Since Phillip Fulmer's tenure at a one school is at least twice as long as any of his SEC counterparts, the Vols, who depend heavily on out-of-state prospects, are in position to pick off some blue chip prizes.
Most high school players that possess pro potential don't want to hitch their wagon to a program that is being rebuilt or one that is in chaos. And let's face it, there is no chaos like the chaos associated with the change of a head coach in the SEC, where football is religion and the coach is pope.
It's such a rare event at UT that it has happened only once in the last 30 years. That's the type of statistic that plays well in a den filled with family during an in-home visit. It offers a form of reassurance that a slick presentation can not approach. Parents that send their sons out into the world want to hand them off to someone who will be there to watch over them.
That means someone likely to be successful and someone with a strong bond to the University he serves. Outside of Joe Paterno and Bobby Bowden there's no coach in the country that match Fulmer's record of longevity and viability. Plus he has achieved his in the dog-eat-dog world that is SEC football; a place that chews up and spits out head coaches like a threshing machine.
If Fulmer's career arc approximates that of Paterno and Bowden, he might well be positioned for some prime years in his coaching career. Of course that assumes he remains at Tennessee, where outstanding recruiting classes of 2005 and 2007 are beginning to bear fruit.
Take the No. 1 ranked 2005 class, which didn't have as much immediate impact as most expected, but has yielded a lot of key contributors. Players such as Demonte Bolden, Lucas Taylor, Dan Williams, Adam Meyers-White, Andre Mathis, Austin Rogers, Marsalous Johnson, Wes Brown, Ricardo Kemp, Antonio Wordlow, Valdamir Richard, Josh Briscoe, Jeff Cottam, Josh McNeil, Chris Scott, Rico McCoy, Montario Hardesty are all either on the two-deep chart or are special team regulars. Next year they will be joined by Jonathan Crompton who could become a special quarterback given his array of skills, terrific toughness and uniquely unteachable intangibles.
The Vols also got good production out of 2005 signees Demetrice Morley and LaMarcus Coker before they departed the Big Orange scene as sophomores. Ditto for other highly touted talents like Raymond Henderson, Slick Shelly and Malcolm Rawls, who left before they developed as players.
This year Fulmer & Co. signed some prospects that dramatically raised UT's level of speed, athleticism and playmakers. Where would the Vols be this season without Eric Berry, Brent Vinson, DeAngelo Willingham, Nevin McKenzie, Lennon Creer, Gerald Jones, Dennis Rogan and Darnius Moore? Plus there are standouts in the wings in 2007 signees Ben Martin, Savion Frazier, Chris Walker, Darrius Sawtelle and B. J. Coleman.
There's no question Fulmer has a lot to recruit to — tradition, facilities, exposure and the most loyal fan base in the country — but it's unlikely the Vols would have been able to sign the level of out-of-state prospects they have without a talent for recruiting and stability at the top.
It's worth remembering while watching the coaching carousel spin.