State of Orange: In recruiting, past is Vols' biggest problem at present

Josh Hawkins of Loudon, left, Tyler Maples of Maryville, center, and Anthony Anderson of Austin-East were all
local UT commitments in 2007. Hawkins and Maples have since left the Vols, while Anderson remains.

Photo by Saul Young

Josh Hawkins of Loudon, left, Tyler Maples of Maryville, center, and Anthony Anderson of Austin-East were all local UT commitments in 2007. Hawkins and Maples have since left the Vols, while Anderson remains.

Chris Donald of Huntingdon holds the Mr. Football award for Division I-AA linemen in 2006. Donald, a fivestar
recruit, signed with Tennessee out of high school, but transferred to UT Chattanooga in January.

Photo by ANDREWMCMURTRIE/ THE JACKSON SUN.

Chris Donald of Huntingdon holds the Mr. Football award for Division I-AA linemen in 2006. Donald, a fivestar recruit, signed with Tennessee out of high school, but transferred to UT Chattanooga in January.

So just how bad is Tennessee football?

Any predictions for the 2010 season? Six wins? Five? Four? Everyone is searching for the right answer.

The speculation alone is enough reason to take inventory.

Records are one thing. The Vols have had two losing seasons since 2005, a far cry from the heyday in the 1990s when just a 10-win season seemed like a low point. Seemingly, championships were at stake every year.

UT's two most recent losing seasons didn't even carry the same negative prologue of this season.

While it may be hard to recall, the Vols were actually supposed to be pretty good when they posted losing seasons in 2005 and 2008. So just how did it all slide so far?

Sure, two coaching changes in 14 months set the table for disaster, but there's also the missed recruiting evaluations by one coach and promises made to high-profile prospects by another that could give first-year UT coach Derek Dooley one headache after another this fall.

The Past

Recruiting - or lack thereof - is a big reason why UT's talent is lacking. In retrospect, national rankings predicted some of the downfall.

In two of former coach Phillip Fulmer's last three seasons, he couldn't manage to secure a class in the top 20, a feat that was once a given for UT's second-most successful coach of all time.

Fulmer's 2006 class, which could still be contributing now via red-shirted players, ranked 24th and 23rd by Scout.com and Rivals.com, respectively. The 2008 class, which had limited scholarships available, ranked 35th by both recruiting services.

But wait, it gets worse.

Two of Fulmer's most highly rated final classes were shaken by departures. Five players from the 2006 class left the program, didn't qualify academically or were dismissed. Four have been lost from the 2008 class. From those two classes, UT lost four offensive linemen, a glaring weakness for 2010.

UT's 2007 class is another matter entirely. It was highly ranked, but has since been one of the most disappointing signing classes in recent memory.

Bryce Brown puts on a Tennessee cap shortly after announcing in March, 2009, that he
intended on playing for Tennessee.

Photo by Jaime Oppenheimer/The Wichita Ea

Bryce Brown puts on a Tennessee cap shortly after announcing in March, 2009, that he intended on playing for Tennessee.

The 32-member class was ranked fourth and third in the nation by Scout and Rivals, respectively.

However, 17 of those signees didn't complete their eligibility. They either never made it to campus because of academic issues, were dismissed after they arrived or left the program.

Fulmer can't be blamed for all of the recruiting misfires. Former coach Lane Kiffin's recruiting approach may have cost the Vols a trio of ballyhooed prospects.

Tailback Bryce Brown is expected to leave UT after one season. Sure, he was disenchanted by the coaching change. But despite his prominent role last season, there are some in UT's football department who believe he is disappointed that he didn't play even more in 2009.

Kiffin's talent-first approach may also have caused UT's former staff to overlook character issues with two highly touted players.

The Vols were forced to dismiss receiver Nu'Keese Richardson and defensive back Mike Edwards after the two were charged with attempted robbery.

Then there's the attrition that one would expect from two coaching changes in little more than a year.

All that has resulted in 30 UT signees failing to complete their eligibility.

