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Would You Rather Have An Elite Recruiter or an Elite Tactician?

Georgia v Tennessee Photo by Scott Cunningham/Getty Images

“I’ll take both!”, you say.

Good luck finding that dude. You’ve got Nick Saban and Urban Meyer, who have been known as the face of programs atop the college football landscape for so long it’s easy to forget the “That offense won’t work in the SEC” conversations on Meyer 11 years ago. Saban’s defenses have produced the current head coaches at South Carolina and Georgia. Saban’s offense at LSU was helmed by Jimbo Fisher, who has proven to be an elite recruiter at Florida State. Those three have won eight of the last ten national championships.

Is anyone else generally thought of as being elite as both a recruiter and as an offense or defensive mind? Gene Chizik won one of those other two titles in the last decade and was/is at least a very good defensive mind and recruiter (his three full Auburn classes ranked 6th, 5th, and 11th), but lost his job without his elite tactician offensive coordinator. That tactician has recruited almost as well on paper (6th, 8th, 10th for Malzahn the last three years at Auburn), but now his tactics are getting diminishing returns on the field. Les Miles has the other title in the last ten years and is definitely an elite recruiter, but I feel like his defining tactical quality is weirdness.

Is anyone else truly considered to be both?

This week Athlon released their ranking of all 128 FBS head coaches. It’s a blank slate criteria: who would you want to start from scratch with? And yeah, Saban and Meyer are one and two.

From there the list by nature creates controversy; I’m openly making the case for Fisher being third, they’ve got him at seven. Harbaugh is third on their list, which seems premature to me. They’ve got the Clawfense exactly in the center at #64, which is exactly insane to me. You get the idea: there’s plenty of disagreement to go around.

Where’s Butch Jones? 23rd overall, which sounds okay to me at this point. But I assumed that 23rd would make him like 8th or 9th in the SEC. Nope: he’s number five in our favorite football conference. According to Athlon, he’s ahead of Les Miles and Gus Malzahn.

Coaching jobs are never equal; wins in Starkville are usually worth more than wins in Tuscaloosa. But as we know quite well, even the Tuscaloosas and Knoxvilles of the college football world go through their down swings. Butch Jones is a stronger choice if you’re starting from scratch, because in some ways the Vols were when he got here after Derek Dooley and Lane Kiffin. Jones has proven himself to be an elite recruiter to land back-to-back classes in the top seven nationally when the Vols had nothing to show on the field from this decade.

The X’s and O’s component with Jones tends to get pushed more on his coordinators, especially the defense. When the offense struggled at times last year or was viewed as being too conservative, Mike DeBord was often the first name to escape our lips. But Seth Price, who wrote a book on Butch Jones’ offense, would argue the offense truly is and has always belonged to Jones. The “fast and furious” mantra played out with both Mike Bajakian and Mike DeBord; even if Jones is not known for being a master tactician, the offense carries his DNA.

Would you rather have the recruiter or the tactician? The good news is while those who are elite in both categories are rare, being elite in one doesn’t doom you to failure in the other. When we turned in our three-year report cards on Butch Jones and his staff last December they earned A’s across the board in recruiting, with solid marks in game planning and room for improvement in in-game tactics, leaving us with a solid B for the first three years and what has become the theme of our off-season: how to go from good to great.

Perhaps the best strategy is to have an elite recruiter - as we’ve seen, it’s almost impossible to win a title without elite talent - and make your coordinators the expert tacticians.

No one knows this better than us: from 1995-1998 the Vols had an elite recruiter in Phillip Fulmer, and elite tacticians in David Cutcliffe and John Chavis running each side of the ball. The result: the Vols were the winningest team in college football for those four years, bringing home two SEC titles and a national championship. The encore wasn’t as successful in 2006-2007, but the Vols still won an eastern division title, lost to the eventual national champion both years by a combined eight points, and made overall progress as a program from 2005.

The Vols have their elite recruiter in Butch Jones. We think we just hired an elite tactician on defense in Bob Shoop. And the Vols will look to run Jones’ system in DeBord’s hands to even greater success this fall. If Tennessee finds that success, Jones’ #23 ranking that seems okay for now could seem awfully low in a hurry by December, when we hope those B’s turn into A’s and the Vols turn into champions once more.