KNOXVILLE - Moments into his Dec. 1 introductory news conference, University of Tennessee football coach Lane Kiffin compared himself to a carpenter.
He said college football programs are fortified with good coaching, solid discipline and a sturdy recruiting fence along the state's border. He didn't promise a certain number of wins, but he vowed to prioritize those three things.
Early returns show potential in all three areas.
Kiffin assembled what some believe to be the nation's most expensive set of assistant coaches, dismissed two valuable offensive linemen from the program and implemented a strength and conditioning program that one Volunteers upperclassman called "way harder than anything we've done since I've been here."
But potential and production are not the same.
Today's start to the national signing period might not provide the fairest forecast - Kiffin's staff was completed last month - but today's college football environment is immersed in instant gratification. UT fans want Grade A prime rib in the drive-thru window.
"The culture is what it is," Kiffin said last month. "I wouldn't want to be here if the bar was set any lower."
With few exceptions, including some Tennessee targets, most of the nation's top prospects will fax their signed national letters of intent today.
Some of the South's top high school seniors reside in the Volunteer State, and Kiffin has doggedly pursued many of them.
College coaches can't discuss unsigned prospects, but Kiffin drove to the airport minutes after his first news conference and boarded a plane for Memphis to visit a "top prospect."
Wide receiver Marlon Brown - the state's top prospect, according to Rivals.com - said he sat down with Kiffin that night. Brown also was the first recruit visited by UT defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin and recruiting coordinator Ed Orgeron.
"We've got to put a fence around the state of Tennessee," Lane Kiffin said. "We've got to make it so that there is no reason a player from Tennessee should ever leave this state and go anywhere else.
"They need to be here playing for us and winning championships for the University of Tennessee."
UT had a mixed bag of in-state success under former coach Phillip Fulmer, whose reputation as one of the country's best recruiters landed him an analyst's position for CBS College Sports Network's coverage today.
The Vols have signed 11 of the state's 30 top prospects over the past six years, according to Rivals' statistics. Eighteen of the 30 signed with other Bowl Championship Series programs (though Brandon Warren transferred to UT from Florida State), and one signed with Memphis.
The Vols didn't offer scholarships to all 18 players who went elsewhere. But they failed to sign three of the state's past four No. 1 prospects, and that trend will continue today if Brown signs with Georgia, Ohio State or Ole Miss.
Brown said after his weekend visit to UT that all four of his finalists were "even. I don't have a leader at all. I'm going to sign somewhere (today), but I don't know which one, and I don't know when I'll decide ... maybe at the last minute."
No. 3 prospect Eric Gordon and No. 9 prospect Zach Rogers are expected to sign with the Vols, and Brown isn't the only potential late addition. Henry County star Marsalis Teague, a longtime Florida commitment, surprisingly visited Alabama and UT the past two weekends before denying all interview requests until today.
Teague did not return calls but text-messaged a polite request for privacy while making a "really hard decision." His cousin and high school teammate, No. 6 prospect Dominique Allen, decommitted from UT after Fulmer's dismissal and firmly switched to LSU.
Memphis linebacker Greg King said he will decide among UT, Auburn and Texas Tech.
Gordon, Rogers and offensive lineman Kevin Revis from Rhea County have tried convincing the state's other top players to join them at UT, but they're not alone in that endeavor.
"I'd love for all those guys to join us and help us do big things," Revis said. "But in the end, everybody's got to make the best decision they feel like they can for themselves."