Tom Arth's departure at UTC exposes difficult side of early signing period

Former UTC and current Akron football coach Tom Arth has both left a program and inherited a program scrambling to assemble a recruiting class in this 2019 cycle.
Former UTC and current Akron football coach Tom Arth has both left a program and inherited a program scrambling to assemble a recruiting class in this 2019 cycle.
photo Tom Arth questions a call during UTC's football game at Western Carolina on Oct. 13.

Tom Arth knows he's not up for any timing awards in the world of college football recruiting.

While powers such as Alabama, Clemson and Georgia continue to stockpile talent on top of talent, Arth's recent move from University of Tennessee at Chattanooga coach to University of Akron coach has placed both the Mocs and the Zips way behind in the race to assemble prospects in this 2019 cycle that will have its traditional conclusion in early February.

Arth was introduced at Akron on Monday, mere hours before the start of the NCAA's early signing period that started Wednesday and wraps up Friday.

"That's probably the biggest issue and the biggest complaint on both sides of the early signing period," Arth said. "There are so many benefits to it, and I'm a fan of it, but in situations like this, it presents a lot of problems and challenges. When student-athletes are committed to a school and then the coach is gone either by his decision or by somebody else's decision, you're not sure where you stand.

"We've approached it here (at Akron) by not signing anyone early, because I know that if it was my son, I would not want a coach we had never met putting pressure on my son to sign a letter of intent two days after he was hired."

UTC's lone signee in this early period is Ailym Ford, a two-star running back out of Florence, South Carolina.

Arth was hired at Akron to replace Terry Bowden, who went 35-52 in seven seasons with the Zips before being fired Dec. 2. It was not an overly tough decision for Arth to leave Chattanooga, given that his base salary at UTC was $185,000 and will be $500,000 at Akron, according to the Akron Beacon Journal.

Akron is a Football Bowl Subdivision program located 30 minutes from where Arth grew up, but the timing of his move also has been difficult from the standpoint of explaining his decision to the players he left and to those he will inherit.

photo Tom Arth, shown during UTC's home game against VMI on Oct. 27, has not added any players at Akron during the early signing period and doesn't plan to do so before it ends today.

"Everybody had left Chattanooga's campus, so there was no great opportunity to get everybody together to do that," he said. "I've spoken to a number of players over the phone. I called (quarterback) Nick Tiano, for example, 30 minutes after I had accepted the position to talk to him about it, but I need to call everybody. It's on my to-do list over the next couple of weeks to call all the guys that I can at Chattanooga, as well as all of the players here at Akron, because we're in the same situation here.

"Everybody is gone and home for the break, so there is no great opportunity to introduce yourself."

Arth experienced a similar communication wasteland when he was hired at UTC in December 2016, but he didn't have the early signing period to navigate.

Framing Arth's two seasons with the Mocs can be performed from a glass half-empty or half-full approach. He followed Russ Huesman, whose last three teams won at least nine games and advanced one round in the Football Championship Subdivision playoffs, and posted just a 9-13 record that included one-possession losses to Furman and Mercer last month that derailed a 6-2 start.

Yet Arth inherited a depleted offensive line in 2017 and an academic suspension to starting quarterback Alejandro Bennifield, which played a sizable role in a wretched 1-7 start. UTC was 8-6 after that under Arth, whose brief stint is topped only in the modern era of Mocs football by Tommy West's one year at the helm in 1993 before he was hired at Clemson.

"In terms of our record, I certainly would have liked to have done a whole lot better," Arth said, "but I think we had started to develop and build the program and the culture that we were looking for. I think we did a fantastic job with the two recruiting classes we did sign, and I think the core group of that team right now understands what it takes to be successful.

photo Tom Arth watches quarterback Nick Tiano warm up before UTC's home game against VMI on Oct. 27. Arth, the Mocs' head coach the past two seasons, recently left UTC to take over at Akron. Arth called Tiano to speak with him about the departure but did not have a chance to assemble the entire team.

"I'm excited for those guys, and I can't wait to see what they can continue to accomplish."

Those accomplishments will occur under Rusty Wright, who was announced as Arth's successor on Wednesday and will be introduced on campus Friday. Wright played for the Mocs from 1992 to '95, was a UTC assistant from 1996 to 2002 and was Huesman's linebackers and special teams coach from 2013 to '16 before spending the past two seasons as a Georgia State assistant.

Arth, who was a guest this week of "Press Row" on Chattanooga's ESPN 105.1 FM, was thrilled to learn of his replacement.

"He's an alum and has coached at Chattanooga and was there for some of the greatest years of the program," Arth said. "I just think that's an awesome hire. I knew they would find somebody quickly, and I knew they would find the right person.

"I'm sure Coach Wright will get that program where it's capable of being."

Contact David Paschall at dpaschalll@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6524.