Since the curtain fell on Tennessee's disappointing 2011 football season, the Vols have lost the same number of assistant coaches as they have committed recruits.
That the latter hasn't been worse, and that the figure hasn't included many of the class of 2012's prized findings, is to be commended, multiple national recruiting analysts said this past week.
"What they have recruited and how they have sold it has obviously resonated far beyond one individual," said Tom Luginbill, ESPN's national recruiting director. "I think that should be looked at as a very distinct positive."
Though the program has been nationally categorized as one of the most unstable within the SEC, UT has yet to see it reflected from its upcoming group of signees, which will be mostly finalized on National Signing Day on Feb. 1.
The Vols' rankings on national recruiting sites have certainly fluctuated since November, but it's been nothing unusual considering the natural ebb and flow that occurs during the final stretch of the recruiting season.
As of Friday, the Vols ranked 15th (sixth in the SEC) on 247Sports and 14th (fifth) on Rivals. The Vols have 21 commitments for the class of 2012, six of which have enrolled at UT. The seventh early enrollee, cornerback Tino Thomas, grayshirted the 2011 season and counts toward this year's class.
"The position of need hasn't changed, the problems haven't changed, they're still going to need to see production out of the freshman class," 247Sports National Recruiting Analyst Barton Simmons said. "I think that maybe factors into things a little bit ... They've lost a couple here and there, but the level of talent they're bringing in, it's been a little surprising they haven't lost more."
Other schools, namely California, haven't been so lucky. The departure of defensive line coach Tosh Lupoi to Washington has altered the entire makeup of the Bears' once-promising recruiting class, as a number of four- and five-star commitments have said they're either reconsidering their decision to play for the Golden Bears or eliminating them from consideration.
Of the six players who have de-committed from UT, only two were considered four-star players by any of the recruiting services. Both of those players — defensive tackle Damien Jacobs (Florida) and cornerback Otis Jacobs (Texas A&M) — flipped on their commitments last month on National Junior College Signing Day. UT compensated for the losses with the addition of four-star defensive lineman Darrington Sentimore, who was previously uncommitted until he signed with the Vols.
The decisions by the rest of the de-committed players, none of whom have yet to commit to a new team, likely did not come as much of a surprise to UT's coaches.
Both running back Imani Cross (Gainesville, Ga.) and wide receiver Keithon Redding (Decatur, Ga.) told multiple media outlets that they'd been hearing less and less from UT's staff since making their respective commitments. Academics were indicated to be the reason for cornerback Kenneth Crawley (Washington D.C.) de-committing. Linebacker Khalid Henderson (Austell, Ga.), in an Atlanta Journal-Constitution article, said coach Derek Dooley told him there was a "possibility" he might not be able to sign with the Vols.
"I thought it was a bunch of crap," Henderson told the newspaper.
How Dooley, UT's three returning assistant coaches and its four new ones have handled the adversity of losing so many coaches has been anything but that, Luginbill said.
"We haven't seen guys jumping off the ship, we haven't seen guys running for the exits," Luginbill said. "I think they have done a masterful job of holding the thing together. Time will tell once we get to the first Wednesday in February."
Luginbill and Simmons cited numerous reasons for UT's lack of commitment attrition. Both agreed that high school athletes are smarter than they used to be about the business side of college football. It's simply become a rarity for an assistant coach to be around long enough to coach a player he recruited through the duration of the player's college career, and more and more prospects have realized that.
UT commitment Daniel McCullers, a 380-pound defensive tackle from Georgia Military College, serves as a shining example. His initial recruiter was former defensive coordinator Justin Wilcox. Former defensive line coach Lance Thompson, whom McCullers referred to as a "second father" to him, took over McCullers' recruitment shortly before he left for a job at Alabama.
"The really good recruiters are selling all the positives and all the resources that the university has to offer. Not just selling themselves," Luginbill said. "If you look at Tennessee and look at its history and look at its new facilities its embarking upon right now, the youth of their roster, there's a lot of positives there. They may be having some staff turnover, but there are a lot of positives to hold onto there."
The basic logistics of not having a full staff during this time of year shouldn't be overlooked, Simmons said. For a large part of the month, UT has had at least three openings on its staff, preventing it from having the full complement of seven recruiters permitted to be on the road.
"If you're trying to get an elite kid, you're following up a visit that sometimes has five coaches coming from one program to sort of make an impression on a player," Simmons said. "You've got coaches spread out around the region not only trying to dig up new recruits, but make the current recruits feel comfortable about the situation they're walking into."