While the powers in charge of hiring the University of Tennessee's new head football coach must be diligent in their search, athletic director Dave Hart admitted the program can not afford to allow the process to drag on.
In the all-important world of recruiting, which will determine how quickly the Vols rebound, every day longer for the search is one less that the new coach and his staff will have to build relationships with prospects and convince them to sign with UT on Feb. 6, national signing day.
"It's important not to let the recruiting class come apart and I don't think it will," Hart said Sunday while discussing the timeline for hiring Derek Dooley's replacement. "But I also think it's very, very important not to race. We've got to get the right person."
Hart added that recruiting coordinator Darin Hinshaw and running backs coach Jay Graham will be in charge of keeping the current recruiting class together.
According to both Rivals and Scout.com, UT's current list of commitments ranks no higher than 10th in the SEC and outside the top 20 nationally. Just days ago, 4-star safety Kameron Miles decommitted from the Vols and is now likely headed to Texas A&M.
One of UT's current commitments, Bradley Central offensive tackle Austin Sanders, said Sunday he is taking on the role of calling or texting many of his fellow UT commitments to do what he can as well.
"Everybody knows I was going to stick with Tennessee regardless of who the coach is," said Sanders, who was the Vols' first verbal commitment. "I knew if they lost to Vandy that Coach Dooley would be gone. I've already talked with a couple of guys, and I'm going to keep calling as many as I can to keep us all together until we find out who the new coach will be.
"We hear a lot of rumors about who it will be, but nothing is official until the contract is signed, so we just have to wait like everybody else. But they're going to have to make a decision really quick. I think the latest would be right after this week's game because Arkansas, Kentucky and maybe Auburn will be hiring new coaches and getting a head start in recruiting. I know for a fact it's a really big deal for recruits to have time to get to know the new coaches because you make your decision based on who you're comfortable with as a staff."
The biggest prize among the Chattanooga area's uncommitted prospects is Ridgeland safety Vonn Bell, who has narrowed his choices to Tennessee, Alabama and Ohio State. Bell has not made an official visit to any of those three schools, but has admitted he has built a trust and good relationship with both staffs at Alabama and Ohio State.
"Vonn is just going to wait to see what happens with the coaching search at Tennessee," Ridgeland coach Mark Mariakis said. "He has said he won't do anything more with the recruiting process until after our season is over."