Tennessee linebackers coach Tommy Thigpen is one of the hottest recruiters on the trail this year, so his name being brought up for open jobs around the country is no surprise.
UT head coach Butch Jones and athletic director Dave Hart need to make certain they do everything in their power to keep Thigpen in orange and white.
The 42-year-old longtime assistant is the unequivocal ace recruiter on Jones' staff, currently sitting in fifth place on 247Sports' Recruiter Rankings with 19 commitments credited to him, including 10 4-stars.
The Vols' two highest-ranked commits in the 247Sports rankings—Jalen Hurd and Josh Malone—were recruited by Thigpen.
How much would losing Tommy Thigpen's recruiting abilities set back the rebuilding process?
He experienced similar recruiting success in previous stops at Auburn, North Carolina and Illinois.
So of course his name is going to brought up in conjunction with jobs such as the linebackers coach for SEC East rival Georgia, as reported by Dawgs247 reporter Gentry Estes (subscription). It won't be the last time Thigpen's name arises in the rumor mill.
Throw in the work Thigpen did on the football field in improving A.J. Johnson's all-around game and helping mold Dontavis Sapp and Brent Brewer into serviceable SEC linebackers, and his body of work speaks for itself.
That's precisely why Tennessee must recognize Thigpen's contributions with a considerable pay raise.
Of course, it complicates things when coordinator positions or additional titles sweeten the pot. But if Thigpen is allowed to leave for another lateral position without UT putting up a financial fight, it would fly warning flags that the Vols aren't serious about paying what it takes to keep an elite recruiter content.
According to GoVolsXtra's Evan Woodbery, Thigpen's salary is $345,000, which makes him UT's third-highest paid non-coordinator assistant. The staff isn't due any performance bumps as Tennessee didn't make a bowl game this year, but that doesn't mean Thigpen's work doesn't warrant one.
Recruiting is the lifeblood of rebuilding, and Thigpen's hand prints are all over this top-10 ranked recruiting class the Vols have put together.
Some of those players Thigpen lured were mid-term enrollees, such as Hurd and Malone, but a potential departure could have an effect on unsigned, important commitments such as Gavin Bryant and Cortez McDowell.
The future impact would be even greater. For a glimpse at the prowess Thigpen displayed recruiting this year, consider this tweet from Woodbery, who spoke to 247Sports national recruiting analyst Barton Simmons about the recruitment of Malone:
Simmons says Tommy Thigpen being named primary recruiter for Josh Malone was "catalyst" for Vols' surge from back of pack.— Evan Woodbery (@TennesseeBeat) December 5, 2013
Even if the Vols hired an elite recruiter to replace him, that person would have to re-establish all the relationships Thigpen had cultivated.
Thigpen's immediate Tennessee future hasn't been directly threatened yet. There haven't been any reports that Thigpen has done so much as interview with another program this offseason.
He spent all weekend in Knoxville entertaining Bryant on his official visit and was on the road recruiting for UT on Monday, according to GoVols247's Ryan Callahan (subscription required for both stories).
Still, in a cutthroat business, coaches are out to parlay good work into salary increases or take more lucrative opportunities elsewhere.
Jones needs to head this off at the pass. UT needs to give Thigpen a raise to reward him for his banner year and make sure they don't lose another star recruiter like when Peter Sirmon left with Justin Wilcox for Washington or when Georgia lured Rodney Garner away during the Phillip Fulmer years.
Keeping Thigpen for as long as he can is key to Jones' success at Tennessee.
His Southern ties and salesman prowess have already proven successful in UT's recruiting resurgence. With the Vols needing to string together several top-notch recruiting classes to get back into contention in the SEC, letting Thigpen walk is something the Vols simply cannot afford to do.