Can Derek Dooley hard sell Tennessee on the recruiting front?
The season may be done and the fanbase may have moved on to the finger-pointing, which has become all but customary over the last several seasons in Knoxville, but for Derek Dooley and the Tennessee coaching staff, the work is far from over. Regardless of who you blame for Tennessee's utterly disappointing 5-7 year, the one sure fire cure to the Volunteers' ailments is an influx of talent, and Dooley and company hope to add another Top 15 recruiting class in 2012.
The task certainly won't be easy. Tennessee is currently ranked 12th in the nation by Rivals.com with 20 commitments for the Class of 2012, but despite their early success on the recruiting trail, the Vols will have their hands full to close strong with this class.
The water is muddied in Knoxville to say the least, as programs across the southeast and beyond are circling the carcass of a 5-7 season like vultures. However, despite rumors of in-fighting and potential staff shakeup, it appears that this coaching staff is doing enough to keep the current class together. For now.
There is no doubt that certain commitments will be asked to look around before it's all said and done while others may leave on their own free will. Yet, the Vols looked poised to sign close to a full class if expected attrition becomes a reality.
The numbers crunch is an issue for Tennessee, but nevertheless the Vols still have quite a bit of talent left on their board. This team clearly needs immediate help and, as expected, a large portion of the Vols remaining targets are junior college players.
The clear emphasis has been placed on the defensive line as the Vols continue to try to adapt their personnel to the multiple defensive scheme that Justin Wilcox wishes to employ. Tennessee is a major player with JUCO stars like Denico Autry, Darrington Sentimore, and 380-pound behemoth Daniel McCullers.
But the question is, what does Derek Dooley have to sell after a pair of less than flattering seasons in Tennessee?
Of course, Tennessee will always have tradition to fall back on, but the game has evolved and players have become decidedly less interested in history and decidedly more consumed by the allure of the NFL and money. Henry County offensive lineman and life-long Vols fan Andrew Jelks even spurned the Vols advances in favor of Vanderbilt, a school without tradition or a strong history of advancing players to the league.
So what does Tennessee have to offer a 17-year old kid?
To be honest, aside from immediate playing time, faith in the staff's "long term" plan and the facilities, there's not much. Dooley will certainly have his hands full convincing these kids to be a part of something when that "something" is an 11-14 football team and the "long term" plan may not last more than a year.
It's hard to believe that a school like Tennessee would ever struggle to grab the attention of an athlete, especially considering the success of the 90's and early 00's, but it's a reality. However, this staff has done a solid job recruiting to Tennessee nonetheless. Unfortunately, it's still not good enough and it simply must get better, and get better fast.
This team needs help, but more importantly Derek Dooley needs help. Tennessee football has been through adversity before and they'll survive regardless of who the coach is. Dooley, on the other hand, needs to win now and he'll have to not only survive, but thrive, leading up to National Signing Day in order to do it.
All crappy Jeremy Piven movies aside, Derek Dooley needs to live hard and sell hard for the next two months. Anything less than that could cost him his job.