Then, there are 19 one-time UT commitments who went elsewhere after a coaching change was announced.

A dozen left in the Fulmer-Kiffin transition. Another seven left in the Kiffin-Dooley transition.

Those lost were replaced, but at what cost to UT's talent remains to be seen.

Nu’Keese Richardson smiles as he pulls on a Tennessee hat after announcing his commitment
to UT in 2009.

Photo by Allen Eyestone/The Palm Beach Post

Nu’Keese Richardson smiles as he pulls on a Tennessee hat after announcing his commitment to UT in 2009.

Recruiting one's needs during a coaching transition is virtually impossible.

Dooley can only do so much to rebuild UT's roster. The NCAA allows 25 scholarship players to be added in a calendar year.

That means Dooley will have approximately 75 scholarship players this season, 10 fewer than is allowed by the NCAA.

The Present

Dooley has said he won't try to temper fan expectations despite playing this season (and maybe the next two) shorthanded.

Yet a study of UT's roster should do the trick.

First, UT's senior class has some longtime contributors, but few standout players. The Vols have 13 seniors who have started a game, led by two potential All-SEC players: tight end Luke Stocker and defensive end Chris Walker - if he's healthy.

UT's seniors boast competent receivers (Gerald Jones and Denarius Moore), solid linebackers (Nick Reveiz and LaMarcus Thompson) and starting defensive ends (Walker, Ben Martin and Gerald Williams).

But after the seniors, the roster gets scary.

UT only has one junior who has started a game at his current position: cornerback Art Evans.

The Vols' sophomores had better be ready to contribute this season and beyond. There is reason to think they can with a handful of promising players, led by safety Janzen Jackson and defensive tackle Montori Hughes.

However, Jackson is the only UT sophomore who has started a game without an injury clearing the way.

Some longtime SEC assistant coaches, who asked not to be identified, offered some insight into UT's most prominent weaknesses.

First, quarterback, where junior college transfer Matt Simms and freshman Tyler Bray are trying to replace starter Jonathan Crompton.

"If you don't have a trigger man, good luck to you," one assistant said.

Then, there's a defensive line that will depend on Hughes to become a dominant player. Otherwise, there doesn't appear to be a difference maker on the roster.

"You look at the defensive line. You have to have it in the trenches and they're down there," the assistant said.

UT's offensive line also is a well-documented issue. The Vols were forced to play two walk-ons and a freshman last season.

"The offensive line was horrible," was the observation.

And that was last year's line. In 2010, the Vols must replace five departed starters that kept this year's projected starters on the bench.

The Future

Whether or not Dooley can build a championship contender or is in over his head is up for debate.

Dooley's goal is clear: to build a tough, character-driven program, much like Alabama.

"He understands the SEC," one assistant coach said. "He understands you have to have talent, but he also understands you have to run the football and stop the run."

That may be the toughest thing for Dooley to accomplish initially. The Vols aren't deep on talent on the defensive line and are even thinner up front on offense.

Some have wondered if Dooley should lean more on junior college players. He signed four in February. One, defensive tackle John Brown, could help UT in the trenches in 2010.

Yet, junior college players aren't Dooley's style. He admits his track record hasn't been very good with junior college players, who often have a less-than-perfect past.

Dooley estimated he's only averaged one success in four junior college players he's signed as an assistant at LSU and coach at Louisiana Tech.

"That doesn't mean we're not going to (recruit them)," Dooley said. "I'm not really here to build a class on junior college players but there is a need for them and there are places where they can help you.

"But the success rate is not as great as you'd like it to be. You have to do a lot of diligence to make sure it's an area of need. They've got to be able to come in and make an immediate impact and it's the right kind of guy that will fit into your culture."

The culture that Dooley is trying to build is character driven. That has been well received by those who grew weary of Kiffin's behavior.

But what will fans and boosters think of better character if the Vols are 2-6 in November - a real possibility given UT's challenging schedule?

Maybe more importantly, what will prospects think?

