Tennessee Vols avoiding recruiting fallout from Bajakian's departure

Tennessee Vols avoiding recruiting fallout from Bajakian's departure

January 30th, 2015 by Patrick Brown in Sports - College

KNOXVILLE -- Sheriron Jones doesn't know who his position coach will be when he gets to Tennessee in four months.

That isn't slowing down the four-star quarterback's increasing anticipation for next Wednesday, when he'll sign with the Volunteers.

In fact, Jones is already plotting to leave his high school graduation early so he can get a headstart on moving to Knoxville.

"It's going to be a dream come true," the Tennessee commitment said Thursday night of signing with the Vols. "I'm finally doing the thing that I've been working so hard to do since I was a little kid in signing that national letter of intent and going to the University of Tennessee. I just can't wait for.

"I wish I could have did it on my official (visit), but obviously there's regulations to that. It's coming fast."

Tennessee's search for an offensive coordinator doesn't appear to be moving as quickly.

Vols T logo

Vols T logo

 

It's been eight days since Mike Bajakian resigned to become the quarterbacks coach for the NFL's Tampa Bay Buccaneers, and though his departure came less than two weeks before national signing day -- arguably the most important date of college football's long offseason -- there's not been much in the way of a ripple effect on Tennessee's 2015 recruiting class.

The Vols actually added two more commitments from Michigan running back John Kelly last Thursday and Georgia linebacker Quart'e Sapp on Thursday since being hit with coaching turnover that often inflicts damage to recruiting classes.

"Recruiting decisions fundamentally come down to comfort levels, which are facilitated by relationships, and those relationships are built over time," said J.C. Shurburtt, a national recruiting analyst for 247sports. "When someone leaves a school and goes some place else, obviously that kind of muddies the relationship waters and affects the comfort level.

"Sometimes it just depends on how comfortable a kid is as to whether or not it truly impacts a final decision."

With quarterback prospects Jauan Jennings and Quinten Dormady enrolling earlier this month, Jones, a former Florida commitment who re-opened his recruitment in December in the wake of Will Muschamp's firing, was the 2015 commitment most affected by Bajakian's departure.

"I wasn't really shocked," he said. "I was just like, 'Wow,' because I was talking to him the day before and I didn't hear nothing about it. But sometimes you've got to think about those decisions. For example, being in college and choosing a college, it's got to be what you want and not what others want.

"With him going to the NFL, I have no problem with it. He's got to do what's best for his family. It was a life-long dream for him, and I'm glad that he did it."

The 6-foot-3, 190-pound Jones took unofficial visits to both Florida and Tennessee in June and picked the Gators over the Vols, but Bajakian stayed in touch with Jones during the fall and, Jones said, would check in monthly to see how he was doing and how his season at Rancho Verde High School in Moreno Valley was going.

When he came back on the market, he named the Vols his new leader, and Jones said his official visit to Knoxville a couple of weeks essentially made him fall in love with his future program.

"The first time (there), I didn't really spend that much time, so going the second time, on a official, that made it 10 times better," he said. "I loved it the first time I went. I didn't get to see as much as I did for my official on my unofficial.

"On my official I got to see everything. I got to sit down with the coaches, sit down with the players, teachers -- everything like that. The support is great. They really care about their players. When they say family at Tennessee, it's an actual family."

Coaching turnover was a staple of Tennessee's program prior to the arrival of Butch Jones after the 2012 season, but Bajakian was only the second assistant coach to leave in two-plus years, though others have turned down other opportunities to stay with the Vols, and first since Butch Jones's first months on the job.

The timing of Bajakian's departure was not ideal, but it's had little effect on Tennessee's class.

"That's what happens when you have good coaches, good teachers, good people, these types of things are going to happen," Butch Jones said Wednesday afternoon during an appearance on the "Paul Finebaum Show" on the SEC Network. "We were prepared. I keep a journal on my desk of coaches that I really respect in this profession if something happens.

"With the timing, everything is about relationships, and we basically staff recruit. We've had no obstacles that way because of the relationships that have been built over time with our prospective student-athletes and their families. That hasn't been any hindrance at all with this recruiting class."

Shurburtt believes the way Tennessee builds its program with a core of in-state players and legacy recruits and sells the program itself has sheltered it from any fallout from a first bout of coaching turnover.

"Tennessee's going to be fine because of the way they've assembled the class," he said. "That's different than a class that maybe a team's gone out and stolen a lot of guys from out of state because they have a couple of super recruiters on the staff and it's a situation where they're building and it's not necessarily a program with great traditions and things like that.

"Those are the types of schools and programs and recruiting classes that get gutted by change, and I don't think Tennessee is one of them."

Sheriron Jones said Butch Jones assured him Tennessee's offense wasn't changing and that he didn't need to worry.

It might not have made him change his mind anyway.

"I went to Tennessee before I went to Florida on my two unofficials, and they were looking out for me then and they're looking out for me now," Sheriron Jones said. "I really appreciated that, and I loved the environment. I loved the fan base and everything Tennessee stands for.

"At the end of the day, everything worked out for the better."

Contact Patrick Brown at pbrown@timesfreepress.com.


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