The Tennessee Volunteers hired Josh Heupel to be their 27th head coach in program history.

NFL Draft analyst John Vogel points to the Tennessee Volunteers program as a test run that other schools are watching very closely. With never before seen heights, it’s an unexplored territory.

It’s been a tumulus offseason for the Tennessee Volunteers. A witch hunt against former head coach Jeremy Pruitt led to his firing and a new headman, Josh Heupel from UCF. A mass exodus of players resulted, which Tennessee countered by heavily recruiting out of the transfer portal. Most Tennessee fans won’t admit it, but there is some dirty work in the upper levels of the Volunteers athletic program. The specifics have yet to come out, but the last decade of inconsistency speaks to some inner workings that harm the program’s health.

Pruitt was persecuted after a dismal covid-19 season that seemed to destroy every bit of momentum the team had gained in 2019. The school was able to find that certain coaches were recruiting players to Tennessee by paying them money under the table, normally in the form of a McDonald’s fast-food bag. Pruitt’s contract dictated that he would be held responsible for any illegal actions by anyone on his staff. Pruitt did not have to be aware of any of these violations to recruiting made by his staff.

The fact of the matter is that some of these players were about to see their third head coach while at Tennessee. As a result, 31 players have entered the transfer portal – about 1/3 of the entire roster.

Here’s the most incredulous fact about this situation. We have never seen such an exodus of players from a program in college football history. The new transfer rules make it easier for players to transfer, but this is to an NFL level of players leaving. Even in a professional league, this kind of turnover would be devastating to a franchise.

Exploring the exodus

The players who transferred out of the program:

  • QB Jarrett Guarantano (Washington State)
  • QB JT Shrout (Colorado)
  • PRO QB Kasim Hill (Rhode Island)
  • RB Eric Gray (Oklahoma)
  • RB Ty Chandler (North Carolina)
  • WR Brandon Johnson (UCF)
  • WR Isaiah Montgomery (Jacksonville State)
  • TE Jordan Allen (Weber State)
  • TE Jackson Lowe (Jacksonville State)
  • RT Wanya Morris (Oklahoma)
  • OT Jahmir Johnson (Texas A&M)
  • OT Jarious Abercrombie (Illinois State)
  • SDE Savion Williams (Florida A&M)
  • DE John Mincey (Arkansas State)
  • DE Ethan Rinke (South Alabama)
  • DT Emmit Gooden (Undecided)
  • DT Isaac Washington (Undecided)
  • ILB Henry To’o To’o (Alabama)
  • LB Quavarius Crouch (Michigan State)
  • OLB Deondre Johnson (Miami)
  • LB JJ Peterson (Undecided)
  • LB Martavius French (Undecided)
  • OLB Kivon Bennett (Undecided)
  • LB Sayeed Shah (Undecided)
  • LB Nyles Gaddy (Jackson State)
  • CB Baylen Buchanan (Louisiana Tech)
  • SCB Chayse Bishop (Undecided)
  • CB Shawn Shamburger (Undecided)
  • S Key Lawrence (Oklahoma)
  • K Brett Cimaglia (Georgia Tech)
  • P Joe Doyle (Memphis)

Yes, that’s almost effectively an entire roster.

What Heupel and crew have rebuilt so far.

Heupel was brought in by the new Tennessee Athletic Director, Danny White. The two worked together at UCF, White building a school incredibly proud of it’s sports. Tennessee hopes that White will be able to work his magic in Tennessee.

So far, Tennessee has pulled 9 transfers from the portal to help replace some of the players that they lost. Here is the list of incoming transfers to Tennessee so far:

  • QB Joe Milton (Michigan)
  • QB Hendon Hooker (Virginia Tech)
  • WR JaVonta Payton (Mississippi State)
  • DT Caleb Tremblay (USC)
  • DT Da’Jon Terry (Kansas)
  • LB Juwan Mitchell (Texas)
  • LB William Mohan (Michigan)
  • CB Kamal Hadden (Auburn)
  • K Chase McGrath (USC)

Most of the additions are high profile college football players. Hendon Hooker projects to start at quarterback after a mostly successful career at Virginia Tech. JaVonta Payton wrote on Twitter that Tennessee was his dream school.

The factors that the Tennessee Volunteers will have to work around

This type of a turnover has never been seen in college football. Therefore, this strategy of reworking the roster has never been attempted either. As the NCAA expands it’s transfer rules, I believe this is a case that will be closely studied by other schools who may be on the brink of disaster.

Here’s why this is important to the rest of college football. With this kind of turnover, is it possible for a program to recover from this kind of a disaster? This is important for coaches looking to take promotions up to higher levels of college football. Every year, the “coaching carrousel” leads to job opportunities for successful lower-level coaches. If Heupel is successful in making this roster successful in 2021, people will study this strategy that Tennessee used to rebuild it’s roster.

Let’s look at the entire Tennessee roster breakdown by Class:

  • Redshirt Seniors: 18 (14 lettermen, 3 transfers)
  • Seniors: 13 (11 lettermen, 3 transfers)
  • Juniors: 19 (14 lettermen, 1 transfer)
  • Sophomores: 34 (21 lettermen, 2 transfers)
  • Freshman: 27 (1 letterman)

The point of showing this? The lack of experience across this roster. Tennessee plays in the SEC, the most difficult conference to compete in college football. The chances of this team being competitive in 2021 is pretty slim.

Staying ahead of the curve

Randy Mueller, a former General Manager in the NFL, made an excellent point on his twitter account speaking on the transfer portal. He made the point that college rosters should hire personnel directors to assess talent in the portal to take stress off of coaches.

Currently, coaches do the majority of the recruiting and scouting work from their offices. What Randy is pointing out is that because of modern college roster movement, it’s too much work for them to develop, recruit, and evaluate prospects in high school. Alabama has been doing this already over the last few years, hiring high profile analysts while developing their coaching talent.

This Tennessee Volunteers team will be a testament of what can be salvaged from a horrific experience.

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By John Vogel

NFL Draft Analyst. Dad.

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