The two SEC assistants interviewed agreed that UT is - at best - the sixth most talented team in the league.

So just how long until UT can acquire enough talent to compete for SEC championships?

"You're looking at three years," one coach said, "at the minimum."

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Comments » 119

tapeworm writes:

IMO, Dooley and staff will have to deliver a season of surprise this year in order to get recruiting back on track and viable in three years. A below average or losing season will result in a recruiting disaster that may rival the Gulf oil spill.

dvhill100 writes:

One the one hand, TN will allow freshmen the possiblity to start early due to lack of talent. The HS seniors will be looking at the way TN plays, competes, and I believe to a lesser extent the record. If the coaches can "coach them up" and they compete in every game, I think DD will be fine in the recruiting battle.

As the article pointed out, one class or even two won't undo all the damage from the previous years. I do believe if TN fans can be patient (not normally their virtue), DD will develop a successful program and one we can be proud of.

volunteers4life writes:

You definitely personify a worm, sir. Dont like the lack of confidence from these unnamed assistant coaches, though.

volunteers4life writes:

I think we'll be patient enough as long as it appears as if we are moving in the right direction.

OwensboroVol writes:

This is what I was afraid of back in Fulmers last 3 years or so. He just wasn't attracting the type of talent needed to compete in the SEC. The coaching nightmare that has occurred since then has only made things worse. I decided two years ago that I had seen my last SEC championship for Tennessee. My health is bad and I just can't make it until things turn around. I remember Bill Battle having a character driven program and there were NO SEC championships after he ran out of the players that Doug Dickey left him. I am afraid we are entering a period of mediocrity. I will never and you may not see the success of the 90's again for a long time. Sometimes I believe Fulmer's real success was in keeping his assistants as long as he did. His hiring of replacements after "Cut" left started this drive towards failure. The only way we could avoid it was to do exactly what Alabama did, go out and hire a Coach not available unless you are willing to pay many times what other schools will. Tennessee is too tight to do that.

jhayes0926#638474 writes:

I hope the best for DD. Regardless of character, if we aren't winning 9-10 games within 4 yrs., we will be looking again for a "proven" name coach.

99gator writes:

hooker must be a troll

CoverOrange writes:

in response to BamaBeacher:

(This comment was removed by the site staff.)

Just remember, what ever happens on the field, you had absolutely nothing to do with it.

joeaubie writes:

in response to BamaBeacher:

(This comment was removed by the site staff.)

Which team is currently on probation, Turd Troll? The bell is tolling for lil Nicky and crew......

westknoxvol24 writes:

in response to BamaBeacher:

(This comment was removed by the site staff.)

you are an idiot...why even post here

AtLeastMyTeamHasPerfectSeasons writes:

A GREAT read Hooker! ThX!!!!! I can't add much, this pretty much sums it up...

NoSirRee writes:

I still cannot believe the best we could hire was Derek Dooley

NoSirRee writes:

in response to BamaBeacher:

(This comment was removed by the site staff.)

Yeah, I was hoping we could learn something from Alabama's road to eventually spending the money and getting a real coach. Its all cyclical anyway no matter what we do. Eventually, Bama will go down hill and we'll go up and the process repeats itself over and over again.

VolinCalif writes:

in response to BamaBeacher:

(This comment was removed by the site staff.)

If you are a Bama Fan you were not laughing last year when the Vols were kicking to win. My guess is your Azz was biting a nail in half. JUST SAYING. PS you should know what the slide to the bottom really looks like.

Tenvolman writes:

(This comment was removed by the site staff.)

VolOak writes:

I guess all schools have to have some fans like "Bamafemale doger." They believe they should be able to line up high school coaches out of state and corrupt them by paying them an extra 100K under the table to buy talent out of their state. And when the home state coach has the gonads to say "enough"---OH! The railing and squalling about the dirty rat who finally had the character to turn them in. If anything is wrong with NCAA football it is morons like "Bamafemale doger."

