Word on the street is that former Vols assistant David Cutcliffe will be the next head coach at the University of Tennessee. Cutcliffe’s reps are denying there’s a deal already in place, but it really wouldn’t make any sense for him to turn down the job.
1) He’s currently the head coach at Duke, which, despite the fact he’s had some success there (relatively speaking), is one of the worst five jobs in the country.
2) He knows the landscape. Cutcliffe previously worked at UT as Philip Fulmer’s offensive coordinator.
3) UT is still one of the best fifteen jobs in the country.
Although, unless Cutcliffe does a lot better than I expect him to, you won’t be able to keep #3 on that list for much longer.
Matt Jones at KSR touched on this earlier tonight, and although I don’t want to completely rip him off, I’ll just go ahead and admit that our opinions are going to overlap a little bit.
For whatever reason, proximity plays a much larger role in football recruiting than it does in basketball. Maybe because there’s more inherent risk with a sport like football (in terms of both health and success), but high school football players tend to stay closer to home when it comes time to pick where they want to play their college ball. Anyone who has followed football recruiting with any consistency could’ve told you that forever ago, but Sports Illustrated’s Chris Staples did his own research on the matter last year, and his findings were simultaneously predictable and mind-blowing: Everyone already knew Florida, Texas, and California put out bukus of prep talent, but the sheer volume of blue-chippers in those areas defies logic. A few noteworthy statistics from Staples’ findings:
– If USC wanted to, it could sign an entire class of ultra blue-chippers from within 119 miles and still leave enough Southland studs for UCLA coach Rick Neuheisel to field 80 percent of his class.
– Miami’s Randy Shannon, who should never waste a penny recruiting outside South Florida, has 30 nominees within 79 miles of his campus.
– Florida coach Urban Meyer, meanwhile, could compile almost three classes worth of cream-of-the-crop players without traveling further than 300 miles from Gainesville.
Point being, schools located in places like Florida and California have an built-in recruiting advantage that most others don’t get to enjoy. Tennessee, unfortunately, is one of those schools; they don’t get to handpick their talent out of their own backyard. They have to recruit nationally, which–and I hate to say this–is something Lane Kiffin and his staff did better than almost anyone. Aside from Kiffin himself (a very strong recruiter), UT will be losing Ed Orgeron, the guy whose appetite for recruiting is so insatiable he inspired Bruce Feldman’s Meat Market, a book which chronicled an entire season of the Ole Miss football program while Orgeron was the head coach. If you haven’t read the book, you probably shouldn’t, unless you’re just looking for a few excellent reasons to hate college athletics. Let’s just say there’s a reason the book’s named after an industry that specializes in the slaughtering, processing, and distribution of farm animals for human consumption.
Suffice it to say that Orgeron is a voracious recruiter. He is charismatic. He is relentless. And he takes no prisoners. The latter two of these qualities has been on heavy display over the past 48 hours. In case you’re one of the three people in the world who hasn’t heard this, Orgeron called all of his early enrollment recruits at Tennessee yesterday and told them not to go to class–yesterday was the first day of the spring semester in Knoxville–because if they did they’d be locked into their scholarship, and that would make it much tougher for them to follow Kiffin to USC, which is what Orgeron is presumably hoping they’ll do.
But it’s not just Orgeron. If it hasn’t happened already, in the coming days there will be hundreds of coaches and recruiters making phone calls to these 20 or 30 UT recruits (all of whom are 17 or 18-years-old, we should remember) with the sole intention of trying to convince them to flip-flop on where they’d like to play their college football. And, believe it or not, most of these kids will be willing to listen.
Like I mentioned yesterday, most of these recruits signed with UT because they wanted to play for Kiffin. And like I mentioned today, very few of them signed with UT because they grew up rooting for the Volunteers–very few of them are even from Tennessee.
So, finally, my point with all of this…
Tennessee needed to get land coach with a dynamic personality and/or tons of credibility. They needed a guy that could sit these recruits down and convince them–be it by awe-inspiring merit or just raw charisma–that their choice to play their college football at the University of Tennessee is still the best decision they ever made.
And Cutcliffe isn’t that guy.
Maybe I’m wrong (and I hope I am), but if things go poorly for Tennessee and their recruiting class over the next three weeks (i.e., they all bolt), this could set back the Vols for years. Cutcliffe doesn’t have the recruiting prowess to rein in national recruits or the coaching record to indicate that he’s the guy to right this ship. He’s a solid hire for most schools, just not Tennessee. Not for a school that’s competing with schools like Florida, Georgia, and South Carolina every year for recruits as well as victories.
Maybe I’m wrong. Or maybe I’m only sort of right, and Cutcliffe will do a respectable job and keep the Vols afloat until a better candidate comes along that can get them back to elite status. Either way, I’m afraid it’s going to take a long time for UT to make a full recovery from Lane Kiffin.
Update: Cutcliffe has turned down the Volunteers and will remain at Duke. I wish he would’ve made this decision before I wrote a thousand words on why he wouldn’t work, but whatever. This has to be a demoralizing day for Volunteer fans, Cutcliffe is the fourth guy to turn down the job. Next up: Louisiana Tech’s Derek Dooley and Temple’s Al Golden.