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Sep 7, 2013; Knoxville, TN, USA; Tennessee Volunteers head coach Butch Jones runs off the field after defeating the Western Kentucky Hilltoppers 52-20 during the second half at Neyland Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jim Brown-USA TODAY Sports

Is Butch Jones College Football’s Next Ace Recruiter?

It would be a sizable understatement to say that University of Tennessee football fans weren’t initially thrilled with the hiring of Butch Jones. It’s no secret that Jones wasn’t at the top of the Volunteer faithful’s coaching wish list alongside names like Jon Gruden and Charlie Strong, so when it was announced that he would be Derek Dooley’s successor, the news didn’t seem seem to inspire much hope or enthusiasm.

Many fans questioned if the former Cincinnati coach would be able to handle life in the SEC—college football’s most loaded and treacherous conference. They questioned whether Jones had what it takes to win the rugged recruiting battles against some of the sport’s best recruiters.

Now, heading into season two of his tenure in Knoxville, Jones has slowly but surely managed to quiet his critics, answer his skeptics and begin to build optimism among the fan base. That optimism doesn’t necessarily have much to do with the type of results Jones produced on the field in his first season—the Volunteers finished their 2013 campaign with just a 5-7 overall record and a sixth place finish in the SEC East. Instead, it has to do with the surprising success the coach has experienced on the recruiting trail.

After putting together an outstanding 2014 recruiting class, which was ranked seventh overall by 247sports, Jones and his staff have been hard at work trying to assemble a 2015 class that looks like it has the potential to ultimately be even stronger than the acclaimed 2014 group.

The Volunteers have already received 19 commitments for the 2015 class, including pledges from highly touted prospects such as 5-star WR Preston Williams (Lovejoy HS, Georgia), 4-star OT Jack Jones (Oakland HS, Tennessee), 4-star LB Cecil Cherry (Victor Christian Academy, Florida) and 4-star former Alabama RB Alvin Kamara (Hutchinson CC, Kansas).

Plenty of undecided blue-chip recruits such as DE Josh Sweat, QB Torrance Gibson, DT Kahlil McKenzie, CB Brian Cole, DT Shy Tuttle and OT Drew Richmond also have Tennessee on their short lists of considerations.

Jones has already proven that he can go toe-to-toe with SEC recruiting heavyweights like Alabama, Florida, Georgia, South Carolina and Texas A&M and win the critical battles to land top-tier talent.

Much of the credit is due to the unsung staff of assistants Jones has assembled, which includes standout recruiters such as LB coach Tommy Thigpen, RB coach Robert Gillespie and DL coach Steve Stripling, who have all individually reeled in their fair share of big fish this year. Ultimately, though, it’s Jones who deserves the lion’s share of credit and recognition for the type of success the Vols have experienced on the recruiting trail since his arrival.

The 2011 Big East Coach of the Year knew when he took the Tennessee job that building the Volunteers back into a viable conference contender was going to be a tough challenge—one that was going to take time and patience. Jones knew that winning on the recruiting trail was vital to the rebuilding process. He’s made recruiting a key priority, and so far, the focus has paid off.

Besides a shocking 23-21 upset over No. 11 South Carolina last October, Jones has yet to prove that he can compete with the SEC’s power programs on the gridiron. However, the coach has given hints that he has what it takes to be apart of college football’s next generation of ace recruiters.

With proven veteran recruiting juggernauts like Nick Saban, Steve Spurrier, Urban Meyer, Les Miles and Bob Stoops all inevitably inching towards their apex, the focus now turns to the next wave of the up-and-coming recruiting hotshots. It’s a group that’s headlined by the likes of Florida State’s Jimbo Fisher, Texas A&M’s Kevin Sumlin, Baylor’s Art Briles, Stanford’s David Shaw, Miami’s Al Golden and UCLA’s Jim Mora.

If Jones continues to have the kind of rousing success on the recruiting trail that he’s enjoyed thus far, it won’t be long before his name is mentioned with that group.

Though it may be a bit too premature to call the Tennessee head coach college football’s next ace recruiter just yet, Butch Jones is proving that he’s the type of recruiting force that very few fans initially expected him to be.

Tags: Butch Jones College Football Recruiting Tennessee Volunteers Football

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