NoSirRee writes:

in response to Tenvolman:

(This comment was removed by the site staff.)

Haha wow, meltdown of the year!

Mikeah writes:

As an Alumni I can absolutely tell you character matters to me. Coach Dooley will win and he will do it the right way. The Alumni will be patient as long as the kids are graduating, have good character, represent the school well and we are winning more each year then the year before. It's very important to me to be proud of my diploma and that entitles more than winning. For folks that are not Alumni and constantly gripe about coaches they obliviously have different goals than the Alumni, and it really does no matter.

Mikeah writes:

spelling error "no" should be "not"

VolinCalif writes:

TVMan I like what you are saying. But I think most of the Neg. commenter are not Vol Fans. I also think that getting Kids to quit on UT is the very object of why they are posting.

tdvol1989 writes:

Look, these doom and gloom articles are smokescreen propaganda. Dooley gets an 'A' in lesson #1. He has the local press in the palm of his hand.

We are all victims of a massive game. You can expect a summer of negativity meant to make us feel desperate and hopeless. Then, there will be article after article spinning a 6 or 7 win season as MIRACULOUS!!! That will be our SPRINGBOARD to an awesome 2011 Class of signees.

There is one thing that Dooley will succeed at that Fulmer never did. This year he will convince us all that a nailbiter win over Vandy is something to feel good about.

So, all of you buying into the negativity and getting all depressed have just been HOODWINKED!!!

JohnsonCity_George writes:

Hooker, Could you please explain the math in the statement:
"The NCAA allows 25 scholarship players to be added in a calendar year.
That means Dooley will have approximately 75 scholarship players this season, 10 fewer than is allowed by the NCAA."?

According to your first comment, I would expect the NCAA to allow 100 scholarship players. But in your second comment, you say 75 is 10 less, that would mean a maximum of 85. What gives? Can you provide a little clarity?

keepitreal4vols writes:

The Good News: Craigslist will be loaded with cheap season tickets.

joeaubie writes:

in response to JohnsonCity_George:

Hooker, Could you please explain the math in the statement:
"The NCAA allows 25 scholarship players to be added in a calendar year.
That means Dooley will have approximately 75 scholarship players this season, 10 fewer than is allowed by the NCAA."?

According to your first comment, I would expect the NCAA to allow 100 scholarship players. But in your second comment, you say 75 is 10 less, that would mean a maximum of 85. What gives? Can you provide a little clarity?

Max is 85 and you can add no more than 25 per calendar year

kjennin3 writes:

in response to BamaBeacher:

(This comment was removed by the site staff.)

I can assure you that this guy has not recieved education beyond a GED... so the real joke is on him

And he lives in Alabama, so his GED is roughly equal to graduating the eighth grade in TN

Mobbdeep4life writes:

I've been a Vol fan for many years and it was a major reason why deciding to attend UT was so easy. I love Tennessee football but I'm trying to be realistic this year. Not speaking doom and gloom yet I know depth will play a factor by the end of the year. I hope we don't have any major injuries. The outlook will be good if Poole, Stocker and a receiver have breakout seasons.
I've read a few articles that predict Da'Rick Rogers to have a good freshmen year which would be a plus and Poole to be productive too. UT has weapons on offense (although a few are unproven) yet if the line protects, the QB manages the game and the skill players step up we will be competitive this year. That's all I ask this season. Recruits will come no doubt yet as fans we must be patient. I know I will.

gobigorange writes:

Dooley's goal is clear: to build a tough, character-driven program, much like Alabama. When has Bama's program ever had character?I mean is being one of the most probated, cheating programs considered character these days?

volpreacher writes:

in response to BamaBeacher:

(This comment was removed by the site staff.)

were you laughing last year when UT actually beat Alabama?

AllVols writes:

GVX articles are terrible. They are never optimistic, always pessimistic. They have no significant meaning, for example, this article simply encompasses all the concerns most fans are already aware of.

