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Photo: Amy Smotherman Burgess, KNS

Tennessee’s coaching staff has been celebrated from its earliest moments by both fans and the media. For several different reasons, the staff has a sort of star quality. For one, there’s the obvious appeal of Lane Kiffin coaching with his father (shades of Junior Griffey knocking back-to-back dingers with Senior).

Much has also been made about the staff’s experience, and reasonably so.  Look at the coordinators: not only is Monte Kiffin one of the foremost defensive minds in football history, he also has college head coaching experience (albeit only two years in the Eighties). Offensive coordinator Jim Chaney, who most Vol fans couldn’t pick out of a line-up, presided over a Purdue offense that produced the two record-setting careers of Drew Brees and Kyle Orton.

The experience extends to the position coaches. Most notably, there’s the incredibly interesting career of Ed Orgeron. He’s been the subject of both books and songs, and as the Ole Miss head coach, he created an animalistic ritual called “Wild Boys” that involves him and his team screaming and ripping off their shirts (it’s been documented that he brought it with him to UT). While O proved to be an incapable SEC head coach, he does a great job with the defensive linemen. He’s also an “assistant head coach” to Kiffin, even though I don’t really know what he does to earn that title.

Each of UT’s other position coaches boast strong resumes; all but two have coached positionally at another SEC school (Reaves at Carolina, Gran at Auburn, Wilson at Ole Miss, Thompson at Alabama). Secondary coach Willie Mack Garza has never coached in the SEC, but has experience as a defensive coordinator and has also coached at TCU. This is also the first SEC job for offensive line coach James Cregg, but he held the same position at the NFL level for Kiffin in Oakland.

Really, Kiffin himself was the biggest question mark experience-wise. Be that as it may, any immaturity on his part is nullified and then some by the three-digit number of years his staff has collectively coached at quality positions.

All this coaching experience is great, but there’s one very distinct reason that I believe in this staff, and that’s its work ethic. This staff works extremely hard and its paying dividends everywhere. Consider how motivated the Vols are this year, both as a team and individually. Guys aren’t getting in trouble with the law anymore (absolutely not, in fact, since Kiffin’s hiring) and they are bringing it in practice. And it’s all because the staff has made it clear that their own discipline and hard work WILL be emulated by anyone wanting playing time on Saturdays. This is great for team chemistry, for the same reason a frat dude loves the pledge brother getting hazed beside him. When our guys are having one of those spontaneous 50 yard-line huddles, how can you not believe they like each other? A lot more helmet slapping and strutting this year. They just look like they’re having fun, and anyone who has played pee-wee sports knows that if nothing else, the game should be fun. On that note, winning is paramount to having fun in sports, and in college football, recruiting is unequivocally the most important ingredient in a winning formula. There’s really no argument otherwise.

And thus, we come to the zenith of Tennessee’s coaching staff. Half of the ten coaches have either been recruiting coordinators or the lead recruiter on a previous staff. They’re ace recruiters. They just get it. How are they so good? Well, they heed the words of the great Kevin Spacey, who said that, in order to win, “you only need the will to do what the other guy won’t.” If it’s gonna help him recruit and its feasible, Lane Kiffin’s gonna do it, I promise. Will some of these things draw criticism or make people think Kiffin is a clown? Yes, it will, but such criticism is foolish. Yeah, I said it. Based on this staff’s experience and recruiting stature, I wouldn’t doubt anything they did at this point. Consider how Kiffin and Orgeron choppered into a Georgia high school game to watch offensive lineman Juwuan James. People everywhere blasted it, saying it was gaudy and pretentious. They might have been right, but I have a news flash for you: Juwuan James committed to Tennessee last night. Results, people.

In the wake of the James commitment (huge get, by the way) VolChat poster volsandcoltsfan made an astute observation that speaks to the staff’s  relentlessness in recruiting. It was reported by the AJC that James called Orgeron to commit to the Vols at 9 o’clock last night, and O passed the phone around to the ENTIRE coaching staff. Later in the story it mentions that James had to leave a voicemail for Georgia’s coaching staff. Nine PM and our whole staff is still at the office. I was reminded of the proverbial high school sports adage, “if you aren’t getting better, your opponent is.”

So take a look at Tennessee’s recruiting class (currently ranked 6th nationally by Rivals) and if you’re still a naysayer, hear this: keep at it while I try to curb my enthusiasm about these guys. If you’re a Vol fan, chances are you are a Fulmer apologist. To you, I say get over it. Otherwise, you’re just a fan of an unemployed (for the moment?) football coach. And if you aren’t a Vol, you’re probably a fan of an opposing school. And to you, I say come get some, homie. Keep trying to avoid the fact that Tennessee’s Lane Kiffin is like the precocious young lion in a pack full of beasts. This season he’s just clawing around while his mane begins to grow, but it won’t be long before he’s on the prowl, seeking to devour anything that stands in the way of him being king of the freakin’ jungle.

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