Derek Dooley's recruiting plan is as clear as a bell.
A bell curve that is.
The first-year Tennessee football coach realizes there is no perfect prospect. Some have immense talent but questionable character. Some have solid moral fiber but lack upper-level skills.
Dooley will take a little of both, but most prospects he signs will fit somewhere in the middle.
"I think it's important to shape a recruiting class for the long term," Dooley said. "Every player has things they do well and things they don't do well. Every player has some risk associated with them. As you shape together 25 players, I think it's important to balance your investment, if you will. You're sort of hedging to create continuity and consistency over time."
"You'd like to take as few risks as you can. But inevitably there are some great players that might have some risks associated with them. Well, it's important that you don't take too many of those guys. Inevitably there are some marginal players that are high risk. I think it's important that you don't take any of those guys."
Then, there are the players who might not be the most talented, but will make UT fans proud off the field. That's the type of player Dooley has repeatedly said he'll take more often than not.
"Building a core of players that form the heart and soul of your team, that bleed orange, maybe they're not a headline five-star (prospect)," Dooley said, "but they're going to come in and they're going to put their heart into the program."
Dooley has seen those types of players consistently improve throughout their college careers. Some are back-ups. Some will eventually become starters. Some will even become stars through hard work.
In other words, Dooley is about the exact opposite of former UT coach Lane Kiffin, who was all about landing the most talented players possible and getting them on the field quickly.
That, however, can backfire. Why is tailback Bryce Brown disenchanted with UT? He's not talking, but there are some within UT's football program who believe he wishes he would have played more in 2009, despite senior Montario Hardesty's standout season.
Kiffin wanted to explode onto the scene. Dooley, as he's said many times, wants to build from a solid foundation with solid players that have talent and character. Those will represent the bulk of the players in the middle of the bell curve.
"They form the core of your team," Dooley said. "That's not an easy thing to do, but that's something you need to do to build consistency over time."
Dooley knows that some UT recruiting fans are concerned, if not up in arms, over the Vols' slow start to the 2011 class. UT has only two public commitments.
Dooley, however, isn't worried. He isn't one to get emotional during the recruiting process. The highs and lows are part of the journey.
"I think it's a little bit my nature, but I think that's also how we were at LSU," Dooley said of his approach. "We stayed the course. When I recruited kids individually I never got emotional during the process. I built the relationship.
"I think what the player sees is a real consistent behavior and a consistent message that the right kind of guys will gravitate to. Now, that's not going to win all types of players. Some players are going to be more wooed by the flash and the bling. Well, that's not my style. Does that mean we may lose a player or two? Maybe so.
"But I think over the long haul we'll have as many good players (as other teams) and they'll be better representatives of Tennessee."
Now, don't think for a second that Dooley can't land great prospects. He did so last February with receivers Da'Rick Rogers and Justin Hunter and offensive lineman James Stone.
And don't assume that Dooley's unemotional approach means he's not enthusiastic. No, he's not going to throw a party or a wake based on one prospect's decision, but he will keep fighting until February.
"You don't look for the daily public opinion poll," he said. "I couldn't care less about the daily public opinion poll. I just want to win the election and the election is on signing day."
Dooley is aware of the fan concern. But he knew a slow start was inevitable. The Vols spent the last two weeks before National Signing Day securing a solid 2010 class while other schools were working on junior prospects.
His expectations for early success in recruiting are much different than fans waiting for a positive Internet post.
"I don't think, this year, that any of us expected to get out of the gate right away," said Dooley, who added that all but two of his assistant coaches (Lance Thompson and Jim Chaney) were new to the prospects they're recruiting.
"They have no idea who these people are and they're not going to know until we get face to face," Dooley said. "To think they're just going to jump in and start committing, we're fooling ourselves a little bit.
"Of the players who have come on campus, we've gotten very positive response. So I think the more players that we get here over time, we'll certainly make up ground."
The move to focus so heavily on 2010 was a necessary, calculated risk. And one that Dooley isn't second-guessing.
"I didn't have a choice because I knew that the guys we signed (in 2010) were going to impact this program for four years," Dooley said. "And so I felt like I would rather make up time over the course of 365 days (for the 2011 class).
"I did zero on juniors (when he was first hired). Now, some of the other (assistant) coaches were out doing some things but I put all my attention on getting the players we could get on signing day. And I don't regret it, because we had a helluva finish."
Dave Hooker covers recruiting. He may be reached at email@example.com.