Honesty and recruiting

When Tennessee signed Nashville's Cory Fleming two decades ago by promising he'd play quarterback, Vanderbilt head man Watson Brown could not hide his dismay. He publicly guaranteed that Fleming would never play a down behind center at UT.

Brown was right. Shortly after arriving on The Hill Fleming was switched to wide receiver, where he wound up flourishing. Tennessee's coaches surely knew when they signed Fleming that he lacked the passing skills to play QB but they told him what he wanted to hear in order to sign him. Two decades later, that's still how college football recruiting operates: Most coaches don't let the truth get in the way of a good sales pitch.

That's why you take notice when a coach comes along who seems unusually candid ... Tennessee's Lane Kiffin, for instance. In less than a month on the job the new Vol boss already lost two quarterback prospects – Bryce Petty of Midlothian, Texas, and Tajh Boyd of Hampton, Va., – because he let them know they did not figure prominently in his plans.

That type of brutal honesty is rare on the recruiting trail but Kiffin insists it is standard operating procedure when he's dealing with prospects.

"That's easy for me. I'm going to be here for a long time," he said, adding that to "go into those houses like some other people do and tell them what they want to hear, especially those parents, (is) not how we want to build this program. We want to build this program around honesty and integrity."

Although playing loose with the truth can win you a prospect in the short term, Kiffin says honesty is the best policy in the long run. Lying to a young man can bite you in the butt the next time you try to recruit a kid from the same school or the same neighborhood.

"When we go back to recruit the player down the street and that mom walks down the street and asks the mom, 'When Coach was in there four years ago, he told you all of these things that were going to happen. Did they happen?' I want her to be able to say, 'Yeah, they did.'"

Although lies and half-truths can help you bring in one good signing class, Kiffin believes candor can help you bring in a series of good signing classes ... which he considers the key to establishing a thriving program.

"That's how you build a dynasty," he said. "I don't believe you do it the other way. You build it by doing it right. Then it becomes much easier down the road to go back into those same areas and recruit those kids because what you said came true."

Based on these comments, you wonder: Does Lane Kiffin truly believe honesty is the best policy with prospects or does he merely believe the promise of honesty is a useful tool in a good sales pitch?

Time will tell.


Inside Tennessee Top Stories