Tennessee announced the hiring of football assistant Brian Jean-Mary on Thursday in a manner befitting this sort of news. Well, there was one deviation from previous announcements.
Vols head coach Josh Heupel welcomed the former linebackers coach at Michigan as “a great fit” for UT’s staff and hailed his energy and experience. In the same sentence, though, Heupel also noted Jean-Mary’s “extensive success as a recruiter.”
Jean-Mary’s association with some highly regarded recruiting classes was chronicled a few paragraphs later.
At Texas, he helped gather three classes that were ranked among the top 15 nationally. The Longhorns went from No. 15 in 2014 to seventh the following year and then eighth in 2016. Prior to Texas, he helped recruit a top 30 class at Louisville in 2011 and a class ranked 15th at Georgia Tech in 2007.
In this regard, the announcement of Jean-Mary’s hire was different from the others. There was no mention of recruiting classes in connection with the hiring of fellow defensive assistants Rodney Garner and Willie Martinez, who were welcomed last Friday. It wasn’t a subtext in unveiling Heupel’s offensive staff earlier this month either.
Different is good, however. The new staff will be judged by an assortment of Tennessee’s statistical achievements. Any measure of their recruiting abilities will be foremost among them. Restocking UT’s roster is especially important, given the slew of transfers in the wake of a coaching staff change and the defections from the last signing class.
Tennessee’s recovery took a hit on Friday.
Ty Simpson, a five-star quarterback prospect from Martin, Tenn., committed to Alabama during an afternoon ceremony at his school. Tennessee was one of four finalists for the third-rated pro-style QB in the class of 2022 and the No. 27 prospect overall.
Former UT coach Jeremy Pruitt and his staff had invested years of recruitment in Simpson. Heupel, meanwhile, had just weeks to make an impression. During an interview earlier this month with Nashville radio station 104.5, Simpson estimated that he had spoken to Heupel more than 20 times.
The cruel irony for UT fans is that Simpson was set to commit to the previous coach, despite an outdated offense. Conversely, the new coach’s impressive track record for putting up points and developing QBs wasn’t enough to sway him.
Simpson’s decision underscored the uphill battle a new staff faces on this crucial front. It’s challenging enough given the usual challenges. The situation could be even more tricky for this staff, however.
Earlier this week, Tennessee Republican legislators sent a letter to all the presidents and chancellors of the state’s public universities and colleges, urging them to prevent players from taking a knee during the pregame national anthem. Yahoo.com reported that the advocacy group Black Coaches United is urging athletes who are being recruited by Tennessee schools to consider this push before committing to a state school.
A perspective likely depends on someone’s political views or sense for current events. Considered from the narrower context of UT’s recruiting, however, the circumstances potentially add another layer to the process. In this sense, different is not good.
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Dan Fleser is a 1980 graduate of the University of Missouri, who covered University of Tennessee athletics from 1988-2019. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.