And the problem wasn't as much the second losing season in four years as it was being 10 years removed from an SEC Championship, a steady erosion of fan support, loss of stature and lack of buzz about Tennessee among top 100 caliber talent. Throw in some bad luck along with some bad choices — like cutting ties with your best recruiter at a time when you're losing the rest of your offensive staff.
In truth Trooper Taylor was the best recruiter the Vols had on staff since Rodney Garner in 1996. That left Phillip Fulmer as the best if not only closer on staff. Make no mistake he was a master of the craft, maybe as good at sealing the deal as any of his head coaching peers. However the lack of an ace or two put the onus on him to be on the phones and in homes, a demanding task to be sure.
It wasn't a secret Coach Taylor was unpopular among some other members of UT's staff, who may have seen his enthusiasm as over the top or may have resented the ease with which he developed relationships with prospects as well as his popularity among fans. Then there was his recruiting success, which resulted in pay raises and promotions as the Vols fended off attempts to hire him away.
There was acrimony between Fulmer and Taylor also, to the point that the head coach publicly criticized Taylor for not producing more to the Class of 2006 which followed the losing mark of 2005. That was unusual for Fulmer to publicly rebuke any assistant, especially one as valuable and talented as Taylor. All you had to do was talk to any prospect Taylor was recruiting to appreciate just how well received he was and how many were interested in UT because of Coach Troop, as most prospects called him.
Coach Troop wasn't a yes man and was known to voice dissenting opinions particularly in personnel and tactical matters. Whether the combination of those factors made Fulmer see Taylor as a threat. Or he could have grown weary of the internal discord. It may have been a combination of things, but the bottom line is, they didn't part on good terms.
Some similar dynamics played into the departure of Rodney Garner, but not before he virtually delivered the 1998 national championship in the form of a veritable who's who list of premiere prospects. Now the recruiting coordinator and assistant head coach for the Bulldogs, Garner has stemmed the tide of Peach State poaching that afforded UT a ton of talent throughout the 90s.
KIffin's attempt to add Garner to his new staff was bold, assertive and a great idea. Ditto for the rest of his hires. Essentially KIffin has surrounded himself with some of the very best recruiters in all of college football and then he's set about trying to outwork and out recruit them. In the process he's setting the tone for how starting roles will be settled as well as the type of effort required to succeed in Tennessee's program under his stewardship.
His message on the recruiting trail has resonated with prospects, and as he built momentum with the completion of his staff, he was able to translate in his appeal to prospects. Now Tennessee has buzz again, and without even winning a game. That's why he's been able to pique the interest of prospects enough to listen and visit.
With the list continuing to grow the Vols already have five prospects slated to visit on the final weekend of the 2009 recruiting campaign that are ranked among the top five players at their position nationally.
This weekend's list is also growing with the addition of a couple of outstanding safety prospects from Georgia slated to visit in Greg Reid and Darren Myles. Either this weekend or next they are expecting to host top 100 prospect and Alabama commitment Tana Patrick. Then there's Memphis Whitehaven teammates Derrick Webb and Gene Robinson, who plan to visit Tennessee despite making commitments last week to Colorado and North Carolina, respectively.
Also on hand this weekend are No. 22 wide receiver Ashlon Jeffrey from Saint Matthews, S.C., and No. 19 offensive guard Quinton Washington of Saint Stephens, S.C.
The Vols have also closed ground on No. 23 defensive tackle Terrence Coleman, an Auburn commitment, from Mobile, Ala. The kicker is that the opportunity rose from UT's raid on Bama's staff for top notch recruiter and linebacker coach Lance Thompson. Nick Saban then raided Auburn and plucked James Willis off the staff. That became an issue with Coleman and prompted his decision to reopen his recruiting.
Now Kiffin & Co. have a chance to take a prospect away from Auburn because they took a coach away from Alabama. That's recruiting with compound interest.