published Tuesday, December 8th, 2009

Watching the exits

Kiffin's staff departures may affect recruiting


by Wes Rucker
Audio clip

Jamie Newberg

KNOXVILLE -- Jamie Newberg, like most college football recruiting analysts, compares the exhaustive process to a marathon.

But this is the time of the year, Newberg said, "when you can kind of start to see the finish line."

And Lane Kiffin's Tennessee Volunteers, who have compiled one of the nation's best commitment lists to this point, are approaching a late fork in the road.

Wide receivers coach Frank Wilson and running backs coach Eddie Gran, UT's key recruiters in fertile Louisiana and South Florida, decided within the last few days to leave for LSU and Florida State.

"It's hard to say what will happen at this point, because you're talking about very recent events," Rivals.com's Newberg said Monday afternoon. "For the most part, it's probably going to affect them. But to what degree, I don't know yet.

"Recruiting is about relationships -- that's what it's all about. Obviously, these guys have been recruiting for Tennessee since January, and now they're at LSU and Florida State. It's definitely at least a little speed bump right now, because they did have an awful lot of momentum heading into December."

That momentum hasn't completely vanished.

Several UT commitments have said they were OK with the recent departures, but prospects at several positions -- including Gran's special teams -- anxiously await word on their position coaches' replacements.

El Camino (Calif.) Community College's Kenbrell Thompkins, one of the nation's top junior college wide receiver prospects, said Monday that he was "pumped" about Kiffin's decision to handle wideouts until Wilson's replacement is hired. Kiffin sent several receivers to the NFL while coaching that position at Southern California.

"I think Coach Kiffin's got everything under control for now and the future," said Thompkins, who hopes to leave California next week and start practicing with the Volunteers. "I'm pretty pumped to work with my head coach at my position for a while. He obviously did a lot for those guys at SC."

Miami offensive lineman Jose Jose, who was initially targeted by Gran, recently visited Knoxville and said he was "still a Vol."

"Coach Gran is a great guy, but Tennessee is still Tennessee, and I still have the opportunity to play early," Jose said. "I wish he would have stayed, but it doesn't affect me too much."

UT hopes to hear similar words from Michael Palardy, an elite kicking and punting prospect from Fort Lauderdale, Fla., who cited Gran as a big reason for his September commitment to the Vols.

"Kickers are a hard deal to evaluate, because there's so many good ones out there, and so few of them get (scholarships)," Newberg said. "But having said that, Palardy is the best that I've seen, and the best that we've seen this year -- or one of the two best, at least.

"I have a feeling he could be one of a few guys that make a big impact at Tennessee next year."

Kiffin was unavailable for comment Monday. Several UT officials said the coach was on the road all day visiting prospects.

Newberg said Kiffin and his remaining staff's recruiting relationships could go a long way toward determining their success in holding onto Wilson's and Gran's prospects.

Long-term effects will be seen after Kiffin refills his staff, Newberg added.

"(Ed Orgeron) has obviously been supplementing the recruiting efforts for Tennessee in South Florida, as well as Louisiana, and they've obviously done well in both places," Newberg said. "I don't know how much it's ultimately going to affect them, at least in the short term, with this class. We're just going to have to see. Lane Kiffin and his staff do have relationships with these kids.

"You look at South Florida and they've got a handful of kids from there, because that's where Coach Gran makes his payday, in terms of recruiting. He's great down there. Maybe in the long term, that could affect them, because he has such great ties down there. But again, it also depends on who Coach Kiffin uses to replace them.

"Knowing what we know about Tennessee in terms of being aggressive with their staff hires, I'm sure they're going to be very aggressive once again in replacing these two guys."

Several names have surfaced as potential hires to handle the receivers, running backs and special teams. Those include South Carolina assistant and former Vols tailback Jay Graham; longtime UT and NFL assistant Kippy Brown; Central Florida running backs coach David Kelly; Notre Dame wide receivers coach and recruiting coordinator Rob Ianello; and Middle Tennessee State defensive coordinator Manny Diaz.

Other names likely will pop up in the coming days, as Kiffin kept several names confidential while compiling his initial staff.

Other contacts for Wes Rucker are www.twitter.com/wesrucker and www.facebook.com/tfpvolsbeat.

about Wes Rucker...

Twitter - @wesrucker Facebook - /tfpvolsbeat

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