Vols' top recruiting class crumbling
With Kiffin heading to USC, recruits are rethinking their commitments to Tennessee
The news of the departure of Tennessee head coach Lane Kiffin to Southern California sent shock waves through the recruiting landscape on Tuesday night and will definitely have a negative impact on the Vols' recruiting, at least in the short term.
Kiffin and his staff were well on their way to landing a top-notch recruiting class this cycle. They have the No. 6 class in the country and were in the running for a number of talented prospects still remaining on the board.
But Tennessee has already lost at least one prospect who was hours from attending his first class in Knoxville. Four-star DT Brandon Willis (Duncan, S.C./James F. Byrnes) was planning to enroll early. But that's changed now.
“Willis was getting ready to head to Knoxville to start classes when the news broke. He ruled out becoming a Vol and said his options are open to out-of-state programs.
They had the nerve to call me and ask me to come to Southern Cal. And coach Ed Orgeron [who is going with Kiffin to USC] said that he was going to be my coach at Tennessee.” -- Four-star DT Brandon Willis
"I am not going to Tennessee, I am not going to South Carolina, I am not going to Clemson," Willis said Tuesday night "I am not sure what I am going to do now. I am going to sit down with my dad and talk about it."
One place he won't be going is USC, even though the outgoing Vols coaching staff tried to get him to follow them to Los Angeles.
"They had the nerve to call me and ask me to come to Southern Cal," Willis said. "And coach Ed Orgeron [who will follow Kiffin back to Los Angeles] said that he was going to be my coach at Tennessee."
Willis decided on Wednesday that he would go to North Carolina.
On the other hand, four-star DE Corey Miller (Duncan, S.C./James F. Byrnes) said late Tuesday night he is sticking with Tennessee. He has already moved to Knoxville and is supposed to start classes on Wednesday.
Miller and Willis were not bound to the Vols since they hadn't started classes yet, so they can still decide to go to another program. But quarterback Tyler Bray (Kingsburg, Calif./Kingsburg), running back Channing Fugate (Jackson, Ky./Breathitt County) and wide receiver Matt Milton (Mascoutah, Ill./Mascoutah) enrolled early and participated in bowl practices. They would need to be released from their scholarships by Tennessee if they wanted to go to a different school.
“Four-star safety Ahmad Dixon (Waco, Texas/Midway) was stunned by the news and may be on the verge of committing to his fourth different school. He previously was committed to Texas and Baylor before committing to the Vols over the weekend. Don't be surprised if he ends up signing with the Trojans.
"I was laying in my bed because I'm sick right now. I heard something on TV about Lane Kiffin leaving and I jumped up and it said he was going to USC. I was like, wow. The first thing I did was call [fellow Vols commit] Markeith Ambles and he didn't even know about it. I was shocked, I guess. I haven't talked to anyone just yet, but I expect to soon. I'll most likely be going out to USC now for a visit.” -- Four-star safety Ahmad Dixon
"I was laying in my bed because I'm sick right now," Dixon said. "I heard something on TV about Lane Kiffin leaving, and I jumped up and it said he was going to USC. I was like, wow. The first thing I did was call [fellow Vols commit] Markeith Ambles and he didn't even know about it. I was shocked, I guess.
"I haven't talked to anyone just yet, but I expect to soon. I'll most likely be going out to USC now for a visit."
Dixon had been scheduled to visit Southern California this coming weekend with fellow Texan Lache Seastrunk (Temple, Texas/Temple) before Pete Carroll left to take the Seattle Seahawks job.
Under Armour All-American and four-star outside linebacker Michael Taylor (Atlanta, Ga./Westlake) told the Orlando Sentinel he was decommitting from UT and committing to Florida. Four-star athlete Delvin Jones (Miami, Fla./Palmetto) said the departure of Lane Kiffin, Monte Kiffin and Orgeron was tough to take.
"All three of them have come to my school plenty of times," he said. "They were the main reason why I wanted to go to Tennessee."
Four-star defensive line commit J.C. Copeland (LaGrange, Ga./Troup) has been committed to the Vols for some time and was scheduled to take an official visit to UT this coming weekend.
"I didn't commit to Tennessee because of the coach, I committed because of the school," he said. "But I probably was going to take a few visits anyway."
Class of 2011 ESPNU150 linebacker A.J. Johnson (Gainesville, Ga./Gainesville) decommitted from the Vols and is now taking a look at Clemson, among others. His teammate, Class of 2010 athlete Blake Sims, recently decommitted from Alabama on the heels of an in-home visit with Kiffin and Orgeron. His plans are unknown.
But once again, the Vols are in the unenviable position of trying to salvage a recruiting class. Last year, Kiffin managed to land a top-10 class after replacing Phillip Fulmer. But Kiffin had more time to work it out than his replacement will have this year. Interim coach Kippy Brown will work the phones and contact all the current Tennessee commits, or players the Vols were targeting, but until a new coach is named, this is strictly damage control. This was a class that had the makings of one of the best in the country. Now, Tennessee must act as quickly as USC did in replacing Pete Carroll if it has any hopes of keeping this class intact.
JC Shurburtt covers recruiting for ESPN.com. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Gerry Hamilton contributed to this report.
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