Things around Tennessee football certainly haven’t been boring the last few months.
The wild ride continued on Monday when running back Bryce Brown, ranked the No. 1 prospect in America according to Rivals.com, signed with the Vols.
And despite all the controversies and Internet flame-ups, things seem to be going according to plan for UT coach Lane Kiffin.
Last fall, Tennessee had sunk so low under former coach Phillip Fulmer that the Vols lost at home to Wyoming. The UT program seemed to have become irrelevant in the SEC behind national champion Florida, national title contender LSU, highly ranked Georgia and a resurgent Alabama program.
Tennessee? Not on anyone’s radar. Not a factor. Not even in the discussion.
Furthermore, it seemed that under Fulmer, that wouldn’t change. That meant it was time for a change.
When Tennessee AD Mike Hamilton hired Lane Kiffin, remember, it was seen as somewhat of a risky move. Many Vol faithful wanted North Carolina’s Butch Davis or Texas Tech’s Mike Leach.
No one knows this for sure, but I have a feeling Kiffin was instructed to do exactly what he has done the last couple of months: Stir the pot and get people talking about Tennessee again.
And boy, has he been successful at that.
As many have pointed out, Florida’s Urban Meyer, Georgia’s Mark Richt, Alabama’s Nick Saban and LSU’s Les Miles can pretty much go 10 miles outside their offices and recruit starters for their team because of their states’ level of talent.
Kiffin can’t do that. East Tennessee doesn’t produce a great deal of talent and even going elsewhere in the state isn’t always a slam dunk for the Vols. (See Marlon Brown.)
That means Kiffin’s had to play PT Barnum and keep everyone thinking and talking about Tennessee. Insulting opposing coaches in the conference might not be the ideal way to do that, but as Brown’s signing has proven, Tennessee is now back in the national conversation.
So far, Kiffin has done everything he said he would do. He promised a high-caliber, top-notch coaching staff that could recruit. He did that, adding his father Monte as defensive coordinator and hiring Ed Orgeron and Lance Thompson, two of the nation’s best recruiters.
He promised UT would go anywhere in America to get the best players. He did that by signing Brown (from Kansas), Nu’Keese Richardson (from Florida) and Janzen Jackson (from Louisiana).
He promised to build things in the program the right way. So far, the current players say they like the energy and renewed focus on discipline and intensity the new staff has brought.
Does this mean wild, crazy Kiffin just might pull this thing off in Knoxville? Hey, we still have to see the product on the field in the fall. He could still flame out spectacularly.
But it’s starting to look a lot less likely now. And whatever happens, I’m sure it’ll keep us talking.