Staff Photo by Patrick Smith
Former Oakland Raiders coach Lane Kiffin speaks to reporters during a news conference Monday at Neyland Stadium. The University of Tennessee introduced Lane Kiffin as Tennessee's new football coach.
KNOXVILLE — Many associated with the University of Tennessee football program have identified quarterback and defensive tackle as the program’s two immediate-impact recruiting needs.
Still, one of the first things new head coach Lane Kiffin did after taking the job was to tell high school quarterback commitments Tajh Boyd and Bryce Petty that they didn’t fit his system.
Kiffin didn’t pull scholarship offers from Boyd or Petty, but both quickly decided to go elsewhere.
Neither player lacked talent, according to most major recruiting services.
Boyd, a 6-foot-1 quarterback from Hampton, Va., is rated by Rivals.com as the nation’s No. 3 “dual-threat” quarterback and No. 86 overall prospect. He now has whittled his list to Ohio State, Oregon and Boston College, according to a recent report on Oregon-based DuckSportsAuthority.com.
“It’s a deadlock between Ohio State and Oregon,” Boyd told the Web site.
Nebraska and Baylor are among the schools who have made offers to Petty — a 6-foot-3 Texan rated by Rivals.com as the nation’s No. 25 “pro-style” quarterback — and he said South Carolina and Oklahoma also have shown interest since he reopened his recruitment.
UT’s coaches are actively pursuing several high school quarterbacks — most of whom are committed to other schools — but the likelihood of landing a top-shelf prospect at that position before February doesn’t seem strong. Either way, Kiffin said last week that he’s not going to let that bother him. He preferred tall, polished pocket passers as the offensive coordinator at Southern California, and he plans to run a similar scheme at UT.
“Anyone coming in at other positions or quarterback will be thrown right into the mix for fall camp,” Kiffin said last week. “But we may not take a quarterback in this class, and I’m OK with that. I don’t want to take a quarterback that’s going to come in here and not meet our expectation level for what we’re looking at.
“We’re looking for great players. We’re looking for players that can take us to a championship level. We’re not into settling for guys just because it’s our first year and we can’t go get certain guys. We’re shooting for the top.”
The Volunteers don’t have any known quarterbacks enrolling in January, and any possible transfers would almost certainly have to sit out one season, so their 2009 quarterback will probably come from last season’s primary rotation — rising senior Jonathan Crompton, rising junior Nick Stephens and rising sophomore B.J. Coleman of Chattanooga.
Crompton started to begin and end the miserable 2008 season, and Stephens was the starter in between. Coleman played sparingly, with his only significant role coming in the Vols’ 20-10 victory at Vanderbilt on Nov. 22.
“Obviously I can’t comment specifically on quarterbacks, but what I can tell you is that we think that we have some good quarterbacks on the roster here,” Kiffin said.
Kiffin said he watched video from last season “just to get a feel for who they are athletically, and the way they throw the ball.
“I’m not evaluating them as far as the system that they were in,” Kiffin continued. “I don’t know what they were told on a daily basis or the expectation level or what they were taught, so I think it’s unfair to evaluate them on how they’ve played so far.
“I don’t care what’s happened before with them, just like all of our players. We have a completely new system in all phases of our football team schematically.”
Kiffin said spring practice will be “huge” for all the Vols, including the quarterbacks. He added that significant time early in preseason camp will be spent giving newcomers the same audition time that veterans get in the spring.
“Everyone will get a shot,” Kiffin said. “I don’t care if you started every game last season or don’t even have a scholarship. I care about right now ... and the future.”