You may have heard that Tennessee had Junior Day last weekend, welcoming about 100 high school juniors to campus for unofficial visits. Pretty much every school has some version of a program like this. The prospects come in, see the facilities, talk to some coaches, get their heads blown up just a little bigger and then a lucky few head home with scholarship offers in pocket. Normally the only big news coming out of a “Junior Day” event is who got scholarship offers and who didn’t. They are honestly not the most exciting part of the recruiting process.
That is, of course, unless they take place at Tennessee, where Junior and Co. are apparently committed to making everything exciting, even if they are made to look like fools in the process. Tennessee had been out of the news for almost a whole week so their staff obviously had to make some moves in order to get the national media attention they covet. But what could possibly make such a bland event newsworthy? Well… naked middle-aged men might get some attention.
As the story goes, just after the prospects were separated from their parents and brought into a theater Kiffin gave a short “thank you for coming” speech to them and then another coach began talking to them about special teams and how at UT they get fired up about special teams. Then, logically, the assistant coach ripped his shirt off “superman style,” as one recruit put it ever so eloquently. And other assistant coaches followed in the spontaneous nudity. And then coaches and recruits alike went on to jump around and scream shirtless for no real specified reason. They reportedly shouted “UT…Wild Boys” to verbalize exactly what they were taking part in. After everything died down Captain Insano (Coach Ed Orgeron, who brought the ritual from USC to Ole Miss and now to UT) gave a rousing pep talk about why players should come to Tennessee.
Now I could obviously interject any number of politically incorrect comments and jokes about this, but as hard as it is, I’m going to take the high road. Instead I’m just going to draw a comparison in recruiting philosophies. While Tennessee is obviously playing a rather unique recruiting card, Mark Richt has also been in the news lately for his recruiting philosophy, which, as it turns out, has nothing to do with anyone taking their clothes off.
As many coaches are being criticized for “over-recruiting” by signing more players than they can scholarship or pulling offers from guys just days before Signing Day, Richt has been praised for his policy of never revoking a scholarship offer. For that reason the Dawgs have been a little slower to offer scholarships to guys and pressure them to commit early far less than some other coaches in the league (cough…Urban…cough).It’s truly a rare position to take in the SEC these days.
And many don’t know how Richt can do it, knowing he could miss out on a better guy down the road by offering a certain player now. Or knowing that waiting to offer a guy means other coaches are getting in his ear first. Then today in another article on Richt’s perspective on recruiting his very unique outlook came out again. He said, “I ask the Lord to ‘Give us the guys that belong at Georgia. The ones that don’t belong, work it out.’
Regardless of your religious views you have to admit that is an unheard of point of view. Can you imagine Saban or Meyer, who both openly obsess over recruiting taking any sort of similar, hands off approach? The truly amazing thing is that even with such a unique perspective Richt and his staff are still wildly successful, going head-to-head with Saban, Meyer, Miles and now Kiffin and his topless UT Wild Boys.
The point in all this is that both Richt (and his staff) and Kiffin (and his staff) are taking pretty rare approaches in the ever-evolving world of recruiting. And I, for one, am glad to be associated with the program that is led by a man of principle (regardless of your view of his faith, which I also happen to respect greatly), not the program of middle-aged men eager to take their shirts off, slam doors and scream like the possessed. But I’ll give Kiffin one thing… He and his program are entertaining beyond my wildest expectations.