With a whirlwind football coaching search behind them, officials at the University of Tennessee are preparing to investigate the staff that bolted for Southern California last week.
Specifically, athletic director Mike Hamilton is concerned with contact that former UT coaches might have had with the Vols’ committed and enrolled prospects, as well as contact those coaches, who are now at Southern California, may have had with personnel still employed by the athletic department.
“We are looking into it and if there is action to be taken, certainly we will,” Hamilton said via text message Monday. “At this point, anything else would be speculative.”
Current employees of the athletic department will be scrutinized. Hamilton said phone records and e-mail will be checked to see if any employees transferred recruiting material to USC, specifically to former UT recruiting coordinator Ed Orgeron after he left Knoxville for Southern California.
Orgeron brought a handful of former employees at other schools to join him at UT as football support staff when he joined Lane Kiffin’s staff in January 2009.
The News Sentinel reported last week that Orgeron called an employee of UT’s football department to obtain recruiting materials and became irate when he was denied access to those files.
Orgeron admitted to several media outlets that he had contact with UT prospects as a USC representative, but maintained he only returned phone calls from prospects’ families which were inquiring about their options.
Former UT commitment Brandon Willis’ family contradicted that claim. They told multiple media outlets that Orgeron was the first to make contact. Willis had planned to enroll at UT last week but decided against it and enrolled at North Carolina instead.
“I thought it was very unprofessional and unethical,” Hamilton said on the News Sentinel’s radio show, The Sports Page, when asked the Orgeron situation.
Hamilton said he is “not yet” sure how many prospects were contacted by Orgeron.
While there is no NCAA rule forbidding such contact, there are rules limiting the number of times a coach can call a prospect. If it can be proved that Orgeron broke those rules, he could face disciplinary action from the NCAA.
Hamilton had no qualms about helping the NCAA investigate the matter.
“We’re absolutely going to cooperate with that,” Hamilton said. “If we feel like there is a reason to talk to the NCAA about things that might have happened, we’ll do that as well.”
Hamilton reaffirmed that UT officials have no intention of releasing the Vols’ eight mid-term enrollees to play elsewhere without sitting out a season of competition, per NCAA rules.
“We’ve always said we don’t provide releases and that’s where we stand today,” Hamilton said. “I think the coach needs to come in and have conversations with the guys. The good news is they’re (mid-term enrollees) all back. They’re all here and I think they’re excited about being here.”
Offensive line prospect JaWuan James and defensive end prospect Jacques Smith returned home last week. James returned to campus on Saturday. Smith has said he also will return to enroll for the spring semester.
Hamilton also offered his thoughts on whether a prospect commits to a school or a coach, a frequent debate in recruiting circles.
“I’m a realist and know that a large part of it is the coach,” he said. “Hopefully, the institution has to be a part of it or we’re not recruiting in the right way.”