Signing Day 2013: Butch Jones is still recruiting
Butch Jones' opening statements on Signing Day 2013
Tennessee's strongest presence on college football's National Signing Day came from a former coach, rather than a future player.
Derek Dooley was a guest analyst for ESPNU's all-day recruiting coverage, little of which was devoted to the Vols. Their lack of prominence was hardly stunning. It was about what you would expect from a program that has had four losing seasons and four head coaches in the last five years.
Nonetheless, it still fell short of my less-than-lofty expectations. Just one player short, though. I had a misguided notion that UT would sign defensive back Vonn Bell.
New coach Butch Jones and his staff made Bell a priority. They visited him en masse. And in the precious little time they had down the recruiting stretch, they visited his high school coach.
The interest didn't appear to be one-sided. Bell intimated that he bled orange. But on signing day, he set aside a lifetime of rooting to sign with Ohio State.
That was a major recruiting setback for a program in dire need of secondary help. It also reintroduced coach Urban Meyer to the Big Orange Nation. As if he didn't do enough damage to UT when he was coaching Florida, he now has to swoop down from Columbus and pick off a recruit who seemingly had all the makings of a Vol For Life.
Instead, Bell opted for a program that just went undefeated and perhaps could emerge as the greatest threat to the SEC's national championship streak.
An Auburn comparison might be more relevant from a Tennessee perspective. The Tigers were even worse than the 5-7 Vols in 2012, and they also changed coaches.
Despite the transition, new Auburn coach Gus Malzahn produced a consensus top-11 class, compared to UT's consensus top-25 ranking. Granted, the new coaches didn't start out even. Auburn was working on a top-five class when coach Gene Chizik and his staff were fired. Tennessee was nowhere near that when Dooley was on the job.
If you set aside UT's conference affiliation, a class that ranked as high as 20th would qualify as a job well done. But there's no escaping the outrageous level of competition in
the SEC, where Alabama reigns supreme and the lowest-ranked recruiting class might be worthy of applause on the national level.
ESPN ranked Kentucky last in the SEC, but 40th overall. Rivals had the Wildcats at No. 28 nationally, ahead of all but four teams in the Big Ten. Not bad for a program recruiting with an all-new coaching staff on the heels of a 2-10 season.
If you look at UT's specific needs, the signing of only one running back (Jabo Lee) is glaring. Tennessee also signed just two defensive linemen and three offensive linemen.
The signing of two quarterbacks, Riley Ferguson and Joshua Dobbs, is significant since the Vols have only two scholarship quarterbacks on their roster as they begin their search for a successor to Tyler Bray.
Dobbs, a consensus four-star recruit from Alpharetta, Ga., previously had committed to Arizona State. UT's staff changed his mind in the last few weeks of recruiting.
Tennessee couldn't turn enough recruits to make this a memorable class on signing day. But the memories that matter are made on the field.
And Jones' first UT recruiting class will have years, not weeks, to do that.