Thursday, July 21, 2011
Patience is a virtue for Tennessee
By Dave Hooker ESPN Recruiting
HOOVER, Ala. -- Panic doesn't help.
That was Derek Dooley's message for Tennessee fans who are overly concerned that the Vols are slipping far behind their SEC brethren in recruiting. With seven commitments for 2012, Tennessee is in far better shape than it was on Sunday, when it had just two commitments and had a fan base shaking in its boots.
While no excuses will matter to the most rabid fans, Dooley has some good ones.
Derek Dooley and Tennessee are facing some hurdles in recruiting. While he's not making excuses, he is preaching patience to Vols fans.
His program is awaiting a ruling from the NCAA about recruiting violations that occurred before his tenure. The entire athletic department has been in the news for all the wrong reasons, such as firing popular basketball coach Bruce Pearl amidst more NCAA issues and the subsequent resignation of athletic director Mike Hamilton, who has still not been replaced.
"I think absolutely it has an impact," Dooley said of the bad media coverage affecting recruiting. "It certainly makes it a little tougher from our standpoint because our challenge is getting guys from other states to come see us. I think once players come to our campus that we're able to look past some of those concerns and they see how we operate and how we do things, then we can get in the game.
"The hardest challenge for us has been some of the negative attention that swirled around our program prevented guys from even having an initial interested in coming to look at us. Certainly it provides a tremendous amount of fair ammunition for your opponents."
Tennessee is expecting a ruling from the NCAA in the coming months. The ruling isn't expected to be harsh, but the duration of the investigation (more than a year) has had its impact on recruiting. At his resignation media conference, Hamilton said he had serious concerns about the speed of NCAA investigations and he and Tennessee officials would take that up with the governing body.
"We've had a lot of discussions about that," Dooley said. "I think the NCAA is sensitive to the issue and is making some good, significant steps to try to improve it. I'm also appreciative of their challenges. They have a lot of challenges too in getting it to go fast. It's not as easy on their end as we would like it to be and I understand that, but what we've appreciated the most is that they're listening and that their trying to make some corrective action that I think is going to benefit the schools."
Perhaps the best cure for an NCAA investigation's negative effect on recruiting is to win. Auburn coach Gene Chizik, with a national championship ring on his hand, hasn't seen ill effects from the Tigers' very public NCAA inquiries.
"Our recruiting class right now is really, really going well," Chizik said. "We've got two top-five -- back-to-back -- recruiting classes and we don't expect this to be any different. So there can be different rumors, innuendos and all those things that go with it. We've got one goal. Keep pressing ahead. Keep doing the things that we know are right on a daily basis and all that stuff will unfold favorably for us as we move forward."
Kentucky coach Joker Phillips said one star led to another in recruiting for the Wildcats. First it was quarterback Jared Lorenzen, then tailback Rafael Little, receiver Keenan Burton, quarterback Andre Woodson and receiver/returner Randall Cobb.
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"We were able to go out and sign five, true wide receivers, which was a huge need of ours, by selling Randall Cobb," Phillips said. "We were able to get Randall Cobb and the other receivers in his class by selling Keenan Burton. Being able to sell those guys has helped us get into some homes. Other players like players. They like watching dynamic players."
Phillips said he was able to land current Wildcats quarterback Morgan Newton by showcasing Woodson.
"Coach Joker is a good seller," Newton said with a smile. "He definitely showed [Woodson's career] to me and my father. We bought."
Newton said former players can have a huge effect on prospects.
"It weighs a lot," he said. "It weighs a lot more than all those buildings that they're putting up. It's the guys that have come before you and the coaches and the people you're around when you're at the university. ... Being able to see guys have success in the past is a huge part in the recruiting process. It's a big part of why I went to the University of Kentucky."
Phillips said he's excited about Kentucky's 13 commitments because he knows them so well, as 10 took part in a Wildcats' camp.
"I'm excited about this recruiting class that we're putting together because our coaching staff has been in front of these guys and had a chance to work with these guys for a couple of hours," Phillips said.
That doesn't mean Phillips was ready to pan recruiting services as some of his counterparts, including Steve Spurrier, did Wednesday. Phillips has a different challenge in a state that has less high school talent than some opposing coaches.
"I don't think it's as important nowadays to get video from them," Phillips said. "I think the literature is plenty for us. It gives us a starting point. ... Being in Kentucky, we can't hit every school in Georgia."
One of Phillips' goals is to be more productive when recruiting southern Georgia. Phillips said he's pleased with what the Wildcats have accomplished in metro Atlanta. Now, it's time to head south. Phillips said he believes running backs coach Steve Pardue should help, thanks to his ties in the area. Pardue won three state championships at LaGrange (Ga.) High School before joining Kentucky's staff this offseason.
Kentucky currently has five commitments from Georgia. All are from areas near Atlanta.
Georgia coach Mark Richt answered questions about his job security with a recruiting update.
"It's interesting that we had some great commitments recently," he said. "Three of them were two years down the road. One of them was three years down the road, so I think a lot of people have an awful lot of faith and confidence in this program and the leadership of it."
Chizik isn't afraid to use recruiting services, as long as they're worth it. He said they help eliminate some of the leg work during the evaluation process.
"I feel like the recruiting services can be of value," he said. "The bottom line, is the recruiting service giving you what you need to make an accurate evaluation of the players you could be recruiting?"
Richt said he prefers for prospects' recruiting to be in the hands of the player, coach and player's family.
"We use them some, but we really use them less and less," Richt said of recruiting services. "We don't go to a recruiting service for them to tell us who a good player is."
Dave Hooker covers Southeast and Atlantic Coast recruiting. He has covered recruiting and college football for over a decade. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.