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Tennessee’s East Hopes Come Down to Coach O

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Tennessee is faced with some irony this weekend.

In order to save UT’s chances at winning the SEC East, the Vols need the man who once betrayed them to come to the rescue.

That man is now interim LSU head coach Ed Orgeron, who made a brief stop through Knoxville in 2009 as part of Lane Kiffin’s one-year stint with the Vols that ended with Kiffin, and many of his assistants, bolting for Southern California essentially in the middle of the night in early 2010.

Orgeron, better known as Coach O, was one of the most dubious characters in that act.

Rumors and reports circulated that Orgeron was actively calling members of Tennessee’s 2010 signing class and telling them not to go to class so that they wouldn’t be subject to transfer rules. Many speculated that he was trying to get some of them to follow them to USC.

It isn’t entirely clear what he did and didn’t say that night, but it didn’t look like he had Tennessee’s best interest in mind, and he later did admit to speaking to UT recruits in a 2010 interview with the L.A. Times.

 “Yes, I did call recruits to clear up any questions they had,” Orgeron said. “In my knowledge, I followed the rules correctly…I make tremendously strong ties with families in recruiting,” he added. “I always try to guide them in the right direction and provide information to them to help some young men who are wondering, ‘Coach, what can I do? What are my options?’ All I did was present their options. Families call me. I call them. I had answers. I gave them answers to their questions.”

That 2010 signing class, which was eventually completed by Derek Dooley, did go on to be one of the more talented ones in UT history with nearly half of the 27 signees going on to some form of NFL career.

The damage, however, done by Kiffin and Orgeron was substantial as the previous 2009 class quickly fell apart, the NCAA investigated their time in Knoxville and their hasty departure put UT in a terrible spot in its coaching search – one that ended in arguably the worst hire in program history.

Orgeron can gain some forgiveness from Tennessee fans this weekend.

The Vols must take care of their own business the next two weeks against Missouri and Vanderbilt, but they also need LSU to knock off Florida if they’re going to win the SEC East and make it to Atlanta.

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