Pipeline to the pros

In the good ol' days (the 1990s) Tennessee's football program served as a finishing school for future pros. New head coach Lane Kiffin intends to bring those days back.

Essentially, Kiffin's recruiting pitch can be summed up in five words: "We'll make you a pro."

Of course, that could've been Tennessee's motto in the '90s. No school produced more NFL-caliber standouts in that decade than Tennessee – Peyton Manning, Heath Shuler, Alvin Harper, Carl Pickens, Marcus Nash, Cedrick Wilson, Jamal Lewis, Charlie Garner, Little Man Stewart, Shawn Bryson, Travis Henry, Trey Teague, Charles McRae, Antone Davis, Chad Clifton, Cosey Coleman, John Henderson, Albert Haynesworth, Chris Mims, Chuck Smith, Shaun Ellis, Leonard Little, Todd Kelly, Al Wilson, Raynoch Thompson, Dale Carter, Terry Fair and Deon Grant to name just a few.

Tennessee hasn't been cranking out pros the way it used to, however. In the past six years (2003-2008) the Vols have produced just four first-round NFL draft picks – Jason Allen in 2006, Justin Harrell and Robert Meachem in 2007, Jerod Mayo in 2008.

As crass as it sounds, elite prospects notice these trends. Many are looking for a school that will help them fine-tune their NFL resume' in a pro-style scheme. Kiffin understands this, which explains why he is emphasizing his experience as an NFL head coach on the recruiting trail. It also explains why two of the three aides he has hired so far have NFL backgrounds – Monte Kiffin (Tampa Bay) and James Cregg (Oakland Raiders).

"In recruiting you've got to look at 'What are kids really looking at?'" Lane Kiffin said recently. "I'd like to tell you that the No. 1 thing kids look at is academics; that's not the case. We need to be realistic with that.

"Kids want to play in the NFL. They want to know, 'How can I get to the NFL? When that day comes for me to be drafted, how can I be in the best position to be drafted the highest I can?'"

Several heralded Tennessee players – Heath Shuler and Marcus Nash, for instance – failed to flourish at the NFL level. They still made big bucks, however, because they were first-round picks who got huge signing bonuses in their initial contract coming out of college.

"That's the only contract you know you're getting for sure," Kiffin noted.

Because Lane Kiffin will run a pro-style offense and his dad will coordinate a pro-style defense, Tennessee's elite players should be NFL-ready after a few years in the program.

"If you're in an offensive and defensive system that is NFL-run – in terminology and the schemes you're using for three or four years – you can't be better prepared than if you come here," Lane Kiffin said.

"When this staff is in place and our offensive and defensive systems are in place, I would argue with anybody that there's not a better place for a recruit to go if what you want to do is to be ready for the NFL when that day comes."


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