, HATE FULMER CROWD, HATE AMERICA CROWD, WHAT DOES YOUR PRESENT DEMOCRATIC PARTY STAND FOR? Politics anyone. Fulmer would have succeeded against these offenses, getting Clawson on board was a beginning. And he did pretty darn good against the best and the brightest. He beat them a few times, something hardly anyone has done. The Big Orange nation just lost it's collective patience, and thought it was easier than it looked. Can anyone stand up and fight against these current SEC coaches and win? Look at Spurrier, is he doing it? What is his record against the big 3 or 4 news ones in the league. Good Luck Guys, years from now will you collectively say that we should have given Phil Fulmer more time, more chances. We think so, we sadly think so. Who do these new recruits know better than Fulmer and Chavis, and the young new coaches Fulmer just hired, and now they are all leaving. Gosh unintended consequences just for hating Fulmer, just like hating George Bush, just like hating George Bush. I feel sorry for you. I feel sorry for you!

bobbarnes writes:

There are several flaws in this analysis.

1. Tennessee was not a "top 10 winning" program in the two decades post-segregation/pre-Fulmer.
2. No coach in America has a winning record against teams with 4 or more NFL drafted players on his roster with 10 or more games played. The best ever was Randy Walker at Northwestern, and he lost 60% of the time in that situation.
3. Leach was 2-9 against the elite teams before he went 2-2 against them over the last 4 games; isolating the last 4 games inflates his success unfairly.
4. The "Bob Knight" problem (great strategy coaches making poor recruiters in the modern age) shows even the greatest coaches in the game cannot through their "product" recruit talent -- it's failed for Leach at TT, failed for Cutcliffe at Ole Miss, failed for Spurrier at South Carolina, failed for Leach/Mumme at Kentucky, failed for Randy Walker at Northwestern, failed for Koetter at Arizona State, and on and on and on.
5. Tennessee doesn't need a few players from the other states; it needs a bunch, year after year after year to compete.

southernson writes:

Nice YOU are right on. Weve forgot about COACHING.. I belive we can have both in Kiffin IF Monty comes with him. And Orgeron...

brody1969 writes:

in response to OldNumber7:

There isn't a shred of data that Kiffin can do this. Big time roll of the dice.

ever been to vegas??

brody1969 writes:

in response to vol1:

(This comment was removed by the site staff.)

i hope you right

vols3fan writes:

If kiff is the man, then I hope like heck, that Monte is coming with him. I'm not completely sold on Lane at all. I just don't see how letting Fulmer go, to bring in an unproven guy is the thing to do. I really thought this was gonna be the knock out punch of a hire. I hope its all just a rumor. Bring on Leach or Kelly. If it happens to be Kiffin, I'll still supporting the vols, but no more season tix. This will be a very very sorry hire, especially if the idiot Coach O is coming with him. Terrible Hire!!! I hope I'm wrong, but I have a bad feeling about him. I hope he doesn't try a 76 yard field goal here like he did in Oakland with Janikowski.

jopad#212858 writes:

People keep saying Kiffin has no experience or let's not make Tennessee a training ground for new coaches. Maybe we should remember some pretty good coaches came to the Vols without head coaching experience. Among those were Phillip Fulmer, Harvey Robinson, Doug Dickey, Bill Battle (even though he was dismissed he still compiled a very good record) and might I say Robert Neyland. If it is Kiffen give him support and encouragement, not biased critism. Wish I was as able to look into the future as well as some fans seem to be able to. No matter who the new coach is I want to be supportive and back the Vols.

Volgrad777 writes:

The most ridiculous and utterly stupid article ive ever read. I feel dumber for having read it. At least the recruiting part anyway. Of course we need stud players. If you want to win championships on a fairly consistent level you have to have stud players. Texas Tech is a prime example. They wont win because in the long run , they dont have the players , no matter how good the coaching is. They win games sure , lots of them , but no championships and those wins havent calculated into great recruiting success. Mediocre at best. Dumb , dumb, dumb

TommyJack writes:

in response to copan07#220906:

You might be deadly accurate. I have wondered about this for awhile. Are younger coaches(head coach and assistants) ahead of some of the older guys because of computers. It makes sense if you think about it. When Fulmer became our head coach there was no internet. Now your recruiting, your scouting of other teams and even research of play calling can all be done via the web. I know many people who are just not computer savvy nd many of them just happen to be older(not all). It is something to think about.

