The big story over the last few days has been Vanderbilt's relative surge in recruiting. The Commodores picked up a commitment from Memphis RB Brian Kimbrow, who is believed to be one of the best players in the state of Tennessee. In addition, Vandy now sits at eleven total commitments for the Class of 2012, which I would assume is a higher number than their program is used to having in early July.
Meanwhile, for the second year in a row many Vol fans find themselves beginning to wonder/worry about Derek Dooley's next class. Tennessee currently has just three commitments for 2012: RB Imani Cross and LB Khalid Henderson from Georgia, and WR Corey Smith from Ohio. Smith is a four-star receiver, Cross a three-star back, and Henderson is not currently rated by Rivals.
Some of the noise with Vanderbilt also includes the fact that the Dores now have four commitments from the state of Tennessee, while the Vols have none. While Dooley did end up signing seven in-state players in February, the previous Dooley/Kiffin class included just two - Jacques Smith and James Stone - from the Volunteer State. For Tennessee to be successful, they need to win battles in the three-to-five hour window around Knoxville that includes Atlanta, the Carolinas, and Ohio. The Vols have also been successful in the past in the Tidewater, VA region. Believe me, Kentucky's pipeline into Alcoa has generated plenty of noise in Blount County, but as much as local fans want to see local players wear orange, it will always be true that it's more important for Tennessee to sign the best players from those areas than the best the state has to offer.
But Derek Dooley has taken things a step further by being more calculated and patient than any other SEC program when it comes to recruiting. Take a look at the number of commitments for each SEC school right now:
- Alabama - 14 (5 4+ star players)
- Arkansas - 7 (1)
- Auburn - 10 (8)
- Florida - 13 (9)
- Georgia - 10 (3)
- Kentucky - 11 (1)
- LSU - 15 (7)
- Ole Miss - 7 (0)
- Mississippi State - 8 (0)
- South Carolina - 10 (2)
- Tennessee - 3 (1)
- Vanderbilt - 11 (1)
Every other program in the league, even Kentucky and Vanderbilt, has at least seven commitments at this stage of the game. On this date one year ago, Justin Worley became Tennessee's fifth commitment of the Class of 2011. The Vols didn't hit double digits until mid-August last year.
But this is the way Dooley likes it. The head coach who walked into his interview with Mike Hamilton toting a detailed, in-writing battle plan that helped win him the job is still doing his due diligence on the Class of 2012. And I wouldn't be surprised if every July that Dooley is the coach here, a percentage of our fan base starts to get nervous over our small number of commitments.
He's earned our trust in recruiting because of the way he closes. Not only did he keep many of Kiffin's commitments in the fold in January 2010, he also added Justin Hunter, Rajion Neal, Mychal Rivera, Da'Rick Rogers, and James Stone in the pressure cooker of his first two weeks on the job. And earlier this year, Tennessee's final five commitments - all saying yes between January 24 and Signing Day - were among their most important: Marlin Lane, Byron Moore, Cameron Clear, Curt Maggitt, and Antonio Richardson.
We know Dooley can close, and the quality of players the Vols have added in the eleventh hour suggest that ability comes from building a relationship with those kids over the course of time. Ever the wordsmith, Dooley has repeatedly suggested that he values relationship over hot sauce:
I'm not sure if there is any official stat one could track on this, but the Vols almost certainly led the SEC in signatures-per-visit. Dooley's bell curve model suggests that the Vols will take few risks on low character/high talent players, will build the majority of a class with solid, dependable guys, and then try to land a handful of great players outside that 3-5 hour window (which would include Byron Moore, Maurice Couch, and DeAnthony Arnett this year).
Instead of going after everyone early and often, Dooley and his staff are taking their time and working the process. It may make us a little nervous at times, but his track record at the end speaks for itself and should be trusted. Likewise, we shouldn't hit the panic button in early July when there are only three names on the board, and we shouldn't hit the panic button over anything Vanderbilt is doing, especially when their shiny new coach has a career record of 0-0.
It's different than what everyone else is doing, from schools with great in-state talent to programs like Vanderbilt. To be so patient in a world that's so frenzied is different and is, in fact, quite bold. But in two consecutive Februaries, the results have spoken for themselves. While we're still here in July, we should remember the past and the process, and trust that our coach is being bold in the right way.