UT coach Derek Dooley talks to the press after the game against UT Martin at Neyland Stadium Saturday evening.Staff Photo by Angela Lewis
KNOXVILLE — When Derek Dooley took his Tennessee football team on the road for the first time last season, half of the Volunteers' travel squad was making such a trip for the first time.
So on his first full year on the recruiting trail, UT's coach made it essential that he avoid what led to that situation.
"Probably 70 percent of our roster [next season] will be freshmen and sophomores," Dooley said at Wednesday's signing day news conference.
"These two classes, this freshmen and sophomore class, need to go through the program with minimal attrition, so we have a couple of really good senior classes back-to-back. If we do that, the results will come on the field."
Attrition from misses in recruiting led to the young, depth-depleted UT team that won just two of its first eight games in 2010. And while some of the small numbers in the junior and senior classes heading into next season are certainly attributable to three coaching staffs in three different years, Dooley has stressed the importance in his first two signing classes of not missing on signing day.
"Y'all have heard me say that," he said. "With where our program is, with the numbers that we were working off this year, it was extremely important to me that we bring in a group of guys without of lot of risk of leaving — of not being here.
"This is class the most important class for me and our staff. Time will tell if it's good enough."
At one time, the 2007 class brought in by Philip Fulmer was deemed more than good enough, as it was a consensus top-five class nationally, including a quintet of five-star prospects led by star safety Eric Berry.
The class produced three seniors (receivers Gerald Jones and Denarius Moore and defensive end Chris Walker) who played instrumental roles in the 2010 season's resurgence, but 16 players ultimately didn't complete their careers as Vols.
Lane Kiffin's lone class 2009 brought its own excitement, highlighted by the signing of running back Bryce Brown, the nation's top recruit according to Rivals.com. But neither Brown nor David Oku, the nation's top all-purpose back in that class, lasted at UT, and three other players from the class were dismissed for disciplinary reasons.
Fulmer's 2006 and 2008 classes produced 14 more misses. From those four classes alone, that's 36 players, not including a handful of others who have made little or no impact, who would have been upperclassmen the past two seasons.
The situation he stepped into put more pressure on Dooley to not miss on recruits, and he made it an extra point in recruiting this year's class.
"I know we're charged with winning games," Dooley said, "but being able to get a guy to stay through the course is just as important.
"It was very important to me that we tried to get guys who, four years from now, we're going to say, 'You know what, that's a whole bunch of guys who had great contributions to the program.'"
The class that Dooley managed in the two weeks after he was hired last year lost four signees of its own, but only six of last year's 28-player class didn't play in 2010. Dooley said his familiarity with the 27 players the Vols signed Wednesday has him feeling comfortable this class also won't have many misses.
"We're investing in people, and it's important that we minimize the amount of risk," he said. "I think this is the first time I've ever been involved where every single player who committed never flinched.
"They never wavered, they never got shaky, they never got confused, they never went on another trip of significance, so I think that is a real testament to the quality of people that we have and the type of recruiting that we do that's done for the long haul.
"I have a better feel for the kind of players and the kind of people these guys are, [but] I say that with a lot of caution because it's not an exact science. We don't know. I do think we've done a pretty good job of minimizing risk."
THE MISSING VOLS
The Volunteers from the 2006-10 recruiting classes who left the Tennessee program and why:
LB Dorian Davis: dismissed in February 2008 for violation of team rules.
DL Blake Garretson: dismissed before his freshman season for disciplinary reasons.
DB Justin Garrett: did not qualify academically
OL Ramone Johnson: dismissed in January 2009 for disciplinary reasons.
LB Dustin Lindsey: did not qualify academically.
OL Darius Myers: left after the 2008 season, in which he served a two-game suspension for academics.
DL Chase Nelson: involved in last summer's bar brawl, though he was on academic suspension and not participating in team activities.
TE Lee Smith: dismissed before his freshman season for a DUI; finished his career at Marshall.
QB Nick Stephens: started two games in 2008 but left last spring for more playing time at Tarleton State.
DB Deshaun Barnes: never made it to campus because of academics.
DL William Brimfield: left team before spring practice last year and transferred to North Alabama.
WR Todd Campbell: left the team last June.
QB B.J. Coleman: left the program after spring practice in 2009 and transferred to UTC.
RB Lennon Creer: transferred to Louisiana Tech after sophomore year.
LB Chris Donald: former five-star recruit and state's top player never got the field and transferred to UTC.
DE Cory Hall: Brainerd product didn't qualify academically.
LB Josh Hawkins: left the team last spring.
DT Donald Langley: left the team after spring practice in 2009 and became a starter at Texas Tech.
WR Tyler Maples: never got on the field and transferred to Furman.
DL Rolando Melancon: five-star prospect didn't qualify and enrolled at Louisiana Tech, where then-coach Derek Dooley dismissed him from the team.
WR Kenny O'Neal: Florida State transfer left UT in May 2008 after missing the bowl game and spring practice for academic reasons.
WR Ahmad Paige: transferred to Louisiana Tech after two years at UT.
OL Darris Sawtelle: left the program after spring practice in 2009.
DB Brent Vinson: dismissed from team following the 2009 regular season.
DE Rufus Williams: did not qualify academically.
WR E.J. Abrams-Ward: dismissed in January 2009 for disciplinary reasons.
DB Stephaun Raines: dismissed from the team in December.
OL Preston Bailey: left the team before spring practice in 2009 and started every game for Middle Tennessee State this year.
QB Casey Kelly: chose baseball over UT and was drafted in the first round in 2008 by the Boston Red Sox.
OL Aaron Douglas: former Freshman All-American transferred to junior college; signed with Alabama last month.
RB Bryce Brown: former No. 1 player in the nation transferred to Kansas State amid drawn-out drama surrounding his release.
DB Mike Edwards: dismissed from team after robbery attempt in November 2009; signed with Hawaii on Wednesday.
WR James Green: four-star prospect didn't qualify academically.
DB Darren Myles: dismissed after the Bar Knoxville brawl last July after being slated to start at safety.
RB David Oku: former No. 1 all-purpose back is transferring from UT at the end of the spring semester.
WR Nu'keese Richardson: four-star athlete was dismissed from team after robbery attempt in November 2009.
DT John Brown: four-star junior college player did not qualify academically.
DB Dave Clark: junior college player did not qualify academically.
ATH Marcques Dixon: did not qualify academically.
DB Eddrick Loften: did not qualify academically in 2010; signed a letter of intent with UT on Wednesday.
Patrick Brown has been the University of Tennessee beat writer since January 2011. A native of Memphis, Brown graduated from UT in May of 2010 with a bachelor’s degree in Journalism/Electronic Media and worked at the Knoxville News Sentinel for two years on the sports editorial staff and as a freelance contributor. If it’s the NBA, the NFL or SEC football and basketball, he’s probably reading about it or watching it on TV. Contact him ...