Analyst talks Vols recruiting, sees potential quick Vols rebuild and compares Butch Jones errors with new Pruitt way

By Vince Ferrara / @VinceSports

This week’s blog, Vince’s View driven by Oak Ridge Nissan, features an extended interview with the national director of scouting for 247Sports and college football writer for CBS Sports, Barton Simmons, studying the University of Tennessee’s roster and the recruiting differences between Butch Jones and Jeremy Pruitt.

Simmons offers his analysis on a number of different recruiting and football topics that you’ll see with quotes and audio of the full interview below. He also shared his opinions on the three Vols 2019 class commits that competed at The Opening Finals, how much he likes the Vols 2019 commit class at the moment and his thoughts on the quarterback battle at UT between Jarrett Guarantano and Keller Chryst.

Here’s a look at the 2018 Tennessee football roster based on recruiting rankings entering college.

Vols 85 Scholarship Breakdown By Star Rating (Highest)
5 stars = 5
4 stars = 47
3 stars = 30
2 stars = 2
Not rated = 1

Vols 85 Scholarship Breakdown By Star Rating (Average)
5 stars = 2
4 stars = 34
3 stars = 46
2 stars = 2
Not rated = 1

There’s a big difference in the numbers of 3, 4 and 5-star rated Vols players based on highest-ranking by any one recruiting service (most often quoted by fans) and the average of all the ratings services (most accurate.) That average is provided by 247Sports’ Composite Ratings.

Using the highest ranking for each player can help you make the argument that the Vols have a loaded roster with a bunch of 4 and 5-star talent, 52 players, compared to just 33 3-star or less players. That’s 61% of the roster being what fans want, 4 or 5-star players.

On the flip-side, if you wanted to argue that the Tennessee roster isn’t quite as talented as some might believe, you can reference the average star ratings for Tennessee and see that 49 players are 3-stars or below while only 36 are 4 or 5-stars. That’s only 42% of the roster being in that 4 or 5-star group. That’s a big difference in how you can a) make the numbers work or b) perceive what the level of talent on the team actually is.

The amount of recruited talent, mostly by Butch Jones’ staff and some by Jeremy Pruitt’s first class is debatable. The fact that many of the players that were brought-in by Jones and his staff haven’t lived-up to their ability or ranking is not debatable.

That’s the way Barton Simmons views the UT roster.

“There’s no way you can look at Tennessee’s program and not acknowledge that there’s been a void in development, strength and conditioning.”

Is the underachieving the fault of the coaches not developing good players? Is it the fault of the players for not taking advantage of their opportunity? Is it just bad luck for the players that have been riddled by injury? Is it the fault of the recruiting services for over-rating those players? Is it a bad fit between player and program? Is it the fault of the coaches for not signing the right players that can play on the SEC level? There are likely cases where all those apply.

Sure, there will be things that happen that’s out of the control of coaches, but the bottom line is it’s the responsibility of the coaching staff to sign the right players. Each staff decides how to create their recruiting boards for what they want in football players, evaluate those players, pursue the ones they want the most and sign the right ones that want to be a part of your program.

If a player doesn’t pan out, only using the “well he was overrated by the recruiting services” argument doesn’t fly. Successful coaches don’t develop their recruiting boards based on how the services rate them. Programs do their own scoring and ranking of players. Coaches need to be able to identify elite any-system talent, scheme-specific talent and “under-the-radar” talent. Then, the coaches have to get the signatures, get them on campus and develop them.

Barton Simmons reminds us that players deciding where to play college football helps determine whether they live-up to expectations.

“It’s a fact that if a kid who’s a 4-star or a 5-star or whatever you want to call him has two schools, school x and school y. He can go to school x and he will be a better player than if he goes to school y just based on the way school x develops kids. We can’t rank guys that way, but it’s a fact. If Tennessee can become a school x as opposed to a school y, which is I think what they were before, then all of sudden this roster starts to look very different and I think can improve very rapidly.”

SEC teams are currently averaging 280 offers in the 2019 class. Schools with coaching changes typically have even more than that. Programs can’t take most of those players. Each school will have interest from many more kids than they can take as well. Coaches have to make the right decisions on which kids they pursue that are “the right fit.”

A counter to that may be, ‘Well what if a player UT signed was also offered by 7 other SEC schools and 8 ACC schools among others. If everyone wanted him, why is that the coaches fault?’

Fair question. Here’s one example regarding Tennessee that might provide the answer.

“I think Butch Jones made a mistake in just chasing stars, for lack of a better phrase,” Barton Simmons says. “I think they would often get guys on campus, love’em up, create a lot of energy and they were really good at that, and then take those commitments without I think digging in to, ‘Alright is this the right guy for the program? Is this the right fit for our scheme? Is this the right personality fit?”

Not every kid fits great at every school, offers or not. Schools offer kids for various reasons. Not every offer is committable. Yes, that is a thing in recruiting. Some schools will offer but then won’t accept a commit from certain kids, especially in a numbers crunch or if they can “upgrade.” Some higher-rated players won’t camp unless they are offered by a school. Schools, for example, may offer 12 four or five-star cornerbacks but decide to focus-in on five of them. Coaches that know how to win big, sign the right guys, not the guys that will make them look right. There’s a difference.

Rick Neuheisel, co-host of “Full Ride” with Chris Childers, has a great line about this subject that we often hear in promos on ESPNU Radio Channel 84 on SiriusXM. “It’s not the players that you don’t get that gets you (coaches) fired. It’s the players that you do get that ultimately can’t play on the level that you thought they could play.”

With all the players in Top 20 classes that Butch Jones signed, although some were terrific players, a larger percentage of those players either left the program early or haven’t produced to expectations.

So how different will this Tennessee roster be constructed moving forward starting with the recruiting evaluation process that’s already begun with the new coaching staff?

“The evaluation is much more intense,” Simmons says. “The guys are much more scrutinized. I think Jeremy Pruitt’s staff is not just sort of taking a bunch of in-state guys because they are highly regarded and trying to build momentum. Because of that, I think you got a group of guys, only 12 commits right now, but a ways to go yet. I think they’re guys that fit. If anything they’ll outplay their ranking as opposed to underperforming their ranking which is something we grew accustomed to seeing under Butch Jones.”

My point is, however you spin the reasons…underdevelopment, overrated, misevaluated, signed for the wrong reasons, etc…it all falls on the lap of the coaching staff.

I asked Barton Simmons about the talent level on the 2018 UT roster. He sees the possibility of a quicker Vols bounce-back under first-year head coach Jeremy Pruitt than many others do.

“When you look at the guys that they got. You mentioned those numbers (referencing the roster star rating breakdown listed at the top of this post) and whether you used the composite or the best ranking out there. There’s guys there that are really talented. If this staff has the right strength and conditioning program and player development in place, I just think it may not take quite as long for Tennessee to get back as people may think. You would think Jeremy Pruitt’s got that blueprint because of where he’s been. This will be a test to that sort of Nick Saban model. There’s plenty of reason for optimism when you look at it that way.”

Full Barton Simmons Interview

I will add this disclaimer for those that don’t follow the recruiting process or are frustrated by it. I know recruiting rankings aren’t the be-all-end-all, but recruiting absolutely matters. You need great coaching and great talent to win championships. You need both, not just coached-up underrated players. You have to have a roster full of highly-regarded talent. Not every player has to be a 4 or 5-star, but you need a lot of them to start with. Elite talent paired with elite coaching wins national championships. See every champ since the start of the BCS era.

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