Finally, it’s over.
If you’ve read my musings over the past few days, you will not be surprised at my admission of being quite tired of recruiting for the 2010 season.
It’s one of those deals where you look forward to the day, but you dread the days of hype leading up to it.
It's sort of like Christmas: You hate fighting the crowds, shopping, and the endless amounts of tangled lights, but the joy of that day keeps you excited enough to care.
So when Tennessee’s own personal Grinch, Lane Kiffin, tried to ruin it a mere three weeks before signing day, many figured that all the Vols in Volville would wake up on National Signing Day with a big fat lump of coal under the tree.
That scenario did not play out in 2010, however.
Despite selling a program that just hired its third coach in three years, boasts an overall record of 35-27 since ’05, hasn’t been to a BCS bowl since the ’99 season, hasn’t won the SEC Championship since the ’98 season despite playing for the title three times since, and took repeated public relations hits under the previous regime, I’d say Derek Dooley hit it out of the park in his first three weeks on the job.
Vols fans and writers had not seen very much of Dooley since the 9:30 PM press conference on the evening of the day he was hired, but he was able to meet with the media today for the first time since his halftime interview during a Tennessee basketball game that took place 15 hours after his initial press conference.
"First of all," Dooley said, "19 days on the job feels like it's been already two years.
See, I'm not the only one who is glad signing day is officially finished.
Dooley continued, "I guess it's an understatement to say that the program was in a fragile state. We had so much to do and a short time to get there.
19 days. That's 456 hours to keep a top five class under Kiffin from plummeting to the depths of despair, much as Kiffin did to the morale and psyche of the team that was already assembled in Knoxville.
I know it's not all about that ranking. But it is all about recruiting talented kids who work hard. Maybe a star system can't tell you that for sure, but a coach like Dooley can apparently spot it a mile away.
"I evaluate with my eyes, not with my ears and not on the computer," Dooley said. "There were several guys we signed that were not publicized as high-profile prospects.
Dooley deserves a ton of credit for this class. There were many recruits whose names we never heard while Kiffin was running the show.
Guys like S Eddrick Loften, WR Justin Hunter, RB Rajion Neal, and LB John Propst were never in the discussion until Dooley came to town.
The bulk of the remaining guys from the group Kiffin had assembled, however, were held intact by two of Kiffin's assistants.
LB's coach Lance Thompson and offensive coordinator Jim Chaney held the nucleus of the class together. It didn't hurt that eight of the guys were in the process of enrolling/attending classes when Kiffin left, but Chaney's dedication to securing guys like Nash Nance and Da'Rick Rogers went a long way to making this a top 10 class.
Dooley said as much during the press conference. "I really have to give a lot of credit to Lance (Thompson) and Jim (Chaney), who were on the staff before and gave us a good personnel view of our roster.
As much as Tennessee fans should be happy about this class and the remarkable job that this new staff pulled off, Dooley issued a warning of sorts.
"I think it's jumping the gun a little bit to get so excited on signing day, even though I know it's a great event for the fans," he said.
In the end this true. Stars are nice to compare players, classes, and programs for the fans. But once a recruit gets on the field, it's all about heart and determination mixed with talent.
In closing Dooley said, "I am pleased overall with the guys that we have. But at the end of the day, this class will be evaluated three or four years from now."
It will be a time much further down the road when we realize just how great a job this was by Coach Derek Dooley.
For today, however, I will agree with ESPN's Kirk Herbstreit for the first time in my life. The Gameday analyst said, "Tennessee won National Signing Day."
Considering all that transpired in the weeks prior to signing day, today saw the fruition of a couple of magical weeks on the recruiting trail for the Vols.
Dooley may not be Houdini, but to say he's pretty close would not be an understatement.