Copan: You may be right, but I intended my remarks to be more in the metaphorical sense.

serenehunter#668900 writes:

You are WRONG There is plenty of talent in Tennessee Vols need to do better job of locking down its own borders your core team should be the home boys. they also tend to have more HEART. Did you take the time to check out Tennessee players on other teams? U.T's hot shot out of State recruits have gotten them nowhere. IT ALL STARTS AT HOME How many times did U.T. trip over Randall Cobb on the way to the airport? tennesseesportsreviewer.com

Huttdawg100 writes:

I understand what he's saying about the recruiting aspect, but I totally disagree with his comments about a "gimmicky offense". In the 90's, Spurrier's offense seemed unstoppable, until everyone caught up with it; he just had the perfect players for his system. Right now, Urban Myer has the perfect QB to make his offense work: Tebow is a middle linebacker that plays quarterback. Even when Leak was there, Meyer would pull him for Tebow. I want to see Urban Meyer after Tebow leaves. That's if Notre Dame doesn't get him first.

tennesseeike writes:

in response to TommyJack:

I think Pennington is on the mark. Naturally, the Fulmerons and Chavisites won't take kindly to it because it calls a spade a spade. The Fulmer regime of the past 8-9 years has been operating on analog in a digital world.

TJ, best post to date. You are right on....

Huttdawg100 writes:

in response to hotrodvol:

One season of the Clawfense and we are one of the worst teams in the country. If it is Kiffin, he will have his work cut out for him, and he better bring in new QBs, just to start fresh with.

You speak the truth.... I was at work, and I spoke with a former UT football player who played under Johnny Majors. We were discussing the events that led to Phil losing his job. He said that Clawson had no business anywhere near Knoxville... Or any SEC school for that matter. Clawson had no clue what SEC speed was or is.

Whoever comes in will need to "de-bug" the current offensive roster.

arkyvol writes:

if U.T. reminds pennington of G.M., lane kiffin reminds me of mike shula.

HateTheGator writes:

New here and it seems that dissenting views about this program brings about ridicule and name calling. Is that the way it is, or am I not seeing it clearly? Go Vols!

mlbrown5454 writes:

in response to TommyJack:

I think Pennington is on the mark. Naturally, the Fulmerons and Chavisites won't take kindly to it because it calls a spade a spade. The Fulmer regime of the past 8-9 years has been operating on analog in a digital world.

well put

jasonn1970 writes:

I think Kiffin is a good choice. If he brings his father in that becomes a great choice. If not is it too late to bring back Chavis(?)

oske writes:

in response to blitzshoot:

When I read an article, I want to discover new information. What is in this article that you did not know?

It's a commentary.

douglasawilliams#582863 writes:

in response to OldNumber7:

There isn't a shred of data that Kiffin can do this. Big time roll of the dice.

I'm with you. 5-15 as head coach is all we can say for sure as head coach. Very risky choice but hope it works out well. This year class will be slim for sure on top of 35th ranked class last year. Don't expect anything too soon. I was personally hoping for Brian Kelly but maybe Kiffin can turn the VOLS around.

Chartervol writes:

You've got to wonder how much better Shula would have turned out at Alabama if he'd had his daddy with him.

I suspect Pa Kiffin may have made the difference in this decision. Hamilton is smarter than people think. He also has more juice than the cynics want to admit. Tennessee's brass doesn't pay what they pay Hambone and call it middle management.

weisgarber2003#313889 writes:

wallandhiker writes:

"Considering that it was this hybrid that just got Tennessee's all-time winningest coach fired, not sure I would advise any more hybrids, John."

Sorry to disappoint you hoss, but Fulmer is not U.T.'s all-time winningest coach. He is second to Neyland in all-time wins and he is second to Majors in career losses at U.T.

jandjhome#228397 writes:

Tommy Jack you are exactly correct.

murrayvol writes:

in response to TommyJack:

Copan: You may be right, but I intended my remarks to be more in the metaphorical sense.

Thanks for clearing that up. I thought you intended them in a metaphysical sense.

murrayvol writes:

in response to 02champs#209256:

(This comment was removed by the site staff.)

He would disagree.

murrayvol writes:

in response to jasonn1970:

I think Kiffin is a good choice. If he brings his father in that becomes a great choice. If not is it too late to bring back Chavis(?)

I'm afraid so.

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