State of Recruiting

Whether you love him or loath him you, whether you want him to stay head coach to the day he dies or wish he had been fired nine years ago, you've got to give Phillip Fulmer his due when it comes to recruiting because no team in American ranges so far or has more success beyond its own borders than Tennessee.

A case could be made for Notre Dame, but when you have your own network, and we're not talking about NBC, and more media coverage than any team in the nation it's hardly a level playing field.

Michigan is another school that has enjoyed outstanding success recruiting nationally, but it also tends to produce more in-state prospects than Tennessee as a result of a population base that nearly doubles that of the Volunteer State.

When you factor for intrinsic inequities the Vols come out on top, hands down. Take a quick review of UT's 2009 commitments for independent verification. To this point, the Vols have committed 11 prospects from nine different states including Pennsylvania, Virginia, Georgia, Mississippi, New Jersey, South Carolina, Florida, Texas, California and two from Tennessee. By comparison, Notre Dame has nine prospects from six states and Michigan has 12 prospects from seven states.

However Notre Dame and Michigan are not the teams UT has beat to win the SEC. In that gridiron jungle it's Georgia and Florida that matter most since South Carolina, Vanderbilt and Kentucky have never won an East Division title. And it's also here you get a different perspective.

The Gators have picked up six commitment so far five, of which, come from Florida. One comes from Georgia. The Bulldogs have 11 commitments including nine from Georgia. In 2008 Georgia signed 23 with 15 hailing from the Peach State. In an atypical signing class, Urban Meyer signed 22 with 10 coming from Florida. The Gators usually average closer to 70 percent from Florida. Tennessee signed 18 in 2008 and only five in-state prospects.

Go back the last 10 years and you'll find the numbers are similar and in some cases more pronounced. Still year after year Tennessee is able to even the odds by pulling top talent out of distant townships stretching from Portland to Miami from New Jersey to Hawaii, from Montreal to Berlin from Alaska to... UT needs Howard Dean for their travel agent.

It's no laughing matter to UT's coaching staff which has to put in more hours to recruit out-of-state prospects, more time forming relationships and more time lost in the logistical nightmare that is modern travel. Generally speaking the further you go for a prospect the less your chances of success.

That same principle applies to retaining signees since it's easier for an out-of-state prospect to quit and go home than for an in-state prospect who is already home. Attrition has hit the Vols hard in this department and tipped the competitive advantage to upper echelon SEC opponents. The 2001 squad is the last UT team to hold a personnel advantage over its conference opponents. With John Henderson and Albert Haynesworth holding down the middle with Donte Stallworth, Jason Witten and Kelley Washington as pass targets, It had the misfortune to play Florida and LSU on back to back Saturdays.

The 2004 UT team didn't have nearly the talent Auburn did and lost in the SEC title game. Ditto for the 2007 team which lost to LSU. Both games were competitive and LSU and Auburn finished No. 1 and No. 2 respectively with a combined record of 26-2. So it's hardly like they were embarrassed.

The competitive balance between the SEC's super six — Alabama, Auburn, LSU, Florida, Georgia and Tennessee — is so close and the coaches so accomplished that it's hard for anyone to get an edge. When the Conference first expanded it was all about Alabama and Florida, then it became Florida and Tennessee, then it became Tennessee and LSU. Ever since season the power balance has fluctuated with Georgia and Auburn picking up titles.

In final analysis, it's not just about coaching and talent now. Sometimes it's about the schedule, injuries and luck as there is less separating the SEC's super six. The goal is to put yourself in position to win championships. The only way the Vols can do that is to recruit nationally.

Who is better qualified to recruit nationally than Phillip Fulmer?


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