KNOXVILLE — Hitting the ground running wasn’t enough.
Ed Orgeron and Monte Kiffin will take to the air this week, mere days after they were introduced as the University of Tennessee’s assistant head coach and defensive coordinator, and start a furious final month on the recruiting trail.
With just four weeks left until national signing day, the Volunteers need impact players — immediate impact players.
“Our primary focus is always going to be on getting the best players in the country to come play here, and that includes right now,” said Orgeron, a reputable recruiter from his years at Miami, Southern Cal and Ole Miss. “Our focus is on getting the best players available right now.
“No matter where they’re from or what position they’re playing, we want to have the best here.”
Kiffin has spent the past 13 years as defensive coordinator of the NFL’s Tampa Bay Buccaneers, but he spent 17 years as a college assistant before choosing the Green Bay Packers over an offer from then-UT coach Johnny Majors in 1983.
He also showed enough enthusiasm Friday morning to suggest that he’ll work his way back into the recruiting game.
“Some people have said, ‘Well, he’s 68 years old. Can you still coach at age 68?’” Kiffin said. “Let me tell you something right now. I’m 68 going on 48. Some people are 68 going on 88. There’s a difference. OK? Don’t tell me about recruiting.”
Moments after Orgeron agreed to work for new Vols head coach Lane Kiffin late last week, he told Monte — Lane’s father — they’d hit the road Monday morning in Memphis to meet “some hot prospect.” Coaches can’t comment on recruits, but wide receiver Marlon Brown, Rivals.com’s No. 1 in-state player, is the most likely target.
Monte agreed to take the trip and asked what time they’d leave Knoxville.
“At 7 at night (Sunday),” Orgeron said. “We’ll be at the high school before the custodian opens the door to meet the head coach.”
“So we’re out there Sunday night, and I’m fired up,” Monte told reporters Friday morning. “We’re going to go after the best we can get.”
UT’s class has dipped from No. 6 to No. 17 nationally in the wake of Phillip Fulmer’s departure as coach. Lane Kiffin lost a few prospects who wanted to play for Fulmer, and he reportedly told highly regarded quarterback commitments Tajh Boyd and Bryce Petty that he wasn’t sure they’d fit the Vols’ new offense (he didn’t withdraw either offer, but both decommitted).
The Vols are still battling for some of the nation’s top high school seniors at several positions, though, and the final four weeks until February are often the most frenzied.
Lane Kiffin cited some of Orgeron’s recruiting highlights Friday afternoon. His new recruiting coordinator signed several players who led Miami and Southern Cal to national championships, and he put together the talent that helped Ole Miss beat Texas Tech in Friday’s Cotton Bowl.
“When (Orgeron and Monte Kiffin) go recruit together ... and they sit on that coach in front of that mother and father and that high school coach and that kid, they can say, ‘You will get coached for three or four years better than anywhere you’ll get coached in college football, or anywhere in the NFL,’” Lane Kiffin said. “They can say that. No one else from any other school can say what these guys can say.”
Other BCS programs will make their pitches, too, and many of their staffs have already built relationships with top targets.
Much of UT’s staff, though — including the two newest hires — have to catch up in a hurry.
Orgeron is confident that will happen, though. He said he and Lane Kiffin will install the same recruiting system that put together so many national championship contenders at Southern Cal.
“The first time I came to the SEC, I didn’t know a bunch about it,” Orgeron said. “But I kind of know the lay of the land (now). I kind of know the talent. I know the coaches. I know what it takes to recruit in the SEC.
“I know that in order for us to go to the SEC championship, win it, and win the national championship — which I know is Lane Kiffin’s goal at the University of Tennessee — that we have to go toe-to-toe with Florida. We have to go toe-to-toe with Alabama. We have to go toe-to-toe with LSU. We have to go toe-to-toe with Georgia in the recruiting homes in those battles and win in order to beat them on the field ... and we have every resource we need.”