I don't respect the coaches who choose not to be named. If you're going to talk down about a program, "man-up" and own your words because I will be happy when you have to eat them.

I don't agree with a lot of this article anyways. Depth is an issue, given. Dooley does understand the SEC, and he is the right man for the job. It will take time to get UT back to the top of the conference. It will be unacceptable to take "3 years at a minimum." I expect 2 years at a maximum. Do not write-off UT next season.

VolGrad writes:

Something about this whole story is messed up.

I hate "unnamed sources" because sometimes it feels like the news writer is just making stuff up. At the very least, no one can double check the source.

"Tennessee ain't worth phooey," one observer noted. "Yeah, they've got some major issues," an assistant coach from somewhere added. "And to sum it up," a well known anonymous coach stated, "it is going to be a tough 3 or 4 years ahead for the Tennessee program."

And every true Vol Fan everywhere said, "whatever."

GBO!

UTVOLSRROCKN writes:

in response to BamaBeacher:

(This comment was removed by the site staff.)

Are you serious? You actually think that a true Vol fan would send you a friend request? You must be in some serious needs for friends, buddy. Bama site must have thrown you out to come here to look for friends. Bless your heart!

Here is my communication to you BamaBleacher...
You can kiss this (_!_) you can have one cheek and Hooker the other and I will happily pass some major gas as you do so!

flatrock writes:

Bill Battle would have been fine-except he was given the HC job with the understanding that he would keep what was left of Dickey's staff. Instead
of being able to assemble his own, young and
aggressive staff, he was saddled with older
assistants who had been passed over for the
youngest guy on the staff. Not a formula for
success.
Fulmer's demise came when Hamilton informed
Phil and Cut that there would be no "succession
plan". Cut and his flock of Ole Miss staff
escapees immediately began looking for another
gig (seriously, why would anyone take the Duke job?)- instead of recruiting for Fulmer and the Vols. (take a look back and see how many quality
players Cut and his followers inked!).
Why wouldn't Hamilton even consider the Fulmer-
Cutcliffe "succession plan"? Could be that
Mikey felt that Fulmer-Cutcliffe-Delmonico
never seriously looked at him as any thing more
than a fund-raiser. He showed them! Thus, the
Kid Kiff-Coach Zero-Raleigh experiment. By the
way, Mr. Hamilton, how's that workin' out?

alwaysVol writes:

in response to BamaBeacher:

(This comment was removed by the site staff.)

just remember at our bottom, we only lost by 2 points, and with a decent kicker we would of won last year.

alwaysVol writes:

in response to BamaBeacher:

(This comment was removed by the site staff.)

lol do you homework, Saban turned you in too. selective memory? actually alot of coaches did

MidTennVol writes:

I'm willing to give this staff two losing seasons. By their third season (fall of 2012), we had better be competitive and up around the minimum-9-wins area.

tsaecesnitsebhtruof writes:

Another informative piece by Hooker. Good job.

pdhuff#552644 writes:

Deep breath and on we go.

17 of 32 gone from the 2007 class is a telling stat.

TLepage writes:

enough with the character talk... people only care about "character" when you lose.... People always turn a blind eye to punks when you win.... It would be nice to have a team comprised of players with sound character, but character doesn't help you win in the SEC (ask Urban).... We need talent, and if they have good character that is a bonus....

TLepage writes:

in response to MidTennVol:

I'm willing to give this staff two losing seasons. By their third season (fall of 2012), we had better be competitive and up around the minimum-9-wins area.

i think that is a fair assessment.... Its going to be a REAL long season this year... Even General Neyland would have a hard time getting this team bowl eligible.... I think this article did a good job pointing out the challenges Dooley has ahead of him... Lets face it, our talent level is way down... With that said, i think its only fair to give this coaching staff a few years (not a few months) to see how they recruit and what type of product they eventually put on the field... 2010 is probably not going to be an accurate indicator of what they are capable of....

TLepage writes:

in response to BamaBeacher:

(This comment was removed by the site staff.)

