The Tennessee Volunteers have officially completed their first national signing day under new head coach Butch Jones. Jones' Vols finished with 21 scholarship players officially signing their Letters of Intent on Wednesday, and the No. 20 overall class according to Rivals.com.
As has been the trend during the decline of UT football, the fanbase is divided over how to view Jones' first recruiting class. When you consider the progress this staff has made on the recruiting trail since being established in a short period, one must consider multiple factors before passing judgement.
Butch Jones was hired to become the Tennessee head coach on December 7, 2012. Since the hire, Tennessee has received commitments from 12 of their 21 prospects, including Marquez North, Rivals.com's No. 2 overall wide receiver in the nation.
The disappointment from many UT fans stems from the Vols' failure to land many elite prospects rumored to have favored Tennessee. Until this morning, many speculated that Ohio State signee Vonn Bell was Knoxville bound.
For a team that was 5-7 (1-7 SEC) last season and has many unanswered questions, to even be in consideration with elite prospects is a moral victory. Many of the elite prospects the Vols fell short of signing only gave Tennessee consideration after the Jones hire.
Speaking of which, how hard was it to watch ESPN's coverage as a UT fan? The fact that a prospect would spurn UT should be painful enough.
Adding fuel to the fire, ESPN follows each decision with "Recruiting expert Derek Dooley." Considering Jones garnered more interest from players in a month and a half than Dooley could in three years, calling Dooley's recruiting anything short of suspect is a ridiculous exaggeration.
Tennessee fans need to finally accept what UT football currently is, a program that must rebuild correctly. It's easy to assume that every prospect in the country wants to be a Volunteer when you look at your team through "orange tinted sunglasses".
However, an impartial D-1 prospect is not going to view UT football with as high regard as a fan of the program. High school kids aren't as aware of Tennessee's dominance through the decades as they are of current powerhouses.
Tennessee is playing catch up to the SEC programs that consistently pull in top recruits and represent the conference in the national championship. For Tennessee to become one of those elite programs, they must bring in the same talent.
With the current state of the program, the 2013 recruiting class is the best case scenario when thinking realistically. Jones and his staff brought in impressive talent to mold in a short period of time.
Despite being ranked far lower previously, the Vols jumped to the No. 20 overall position in team rankings. Winning will bring in recruits. A coach that changes the foundation of a program for the better will bring in recruits.
Give Butch Jones and his staff credit for the job they did on short notice and wait to see results before you pass judgement. With enough success on the field and a full year to recruit, this staff will be able to improve Tennessee football for the better.