Even the most knee-jerk fan knows rebuilding a college football program takes time. That reality weighs heavy on the Tennessee fan base these days.
History shows the fastest way to get from the outhouse to the penthouse is hire Nick Saban.
Until cloning becomes more advanced, alas, everybody can’t hire Nick Saban.
But no matter who’s name is on the office door, recruiting is the lifeblood of rebuilding. Then there is the subset, junior-college recruiting.
Bringing in players who are already a year or two down the developmental path can be either or stop-gap move to fill holes or a slight accelerator in the overall process. Or, more likely, both.
UT has a rich history with juco transfers, which puts them in company with just about everybody this side of Harvard and Cal Tech. Even when the Vols were living large in the 1990s, a juco or three proved handy.
In these leaner times, they are an absolute necessity.
The 2012 Vols included six jucos who started all or most of the time. Cordarrelle Patterson was an other-worldly addition in his one-and-done season. Mychal Rivera was, for my money, a terrific tight end.
The other four were regulars on the worse defense in school history. Believe it or not, it would have been even worse without them.
As many as five jucos could start in 2013 if tight end Woody Quinn proves to be a quick study. Maurice Couch and Daniel McCullers are critical up front. Byron Moore, who started every game last year, and Riyahd Jones, a spring arrival at cornerback, could have a big say in how far back the Vols can come from defensive oblivion.
The trend will continue. Butch Jones’ commitments that comprise the nation’s (for now) No. 1-ranked class for 2014 include two jucos at positions of need, receiver Kameel Jackson and linebacker Chris Weatherd. Bank on more to come.
To observe this era of junior-college prominence, I submit my Tennessee all-juco team of the past 30 years.
Receivers: Patterson (2012) and the swift Anthony Miller (1986-87). Eric Swanson (’84-85) if you go three wide.
Running back: Not many candidates, but Charlie Garner (1992-93) is plenty.
Fullback: Phillip Crosby (1997-99) got two SEC rings.
Tight end: Rivera (2010-12) was excellent.
Quarterback: Not much to work with unless you budge the time frame to Steve Alatorre in 1980-81. He was slightly more productive than Matt Simms (2010-11).
Offensive line: I couldn’t even come up with five. Bernard Dafney (1990-91) and Albert Toeaina (2004-05) were legit. Mike Furnas started in ’83. Darin Gooch appeared out of nowhere in the summer of 2010 and started at center by default.
Defensive end: Chris Mims and Chuck Smith were disruptive bookends in 1990-91 on the way to the NFL.
Defensive tackle: Lots of options here. Jesse Mahelona made All-America in 2004. McCullers or Couch might yet prove more productive than Demetrin Veal (2001-02) or Aubrayo Franklin (2001-02).
Linebacker: Leonard Little (1995-97) is the only star, but Craig King started in 1996 and Anthony Sessions in 2000. Throw in Nevin McKenzie (2008) for a 3-4 look.
Secondary: Dale Carter, UT’s juco MVP, was a two-time All-American in 1990-91. Julian Battle was All-SEC in 2002 and Gibril Wilson was very good in 2003. DeAngelo Willingham was a two-year starter (2007-08) but Moore or Jones could bump him before they’re done.
Kicker: Greg Burke (1989-90) has little competition.
Punter: Larry Binion (1994-95) has even less.
Return man: Carter was in a class by himself.
Mike Strange may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at Strangemike44.