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Knoxville News-Sentinel (Tennessee)
John Adams: Pay raise proves UT football isn't all about winning

For those who think college football is all about winning, allow me to introduce Tennessee linebackers coach Tommy Thigpen.

He is part of a defensive staff whose student-athletes managed to hold Oregon to 59 points last September. After two months of coaching and practice, they held Auburn to 55. In between, Alabama hit them up for 45.

Within the SEC, UT's defense ranked ahead of three teams in yards allowed per game. It was 13th in rushing defense.

And its linebackers coach received a $25,000 raise, which is $25,000 a year more than was doled out to anyone else on the staff, whose combined efforts produced a 5-7 record.

Something else about Thigpen: He was named the recruiter of the year.

So let's hear no more of this "all about winning" nonsense. College football isn't all about winning.

It's all about recruiting.

And if you recruit well enough, the winning should follow, unless your coaching staff is incapable of keeping 11 players on the field at all times.

I'm not sure how Rivals chose Thigpen. Maybe it has a pass-efficiency-like formula that no layman could comprehend. Or maybe it noticed that a large number of college prospects recruited by Thigpen signed with Tennessee.

Thanks greatly to Thigpen's salesmanship, UT wound up with a top-10 recruiting class. His success rate was even more significant when you consider the product he was pushing.

I realize he wasn't selling swamp land. UT has great football tradition, state-of-the-art facilities, a stadium unlike no other in college football, and a head coach in Butch Jones, who has a great gift for relentlessly embellishing the program's attributes.

It also hasn't won an SEC championship since 1998, hasn't been to a BCS bowl since the 1999 season and hasn't been to a bowl outside the state since the 2009 season.

Given that recent history, you can't just show a recruit a photo of Neyland Stadium and expect him to commit on the spot. You have to sell the past and future while minimizing the present.

Recruiting is crucial anytime. It's more crucial when your talent pool has sunk to Tennessee's depths.

Never mind how valuable clever play callers are. They aren't miracle workers.

Steve Spurrier isn't second to anyone as a play caller. Yet he didn't start winning big at South Carolina until he succeeded in recruiting the best players in the state.

Auburn coach Gus Malzahn is a brilliant play caller. But his plays wouldn't have been brilliant enough to land Auburn in the national championship game if he hadn't recruited quarterback Nick Marshall from junior college to run them.

That's not to suggest a head coach should form his staff based on sales records alone.

The top car salesmen in the country might sway a few four-star recruits in your direction. However, what would he do when those recruits arrived? Sell them a four-year warranty on their scholarship?

A coach can't just convince good players to sign. He has to help turn their potential into production.

But for a program in UT's situation, it has to get the best players before it can get the best out of them.

So I'm not questioning whether Thigpen deserved a $25,000 raise. I'm wondering why he didn't get more.


Photo by Adam Brimer, Knoxville News Sentinel Tennessee cornerbacks coach Tommy Thigpen talks with the media at the Neyland-Thompson Sports Complex Thursday, Dec. 20, 2012. (ADAM BRIMER/NEWS SENTINEL)


April 17, 2014




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