UT Staff Adds E-Factor

As much as Tennessee's still under construction football staff will be a boost to the Vols player development, system installation, tactical operations, game planning and prospect recruiting, one of the bigger benefits comes in an often overlooked area every bit as important as any of the aforementioned.

Talent evaluation is an under appreciated ability that is based part on experience, part intuition, part alchemy, part sorcery and part acute insight. Yes there are the weights, measures, times, stats and stars, that everyone looks at, but there are also the intangibles that aren't always easily identified or clearly understood. It's more a guessing game than a science and every great coach misses the mark on some players just as the NFL does.

However to a coach with a keen eye, intangibles scream just like potential jumps off the screen and a role readily comes to mind. Moreover it's about knowing how talent works together and having an idea of what combinations of skill sets and personalities are needed to create that balance of chemistry and physicality needed to maximize productivity.

Most players that make it to the NFL have an abundance of ability and intangibles. It's football played at the highest level and requires an extra ingredient to strive because abilities over the elite college and professional spectrum are more often than not equal or nearly equal.

Over the last eight seasons Tennessee has usually been in the top ten nationally in recruiting but that only translated to one top ten finish, and that was in 2001. A top ranked class from 2005 and a No. 4 ranked class from 2007 ended up 5-7 in ‘08 and last in the SEC East behind Vanderbilt and Kentucky which rarely have top 50 classes.

Furthermore the Vols lost a homecoming game against Wyoming which had recruiting classes ranked No. 94 (tie) in 2005, No. 94 in 2006, No. 109 in 2007 and No. 106 in 2008 for an average ranking of No. 100 over four years. Compare that to UT which had classes ranked No. 1 in 2005, No. 24 in 2006, No. 4 in 2007 and No. 35 in 2008 for an average four-year ranking of No. 16, which was the worst four-year stretch Fulmer had in 17 recruiting seasons as head coach.

Not all of Tennessee's talent ever made it's way to the field as a parade of Parade All-Americans came to UT and left UT without ever contributing on the field. It impacted the Vols from a personnel standpoint and also continuity. Players that were being counted on ended up in the attrition bin that includes academic issues, failed drug tests, arrest blotters, injuries, recoveries, suspensions or those that were labeled as outright busts.

The incidents that occurred down the stretch in last year's recruiting campaign cast the program in a negative light much to the delight of SEC rivals. The bad publicity featured an arrest of two Tennessee players on marijuana charges while hosting an All-American wide receiver prospect.

Was this just symptomatic of a loosely run program? Or was there something in the character of these prospects that the coaches failed to detect and weren't proactive in combating. Coming as it did, after Tennessee offensive coordinator David Cutcliffe had departed for Duke with three assistants, it brought more scrutiny on Fulmer. There was a disconnect somewhere and the product that the Vols put on the field proved it by setting a school record for loses and offensive ineptitude.

It also manifested in a general lack of team leadership which became most evident in close games but also on third downs and in the red zone. At one point last season a statement was attributed to Fulmer in which he reportedly said Tennessee didn't have strong leadership on the field. But was this because there wasn't leadership on the sidelines or might it have been because the Vols weren't looking for leadership or couldn't spot or access that trait. An evaluation of talent has to include leadership potential. Naturally you have to be in position to lead in order to lead so talent is also required.

Coaches have to find the talent but they also have to give consideration to the type of energy and attitude a player might bring to the training table. He has to evaluate talent in terms of potential without being blinded by it. Ignoring the potential pitfalls that could mitigate against a player's development, is risky business.

It's easy to take a look at how drastically UT's recruiting board has changed since Lane Kiffin assumed the helm of football operations and conclude he is looking for prospects that better fit his system. Undoubtedly, there were some mismatches recruited by Fulmer's staff for UT's system, none more so that five-star QB prospect Tajh Boyd, who is best suited for a spread offense.

However in other cases there may have also been red flags that caused Kiffin's staff to take a step back. They may have detected the lack of a critical component in the character of an otherwise quality prospect.

That's another thing to remember about recruiting, when prospects are ranked the matter of grades, character, personal history and intangibles aren't directly factored into the equation. If it can't be measured, weighed or timed it's impossible to quantify.

However those coaches that can spot potential and site a high ceiling as well as potential problems or a shortcoming always have an edge in recruiting.

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