Former Tennessee head football coach Derek Dooley was criticized for not winning on the field. And many proclaimed he couldn’t win off of it either, specifically on the recruiting trail. He and his staff got off to a good start early on, but as his tenure wore on, his recruiting dropped off. Especially his in-state recruiting.
But how does Dooley’s in-state recruiting while at Tennessee compare to current Vols’ head coach Butch Jones’ efforts?
It’s worth noting at the start that the in-state crop of talent has risen slowly over the years, and the average in-state recruit that Butch Jones and his staff are recruiting are more highly-ranked than the ones Dooley was recruiting. Which also means greater competition for those players. But even with that, Jones has still, unsurprisingly, done a better overall job of recruiting in the state of Tennessee than Dooley did.
Dooley’s initial class in 2010, one that was started by Lane Kiffin, was fairly strong in the state of Tennessee. They only signed two notable in-state recruits, but they were two of the top three players in the state according to 247Sports. And those two players were Jacques Smith and James Stone. But there wasn’t anyone Dooley and the staff really missed on, and both Smith and Stone were key contributors for the Vols in their time at UT.
The 2011 in-state recruiting haul was the best in-state class Dooley had, gathering in five of the top seven in-state players and seven of the top 12 overall players in the state. Tiny Richardson, Kyler Kerbyson, Mack Crowder, and Devrin Young were the most notable gets in that class. And, once again, there were no major misses in this class.
The 2012 group, however, ended up being a different story.
Dooley and the Vols managed to just snag two of the top 24 players in the state. And neither of those players panned out in their time at Tennessee.
Receivers Drae Bowles and Cody Blanc were the only in-state recruits in the top 25 players in the state of Tennessee Dooley and his staff got in the 2012 class. And neither have had particularly memorable careers at UT. Bowles transferred to UT-Chattanooga in 2014, and Blanc has just one reception for 43 yards in his time at Tennessee.
Not only that, but they missed on several players that have gone on to have solid college careers. Will Redmond, I’Tavius Mathers, and Patton Robinette all had varying degrees of success, but all did contribute positively to their teams and would’ve made impacts at Tennessee. So would quarterback C.J. Beathard, who has been a serviceable quarterback at Iowa.
Derek Dooley started the 2013 class and was able to get early pledges from some recruits. But Butch Jones and his staff came in and finished off the class. That hybrid class pulled in three of the top 11 players in the state, including Jalen Reeves-Maybin and Austin Sanders. Outside the top 20, the Vols also got Brett Kendrick, Malik Foreman, and Josh Smith.
There were notable misses in that class, including Jalen Ramsey and Jordan Wilkins. Most importantly, of course, was missing out on Ramsey, who went on to win a national championship at Florida State and be selected No. 5 overall in the 2016 NFL Draft.
But once Butch Jones officially took over, there was a sizable uptick in in-state recruiting.
The 2014 in-state crop was dominated by the Vols, as Butch Jones and his staff hauled in nine of the top 11 in-state recruits. Jalen Hurd, Josh Malone, Todd Kelly Jr., Derek Barnett, Rashaan Gaulden, and Jashon Robertson were all in the top 11, and all pledged their services to Jones and the Vols. Kicker Aaron Medley was even part of that 2014 in-state class. Throw in the fact that there were no major misses in the class, and it’s about as perfect of an in-state haul as you could ask for.
It’s a little early to know exactly how successful the 2015 class truly is, but early returns look very positive for the Vols. Tennessee got the top two players in the state and four of the top seven in-state players. Kyle Phillips, Drew Richmond, Jack Jones, and Jauan Jennings all signed on to be Vols from the 2015 class. The other top recruits from the state of Tennessee in that class have all redshirted thus far, so we won’t know until this season or next if there were any misses.
In this most recent recruiting class, Jones picked up commitments from two of the top five players in the state, linebacker Daniel Bituli and offensive tackle Ryan Johnson. But other than tight end Austin Pope, who came in at No. 16 overall, the Vols didn’t bring in any other in-state recruits of note. Only time will tell if they missed out on anyone.
As for the 2017 class: The Vols have a solid base of in-state talent, claiming commitments from four of the top 18 players in the state, including highly-rated safety Maleik Gray. But the Vols are getting beat out for some of the top talent in the state thus far, most notably by Clemson. The Tigers have commitments from three of the top seven players in the state of Tennessee, including the No. 1 player in the state, Tee Higgins.
Despite some of the troubles the Vols are having in this current recruiting cycle, overall Jones has had more success than Dooley with in-state recruiting. So far, Jones hasn’t had the obvious gaffes that Dooley had, and Jones has hauled in more consistent talent.
It should come as no surprise, but in-state recruiting has definitely improved since Derek Dooley was fired. Now Jones and his staff just have to win on the field to keep winning off it, something Dooley couldn’t do.