If anyone was wondering, Brady Hoke, Tennessee’s interim coach for the next two weeks, is approaching a tough situation with a no nonsense attitude about whether the Vols can prevent wholesale losses of committed high school prospects.
“It’s always a concern and we’re going to work our tails,” Hoke said Monday during his first press conference one day after ex-coach Butch Jones’ firing.
“We’re going to stay committed to the kids that are committed. We’re going to stay out there recruiting, we’re going to make the calls and do what we’re supposed to do. This is a job and it’s a job we have to finish.”
Tennessee had 19 commitments on Saturday when the Vols suffered a humiliating 50-17 loss to Missouri to five athletic director John Currie the final straw that cost Jones his job.
Before the sun came up Sunday, that number was 17. Receivers Shocky Jacques-Louis and Coffee County star Alontae Taylor said publicly on Twitter they were looking at other schools to extend their football careers.
Two others – defensive lineman Dorian Gerald and cornerback Tanner Ingle -- announced they would remain committed, but look at other options.
Gerald is a 6-foot-3, 260-pound junior college standout who committed to UT in July. Ingle committed in June.
The Vols host LSU on Saturday and the following week entertain bitter rival Vanderbilt, which is scheduled to be a big recruiting weekend in Knoxville.
Is that still on?
“We’ll just see what happens,” Hoke said.
The recruiting hits started even before Jones was fired.
Perhaps the plum of the 2018 class was offensive lineman Cade Mays, whose father played football in 1991-94 and was the team captain his senior year. The younger Mays decommitted on Nov. 7 after being committed since July 2015.
Mays has helped Knoxville Catholic (9-3) reach the TSSAA Class 5A playoff quarterfinals and play at Oak Ridge (10-2) Friday at 7 p.m.
Hoke was asked if Nathan Ollie, a defensive graduate assistant in his third season at Tennessee, would be hitting the road over the next two weeks evaluating high school prospects. Hoke the subject has not been discussed.
“You’ve got Thanksgiving coming up and the state championship after that,” Hoke said. “We’ve got to do the things we need to do so these kids can do their best in the games we have left.”
As for the “state championship” Hoke referred. That’s Vanderbilt. Tennessee already has lost to Kentucky. It doesn’t want a loss to Vandy on this year’s resume` to set off even more furor over the disappointing 4-6 season.
While this interim gig is new to Hoke, two coaches on staff – offensive coordinator Larry Scott and quarterback Mike Canales – have knowledge of the role and the former Michigan head coach can draw form that while preparing the Vols prepare for the Tigers and Commodores.
“Larry and Chico are both guys that have been interims,” Hoke said. “It’s new to me, but at the same time we’ve got some really intelligent football coaches. It’s always good to share ideas and do those things.
“I know this. I have to run the program the way I would run a program.”
Following a meeting on Sunday at which time Currie fired Jones, Hoke met with the AD and came away with the “interim” tag. Did Currie indicate he would consider Hoke as candidate to replace the departed Jones?
“John and I had a good conversation,” the gravel-voiced Hoke said. “That’s really about all of it I want to get into, or would get into. We had a great conversation. I was honored that he entrusted this to us and we just want to win for those seniors.”
Two other points of interest for Hoke are the 18 seniors listed on the 2017 roster and chances of this team becoming bowl eligible.
“These guys have won 29 games and three bowl games,” Hoke said. “When you look at what the guys have done, the guys that lasted, they’ve put their hearts and souls into it. I think, personally, that’s important and they should be appreciated a little bit.
“Being her for nine or 10 months, it’s really fun to see how Vol Nation embraces and how passionate they are about Tennessee football. Those passions go both ways and we understand that.”
After taking a breath, Hoke continued his remarks, throwing in a couple of twists.
“When you look at it for the young people who play the game, it’s hard than it used to be,” he said. “You guys (media) have made it harder, social media has made it harder. My point is (those players) should be appreciated. It’s not like they laid down. It’s not like they haven’t practiced hard. It’s not like they’ve not stayed together. That’s a tribute to coach (Jones). It’s exciting and why we’re living in the present.”
However, not many UT fans are making plans for holiday trips to wherever on a trip to see if the Vols can extend their bowl winning streak to four. While they haven’t been anywhere close to duplicating the euphoria of winning the 1998 Fiesta Bowl that included a national championship, Tennessee has claimed wins in the TaxSlayer, Outback and Music City bowls in successive seasons under Jones.
So, how does Tennessee get back to a fourth straight bowl?
“I think we have to win six (games), right?” Hoke said, satirically. It starts this Saturday.”
Hoke has experience in the past what Jones is going through right now. The 59-year-old Hoke is, obviously, cognizant of the rough-and-tumble world of coaching at any level, but he said it’s becoming more and more difficult to handle it at pressure-packed universities all over the country.
“If you keep it in perspective of why you do it, everything happens quicker, you make decisions quicker, who’s involved and social media and all those things go into it,” he said. “I got into coaching to help kids because I had coaches who helped me.
“If every day I’m not helping kids by coaching, then I’m failing those kids. But if you are doing it right, at the end of the day you can feel good about what you’ve done. I don’t know if that makes sense, but that’s what it comes down to.”
And Hoke will lean on the sage advice he received from legendary coach Bo Schembechler years ago.
“When I took the head football coaching job at Ball State, and I was an assistant at Michigan at the time,” Hoek said. “Coach (Bo) Schembechler told me one thing one thing before I left. He said: ‘Be yourself. You can’t be Lloyd Carr, you can’t be Bo Schembechler or Gary Moeller. You have to be yourself.’
“Like I talked to the players (Sunday), I’m going to be who I am. If I’m not, that would be a fraud.”
(Contact Larry Fleming at firstname.lastname@example.org and on Twitter @larryfleming44)