Early Returns: Butch Jones vs Derek Dooley

Finger guns, bang bang. - Frank Victores-US PRESSWIRE

It's even better than you think.

I know, I know, Dooley sucks and Butch is awesome. That's the party line right now, and as is the case with all first-year head coaches before they've coached a single game, it's all sunshine and roses for the new guy, because he's not the old guy who got fired because, you know, he sucks. It's easy to say Butch Jones is already doing a better job than Derek Dooley; that doesn't really mean much and doesn't really offer significant promise of good times ahead, since 6-6 would be a better job than Derek Dooley.

But Butch Jones isn't just doing a better job than Derek Dooley, he's doing as good of a job as you imagined Jon Gruden or Charlie Strong would be doing at this point. Tennessee remained atop Rivals' 2014 Team Recruiting Rankings when we picked up Cortez McDowell on Tuesday, where the Vols have been more often than not during the summer months. And Tennessee isn't just leading that race because we've got more commitments and more scholarships to offer; the Vols are 20 deep and possibly only two-thirds of the way home here in mid-July. The Vols aren't ahead of the likes of Texas, Florida State, and Alabama because they landed pledges from a bunch of three-stars with so much room to spare. The Vols are ahead of everyone else because they've landed pledges from more four-stars than any other program in the nation except Alabama, and both the Vols and Tide have nine four-stars.

Nine four-stars in mid-July. Tied with the two-time defending National Champions. By comparison, the Vols signed a total of five four-stars in February.

The biggest gap between Butch and Dooley is so far found in these summer months. McDowell gave the Vols 20 commits and 9 four-stars on July 16. Here's where Dooley stood on July 16 during his tenure, according to Rivals (all data comes from Rivals' year-by-year database and only includes players who ultimately signed)

  • 2013: 20 commits, 9 four-stars
  • 2012: 6 commits, 2 four-stars
  • 2011: 0 commits, 0 four-stars (the Vols had three commits who ultimately signed elsewhere - read Past Will try to defend this process here!)
  • 2010: 6 commits, 0 four-stars

To his credit, Dooley was a strong closer. He added five four-stars in the final week of his first full recruiting class, four four-stars in the final week of his final full recruiting class, plus secured Justin Hunter and Da'Rick Rogers in a few short weeks in the Kifffin/Dooley hybrid class.

But Butch Jones is following a path often walked by more successful programs: put recruiting to bed early with both quality and quantity commitments. For sure, Jones will have to continue to recruit these current pledges, especially if things go poorly for Tennessee this fall. But as he walks to the podium on Wednesday at 12:20 to greet the press, any questions about his ability to lead this team must be tempered with the number one recruiting class in tow.

This is somewhat of a new thing even for Jones: according to Rivals, at Cincinnati he had just two commits at this point in 2012, though again, that's just who ultimately signed and many Cincy commits went elsewhere with the coaching change. He was stronger in 2011 with a dozen commitments by mid-July and eight in mid-July 2010.

In his only season at the helm, Lane Kiffin had just five commitments by mid-July and only one four-star. How did Phillip Fulmer do?

  • 2009: Three commits, 1 four-star
  • 2008: Four commits, 0 four-stars
  • 2007: Eight commits, 2 four-stars
  • 2006: Two commits, 0 four-stars
  • 2005: Three commits, 2 four-stars

Brad could speak to this better than me, but some of this is the nature of the game changing: more elite prospects commit early, and more elite programs encourage them to do so. But by any standard, what Butch Jones is doing right now is not only the best in the nation in mid-July, but has never been seen or even approached at Tennessee before.

And thus by any standard, we're off to a good start boys and girls. Let's see if it continues at the podium today.

Go Vols.

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