Despite numerous coaching changes since firing Phillip Fulmer, Tennessee football didn’t always have to start from scratch when it came to talent. Lane Kiffin inherited a roster with some real talent, evidenced by the Vols’ 2010 NFL Draft performance. The same holds true for Butch Jones, evidenced by the Vols’ 2014 NFL Draft performance.
However, Derek Dooley and Jeremy Pruitt both did have to start from scratch. It looks like Pruitt left Josh Heupel in a position where he has to start from scratch too, at least according to one writer. Tom VanHaaren of ESPN has the Vols at square one in their rebuilding through recruiting stage, along with the Michigan State Spartans.
VanHaaren’s article listed the different stages of rebuilding through recruiting for a variety of teams. The stages were square one, moving in the right direction, almost there and now or never. Here’s a bit of what he said about Tennessee football.
"The Vols lost commitments from five-star linebacker Terrence Lewis, defensive linemen Dylan Brooks, Katron Evans and Darrell Jackson, running back Roc Taylor, cornerback Damarius McGhee, tight end Hudson Wolfe and wide receiver Jordan Mosley, among others.Add in that the program lost linebackers Henry To’o To’o, J.J. Peterson and Quavaris Crouch, offensive linemen Wanya Morris and Jahmir Johnson, defensive back Key Lawrence, running back Eric Gray and quite a few other players and it’s easy to see what a steep challenge Heupel and his staff have."
It is true that the major losses in the 2021 class and the insanely high number of transfers put the Vols in a bad situation. No coach or scheme could possibly replace all that talent in one season and win at a high level in the SEC.
Heupel hasn’t been able to selectively evaluate talent and avoid just filling roster spots the way most coaches like to do. At this point, he just has to find players where he can and plug them into his system, and he’s been doing some of that.
Of course, finding a way to win on the field could shoot the Vols up a couple of stages. After all, if Heupel has any sort of impressive season this year given everything he has dealt with, it’ll make him a very attractive coach to play for to more high-profile recruits.
Don’t forget, though, that Tennessee football needs its NCAA investigation to come to an end as well before it can truly recruit to its maximum potential. Whatever is taking so long remains a mystery, but if that comes to an end with a decent result, and if Heupel wins early, things could change for the Vols fast.