KNOXVILLE - The university Justin Meredith originally picked fired its head coach before the season and replaced the interim coach after the season.
Shortly after the three-star tight end switched his college choice, the position coach at his second selection bolted for another job. Meredith stayed with that one, though -- Tennessee.
"I think he handled it well," Kenya Fouch, Meredith's coach at T.L. Hanna High School in Anderson, S.C., told the Times Free Press on Monday. "That's a tough, tough spot to put a young kid in, when you're having to make what [ESPN analyst and former coach] Lou Holtz calls a 40-year decision. That's a big deal, and my advice to all the kids is always, 'Hey, go to school where you want to go to school.'
"If you go for a coach, then you guys go win the national championship, he's probably going to leave to be the head coach of the Dallas Cowboys. If you go and you guys win three games, then he's going to be fired. You can't ever count on who's going to be there, so make a decision based on the school."
In the end, that school for Meredith was Tennessee, where he has enrolled and begins spring-semester classes today along with five other 2012 recruits. The 6-foot-5 Under Armour All-American committed to North Carolina in the summer, but that was before the Tar Heels fired coach Butch Davis in late July amid an NCAA scandal. The school hired Southern Mississippi's Larry Fedora last month after Everett Withers led the Heels to a 7-6 record as the interim coach.
Meredith switched to the Volunteers in December, just before special teams coordinator and tight ends coach Eric Russell left for a job on new Washington State coach Mike Leach's staff. Fortunately for UT, that had no effect on Meredith. The departures of defensive coordinator Justin Wilcox and linebackers coach Peter Sirmon, however, will have the Vols' seven committed defensive prospects and remaining targets asking questions between now and signing day on Feb. 1.
Vols coach Derek Dooley said last week he tells recruits that coaches leaving is part of the business and asks for patience while he makes his hires.
"Tennessee hadn't changed," he said of his message, "and all of the things that they really fell in love with when they got here and saw it -- the program, how we're running the program, what we've done in the last 22 months, the new facility, the support, the game-day excitement -- none of that's changed. We have the resources and the attraction that's going to get some high-quality coaches. When we hire who we hire, you'll have an opportunity to meet them because that is a factor, but it's certainly not the factor."
With some of UT's most important defensive recruits scheduled to visit campus this weekend, Dooley likely would prefer to have his three vacancies filled. His week-old search for Wilcox's replacement has been highlighted by speculation and unconfirmed reports about multiple coaches.
Clemson defensive coordinator Kevin Steele, Baylor defensive coordinator Phil Bennett, former Miami coach Randy Shannon and former Illinois coach Ron Zook all have been linked to the UT coordinator opening. According to some unconfirmed reports, Steele and Bennett turned down the UT job.
Dooley has been in San Antonio since Sunday at the American Football Coaches' Association's annual convention, where he could have made contact and done interviews with multiple unknown candidates. Whomever Dooley hires for the defensive coordinator position likely could bring a coach of his own choice for the other defensive vacancy.
"The important thing [for recruits]," Dooley said, "is liking the program, liking the direction and liking the team, because ultimately that's what's going to define their experience."
That was enough for Meredith, who visited UT on more than one occasion for games during the season. Now, like everyone else inside and outside the program, he waits for the completion of UT's staff.
"He was always at least a little bit interested in Tennessee and had a hard time making a decision even when he chose North Carolina," Fouch said. "He was just really comfortable in Knoxville and really comfortable at the University of Tennessee. We're certainly proud of him. I think it was an excellent decision and I think he'll do well there."
Besides Meredith, other new Vols freshmen are quarterback Nathan Peterman from Fruit Cove, Fla.; running back Alden Hill from Alliance, Ohio; lineman Trent Taylor from Lakeland, Fla.; and versatile skill-position player Cody Blanc from Knoxville Central. Darrington Sentimore is a defensive tackle from Destrahan, La., by way of Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College.