Tennessee Football Recruiting: Is Butch Jones Pulling a Nick Saban?

Brad ShepardFeatured ColumnistNovember 4, 2013

Oct 19, 2013; Knoxville, TN, USA; Tennessee Volunteers head coach Butch Jones talks about his teams win over the South Carolina Gamecocks following the game at Neyland Stadium. Tennessee won 23-21. Mandatory Credit: Jim Brown-USA TODAY Sports
Jim Brown-USA TODAY Sports

Two grumble-filled days after the Tennessee football team's most discouraging loss of the season, the Vols message boards were abuzz with positive news on Monday.

UT coach Butch Jones landed a pair of commitments from prospects who've been sugarplums dancing in Tennessee fans' heads for the past four years.

Evan and Elliott Berry—brothers of NFL All-Pro safety Eric Berry and the son of former UT captain James Berry—officially pulled the trigger for the Vols, according to 247Sports reporter Ryan Bartow.

The commitments came on the duo's 18th birthday, but they also emerged at an opportune time for another reason: Following UT's 31-3 dismantling by Missouri, the fanbase needed an injection of good news.

Given the timing of the Berrys' announcement, it begs the question of whether Jones is strategically coordinating the timing of public commitments to help steer perception—especially considering this is not the first time the Vols have received seemingly calculated pledges to lift a dispirited time.

It's a brilliant idea to help sway public opinion if coaches actually can coordinate it, and it's something Alabama coach Nick Saban and other coaches have been speculated of doing in the past.

Jones was asked about getting commitments following losses during his Monday press conference, according to UTSports.com. Though he mentioned nothing of influencing announcements, he did allude to prospects seeing the big picture in the state of his program:

First of all, I think people around the country feel it and they see what's going on. Sometimes the results aren't measured on the field, but people see what's going on here. They can feel the energy, they can feel the vision, and it's Tennessee. We're a national brand and we have a great product to sell. Better yet, we have great people here. We have a passionate fan base. This is the best place in the country.

It's an opportunity to build something. It's an opportunity to be a part of something extremely special. It's going to mean more when we get back to being the Tennessee standard of football that we all come to expect. It's a work in progress and we have three games left. We're playing for a lot right now in our program.

The Berry brothers can play, and they've been coveted for years by UT fans who fervently follow recruiting. So for them to announce when they did helped ease the sting of a difficult loss. It also diverted attention from a mediocre present and lifted eyes toward a promising future.

Commitments that are advantageous to the perception of the program have become the norm under Jones.

A closer look at the commitment dates of prospects on 247Sports' list of UT pledges shows a pattern that will make some wonder if there's some method to Jones' madness.

  • It began with 4-star linebacker Dillon Bates, who went public with his commitment at "The Opening" in Oregon with an announcement on ESPNU. Long considered to be a Vols lean, it certainly didn't hurt perception with the publicity he gave UT on national television by choosing the Vols over rivals Florida and Alabama.
  • Back in July, the Vols introduced "Foundation Week," a seven-day recruiting effort that included a huge list of unofficial visitors. During that week, the Vols received commitments from six players, four of which were 4-star prospects, according to 247Sports.
  • Literally minutes after a 31-17 loss to Florida, news leaked that the nation's No.2-ranked wide receiver in the 2015 class, Preston Williams, had committed to UT over his father's alma mater, Alabama, earlier that day.
  • During the bye week after an overtime loss to Georgia, the Vols received commitments from 4-star offensive tackle Dontavius Blair and 4-star defensive lineman Derek Barnett, two of the board's biggest targets.
  • Following a 45-10 thumping against Alabama, 4-star defensive end Dewayne Hendrix publicly committed to the Vols the next morning, choosing UT over Florida, Southern Cal and Missouri.
  • Now, the Berrys continue the trend.

It certainly could just be a coincidence that all these happened to come at opportune times. After all, with such a huge 2014 recruiting class and already six pledges for the 2015 cycle, there has been a lot of activity on the recruiting trail for the Vols.

Regardless if they're coordinated or not, the commitment timing is keeping Tennessee on the tips of tongues across the recruiting world. They're also keeping the fans content while a new staff tries to rebuild the program.