Lane Kiffin and Ed Orgeron quickly turned Tennessee recruiting in a national superstar, but their noisy exit could not have come at a worse time and will leave the Volunteers worse off than when they took over.
National Signing Day is three weeks away and Tennessee doesn't have a real head coach, a defensive coordinator, or a lead recruiter. At least four—and possibly more of their 2010 incoming class have de-committed and may never end up on campus. Complicating matters even more is that this week is a "dead period," which means the school is allowed one and only one phone call (no visits or any other contact) to the prospects on their radar. Mid-year freshmen—who graduated high school early so they could enroll in school and join the team for spring practice—started classes on Wednesday.
Most disastrous of all? Rumors out of Knoxville are saying that the "Orange Pride" hostess program that lured recruits and an NCAA investigation is being "examined" and will likely undergo changes before next year. Don't expect a lot of older women at your high school games next fall, Champ.
All of that would be bad enough, even if Orgeron wasn't also actively trying to lure away his best recruits. He and Kiffin both fully admit that Ed called some of the 26 kids who had given verbal commitments to Tennessee, including some who were supposed to start classes this week. Orgeron says he was simply "answering questions" and informing them of their "options." One of the options, of course, being that they could drop out of Tennessee before starting classes and enroll at USC in the fall. The idea that he would paint himself as some wise, impartial counselor is more laughable than his atrocious acting in The Blind Side.
Did Orgeron break an NCAA rule by calling these recruits? Possibly. (If they attended just one class at Tennessee, they're off limits.) Is it unethical? Depends on if you think college sports are ethical. To Orgeron and Kiffin, of course, it doesn't matter. They brazenly committed multiple violations during their one year running Tennessee, drew criticism and censure from the SEC, and at least one major NCAA investigation over the hostess program. But that's not their problem anymore.
They inherited Pete Carroll's problems, which aren't really problems either, because they both understand that the NCAA is so weak that their petty violations don't matter. The publicity that they get for insulting other coaches or tearing off their shirts or making jokes about pumping gas far out weigh any punishment that could possibly come their way. Breaking the rules was good for business at Tennessee and it got them both the jobs they really wanted. Unfortunately, it's even better business at USC ... and that's bad for the Volunteers.