Throughout Phillip Fulmer's career as Head Coach at Tennessee, it was widely agreed upon that his strongest attribute was that of a great recruiter. Fulmer had the ability to sit in a recruit's home and sell the program and himself to the recruit and his family. Mothers and fathers felt comfortable leaving their child with Coach Fulmer, because he let them know he cared more about the kid than just as a player.
As the years passed and Fulmer's success dwindled, so did the praise about his recruiting abilities. Did Phillip Fulmer change? No. The players he was recruiting and the program he was selling did, and on Nov. 3, 2008, Phillip Fulmer was fired as the Head Coach at Tennessee and an era was over.
The No. 1 priority for Fulmer's replacement was the ability to recruit nationally, and UT Athletic Director turned to Lane Kiffin to fill the open void. While Kiffin was short on years of experience, there was a plan in place that all parties were confident in, and knew it would work in the end.
Lane Kiffin proceeded to assemble a recruiting juggernaut. Kiffin himself was a former recruiting coordinator, and hired former recruiting coordinators David Reaves of South Carolina, Ed Orgeron of USC and Ole Miss, Jim Chaney of Purdue, Eddie Gran of Auburn and Lance Thompson from Alabama. In addition to those, Kiffin hired ace recruiters from various staffs in college football and a few select assistants from the NFL that had proven experience at the NFL and college level.
Possibly the biggest addition was Defensive Coordinator Monte Kiffin, Lane's father. Kiffin is widely considered the best DC in the country, at any level, and his energy at the age of 69 is simply amazing. Marching Monte Kiffin into a perspective defensive recruits home would bring a reaction very few people could bring.
Although this staff was made up of recruiting all stars, they started the 2008-2009 season behind, due to coming on late in the process and what showed to be lackluster work by the previous staff. That didn't deter them, it drove them to work harder and press themselves as hard as they could.
The new staff was able to salvage previous commitments, most notably among them was Toney Williams, Jerod Askew, and David Oku. David Oku was a touchy situation, to say the least. The No. 1 all purpose back (Rivals.com) re-opened his recruitment after the staff change occurred, then moved to Nebraska only to shut contact to everyone off for a short period of time. The staff was able to win Oku over, and he signed to UT in February.
Simply amazing was the staff's effort on the new commitments they received. Two University of Florida commitments, Nu'Keese Richardson and Marsalis Tegue, both de-committed from UF to sign with the Vols. Taking any recruits from the grasp of the National Champion Gators is a huge accomplishment in such a short period of time, especially considering Richardson was from Pahokee, an area the Vols had never gotten anyone from.
Kiffin and Co.'s first big breakthrough, however, came from Hillboro's (TN) four-star DB Eric Gordon. Gordon is an amazingly athletic playmaker who most speculated was days away from committing to Alabama, when Kiffin swooped in and convinced Gordon to sign with the Vols. This would be the beginning of a familiar trend.
Tennessee came in late and signed several big names who were considered heavy leans or commits. Janzen Jackson (LSU), Darren Myles Jr. (Bama) and the No. 1 overall prospect in the nation according to Rivals.com, Bryce Brown (Miami). These three signings, along with the rest of the class, has given the new UT staff some serious momentum, and has shown this staff will not be outworked.
The new recruiting period has started and all the buzz in the recruiting world is about Tennessee. There's no question that to catch up with the likes of Florida and Alabama on the recruiting trail the way the Vols need to, the staff will have to prove they are as viable on the field as they are on the recruiting trail, but they've gotten a head start.
Coach Kiffin has maintained all along that no one would outwork his staff, and Ed Orgeron's recruiting obsession was well documented in the book "Meat Market" by Bruce Feldman of ESPN. Orgeron is obsessive about getting in people's faces, meeting people and developing relationships all over the country. He knows how to get it done.
Tennessee is already on the radar of several of the top prospects in the nation, and that list is building every day. Watch out for UT to continue to build interest among the top prep stars in the nation, and watch for other college programs to follow the example UT has set.
It's becoming more apparent every day that while the new staff may be a little controversial, no one can argue with the results they've put together in such a short time with such little to work with.
That's recruiting 101.