A gutless wonder that owned BAMA.... Go look at his record against you guys...

TLepage writes:

in response to BIVOLAR_BEAR:

(This comment was removed by the site staff.)

Saban was 7-6 his first year at bama.... Which is about the best we will probably be next year..... I would love to see Dooley win 10 games next year, but its not happening....

give_him_6 writes:

in response to jhayes0926#638474:

I hope the best for DD. Regardless of character, if we aren't winning 9-10 games within 4 yrs., we will be looking again for a "proven" name coach.

Bill Parcells or even the General couldn't win 9-10 games with the kids we have..this year or next. We didn't get in this situation over night and we dang sure aren't getting out of it over night. Wise up man. It's gonna be a long road. You have to do it right and set the foundation right. Everything else will follow. Proven name..LMAO>

hikerdude writes:

When does BB season start?

Colliervol writes:

The article is dead on as far as I'm concerned. Our depth issue is a direct result of Fulmer's complacency during his last few years combined with the one year of Kiffin's disregard for character in some of his recruits as well as running off off players that didn't fit his mold.

KingsportsGoat (Inactive) writes:

Hooker is a "Hooker" and I'm not buying it

gatorhator4eva writes:

All you so called Tennessee fans here need to slow down a little bit here. I wouldn't count my chickens before they hatch. sure are o line and d line could use some work, but expect us to win 6 or 7 games here if we can get one of our qb's to play descent ball. dooley is a very good coach and i think is very capable of at least getting into the sec championship if he can beat alabama. and who know's , there's also that little thing called karma, which means that snake kiffin and family could be susceptible to payback. not likely, but not impossible, just unexpected!!

Ayres_Hall writes:

Glass half empty, huh? We have good talent just not enough of it. I agree with Colliervol just above. Dooley will need a few years to rebuild the depth issue but more importantly he'll need the patience of every VOL fan to get this done.

I'm very confident of the future of Tennessee football. I like the direction the program is heading.

tnbud62#231266 (Inactive) writes:

in response to BamaBeacher:

(This comment was removed by the site staff.)

Listen,Bamathug,YOU GOT CAUGHT! ALL YOU COMPLAIN ABOUT IS THE FACT THAT ,YES, WE CHEATED AND ARE NOT SORRY FOR IT,BUT WE ARE MAD AS HECK WE GOT CAUGHT.THIS IS THE POOREST EXCUSE FOR AN ARGUMENT I HAVE EVER HEARD AND SEAMS TO BE THE ONLY DEFENSE ALABAMA FANS CAN COME UP WITH.STAND BACK AND LOOK AT THIS FROM A 3RD PARTY AND YOU WILL SEE HOW IGNORANT AND STUPID YOU LOOK.THIS IS OUR BOARD AND BAMA LEACHES LIKE YOU WOULD LOWER THE IQ LEVEL OF A CLASS OF MIT PROFESSORS DOWN TO TUSCALOOSA SPECIAL ED STUDENTS,IF YOU CAN CONTRIBUTE ANYTHING WORTH READING,DO IT,OTHERWISE JUST SIT BACK AND EAT UR BUTTERMILK AND POSSUM AND LET YOUR SISTER/WIFE READ YOU ANOTHER DR SEUSS BOOK TO HELP YOU GET YOUR GED

johnlg00 writes:

in response to volunteers4life:

You definitely personify a worm, sir. Dont like the lack of confidence from these unnamed assistant coaches, though.

The unnamed assistants were from OTHER SEC schools, not UT assistants. It would be reasonable for an outsider to conclude that there is not much room for optimism at UT in the short term.

Down_The_Field writes:

in response to BamaBeacher:

(This comment was removed by the site staff.)

very few people remember the comment steve spurrier made the about fulmer/alabubba NCAA incident. he said that while he was at flar-duh he constantly called the NCAA to turn alabubba in for cheating and bubba fans never got mad at him. then he said that alabubba's hatred for fulmer has more to do with fulmer beating them every year.

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