Kiffin Commits to Plan

To a true recruiting guru, analyst, aficionado or fan, the thought of throwing back a five-star quarterback is unconscionable, but Lane Kiffin's decision to dissuade Tajh Boyd from coming to Tennessee was responsible and commendable.

The most obvious reason is that it frees Boyd from a system he didn't fit and allows him to seek out one that does. It's certainly not any type of indictment on Boyd's ability, as he's likely to strive in a spread offense and has every chance to have a successful collegiate career. He's rated No. 4 in the country and is regarded as one of the top two dual threat QB prospects.

By releasing Boyd from his obligation to UT Kiffin was underscoring his commitment to the pro-style system he helped develop at USC. It was also consistent with statements he made at his introduction one week ago in Knoxville, where he made it clear he didn't care about how many stars a player has in front of his name when it comes to selecting starters. Obviously star value alone won't determine the Vols' interest in a prospect either.

That doesn't mean stars have no significance where recruiting or Kiffin are concerned. The fact Kiffin spoke proudly of USC's recruiting rankings during his tenure as offensive coordinator and recruiting coordinator show he's out to get elite talent. If you recruit nationally with the intention of going after the best players from Miami, Fla., to Barrow, Ak., it will be reflected in the team rankings and industry buzz. Good players want to play with other good players. They get to know each other at combines, camps and all-star games. They compare notes and continue exchange info and impressions.

Momentum in recruiting can't be discounted and once a class begins to gain an identity others want to be a part of that experience. Kiffin is in an ideal position to capitalize with national signing day still two months away. His legacy, his energy and his associations with USC and the NFL will sell well in any part of the country. Add to that the stature he now carries as Tennessee head coach. There's enough instability in the college ranks to put a lot of big names back in play. Even regaining a commitment from former UT commitment Jarvis Giles, who is scheduled to announce between UT, South Carolina and Nebraska on Tuesday, would be a momentum starter for the Vols.

However an outstanding signing class doesn't always correlate to excellence come autumn, as Tennessee fans have discovered over the last decade and can attest. On the other hand, bad recruiting virtually always assures failure in the fall.

Despite having the nation's No. 1 ranked class in 2005 and No. 4 class in 2007 the Vols had a 5-7 season that ushered the end of the Phlilip Fulmer era. Of course they also had a couple of sub par classes in 2008 which was ranked No. 35 and in 2006 with the No. 24 ranked class. That doesn't sound so bad, but when it's in the bottom third of the SEC it's all relative.

Note that not a single Tennessee true freshman made a significant contribution this year, and the Vols only had two four-star prospects and no five-star in that class. Ideally you'll get several rookies that will make an impact while pushing veterans to higher production levels. Signing prospects that can contribute as true freshmen enhances a team's competitive chemistry, provides an infusion of raw talent and boosts a team's confidence level. Early playing time at a premier program in the game's toughest conference with maximum exposure are monster selling point in living rooms of prospects who want to go where they'll have a chance to play early and compete for titles.

For instance: in 2004 Tennessee split the quarterbacking duties between two true freshmen, an atypical risk that garnered a lot of attention and helped offset Fulmer's reputation among rival recruiters for favoring seniority over more talented, but less proven players. It was a decision which paid handsomely on signing day 2005.

However Tennessee's success in recruiting was often skewed by high attrition and underachieving, meaning it rarely translates to the field of play. At times it came from signing prospects as athletes with no real sense of the role they could fill. In a few cases there were players that simply didn't develop their potential whether from a lack of motivation or focus. Some were clearly overrated while others failed to live up to their academic obligations or ran afoul of authorities or were dismissed for violation of team rules. All trap doors that can turn a high school All-American into a forgotten man.

The point is, it becomes as much the mental, emotional and psychological challenges as it does the physical when you reach a level like the SEC. That's what the stop watch and video doesn't always reveal.

If you go back through the last seven classes signed by Fulmer you'll find a lot of high school all-Americans that either dropped out, were thrown out, never got in, or never lived up to expectations. You'll find season after season in which good talent didn't mesh, particularly in the offensive line, which is ironic because it was Fulmer's specialty as an assistant along with his masterful recruiting prowess.

The key to Kiffin making his national recruiting strategy work is selling prospects on early opportunity and then allowing them to compete for starting roles. Alabama proved how young players can be blended with a solid system and veteran leadership to form a dynamic contender.

What makes it work is an environment of competition that doesn't penalize players for being young. One that recognizes playing a more talented player over a more experienced player is the only way to get better as a team. And who better to make that case than the youngest head coach in NFL history and the youngest head coach in the NCAA's highest division.

If Mike Hamilton's choice turns out to be as good as his timing, Tennessee's football fortunes are already in rapid recovery.

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