Ok, so lets use Georgia as a point. They had a school record 9 players drafted this 2021 cycle. However, this program cannot seem to get to the level production-wise of a consistent top 3 program nationally....at least thats what many or even most Ga. fans would say. So clearly Kirby is recruiting at a very, very high level. But are these Georgia players being "developed" and draft-able and not being coached? To me, it actually seems to be necessary to have all three......recruit at a reasonably high level, develop your players to be close to the best they can be in college, and coach them to be a part of a philosophy or team and win. That seems about right to me.
To get to upper tier, this is obviously true. However, to OP's point, coaching/development can very well get us to that threshold where recruits can truly see the opportunity to get the Vols back in the SEC top 4 year in/year out. Butch was ALMOST there, when he had Kamara, Dobbs, Barnett, etc, but he hadn't back filled talent to fill their void (along with coaching malpractice), and we continued back to the abyss, as opposed to taking the next step up. I think coaching/development can get you to the 8-9 win threshold consistently, which gives you more of the opportunity to make up ground on the UGA/Bama/LSU/UF's of the world.
Neither Butch, or Pruitt installed a legitimate offensive system in which our players could learn and develop from year to year and be competitive. Other teams with lesser talent have been able to beat us because of this. CH seems to be installing a true system on both sides of the ball that utilizes our player’s strengths. We’ll see if this translates into wins come September.
Alabama has proven when they get the combination of top tier talent to go along with their player development, they’ll compete for championships annually. Florida has proven that too, at least under Spurrier and Meyer and potentially under Mullen. Georgia has had a few sniffs of championships but they of course haven’t won one in 40+ years, so they are behind Bama, Florida and even LSU.
In these discussions about talent, development. coaching, we like to debate which is the most important. We like to figure out which is the best. Some will say, "coaching makes the difference". Others, "it's the jimmys and joes, not the xs and os".
The truth is it ALL matters. It is ALL important. Talent isn't enough. Coaching up athletes with lower potential isn't enough. Scheme can overcome for a while but eventually others catch on to your trends. Competing, winning consistently, establishing a dynasty need every available metric they can get to be favorable.
It takes one to get the other, so it really isn't a one versus the other argument. I think the top programs have great coaches that can develop NFL talent, and this attracts the top players because they want to make a living playing football. Using UK in the 2021 draft is a poor argument. Butch Jones sent more than 6 players to the NFL through the draft, is he a great developer? The counter to the argument is actually support for the argument. Alabama had 10 players drafted, and does so year after year, they are the top developer of talent. This player development is what attracts the top talent in the nation. That and free cars, your mom's house being paid off, tons of Bitcoin, etc.
A) The point of mentioning Ekeler's comments was that the way we quantify "top tier" talent is flawed. His point is that, whether you sign the 30th ranked class or the 8th ranked class, the raw talent is roughly the same...unless you get a Trevor Lawrence or Leonard Fournette type.
B) You're right....it's not a coincidence that the top teams have top rated classes. When prospects get a bump because they're offered by those schools, then those schools' classes are inevitably going to be ranked higher.
I do think there may be a process (I'll reference Clemson again). Take lower ranked guys and develop them, then you'll start to sign higher ranked guys. It sorta seemed like Johnny Majors took that route at Tennessee.
I still say it all begins with great recruiting and ends with player development. I don't care how effective your development skills are, you're just not going to win in the SEC with a team full of "Rudys".
Mike Ekeler made a comment shortly after being hired that there are only about 3-5 players in each class that are really special difference-makers. After that, there are a bunch of guys that can be good with the right development.
I think that's going to be the key to this staff's success...not whether they sign top rated classes...but how do they develop them? Tennessee will attract enough talent. Always has. But for the last decade-plus, Tennessee hasn't had coaches that adequately developed that talent.
Want proof if this? Kentucky had SIX players drafted into the NFL this last weekend. Have they ever had a higher rated class than Tennessee? Not to my recollection. Yet, they were a better team last year (really the last 3 years), they kicked Tennessee's ass last year, and they just put six guys in the league by developing them. The only thing stopping Kentukcy from being a real force in the East was QB play.
Stoops gets the most of his talent. Franklin did that at Vanderbilt, achieving two 9-win seasons without top 25 classes. You can look around the country and see evidence of the theory that development trumps rankings. Hell, Clemson began a dynasty with classes ranked 10-20, not top 5. NOW they're getting top 5 classes, but that's not how they got there (I also think rankings can be self-fulfilling sometimes...if a kid is offered by Bama or Clemson now, he's rated higher, so their classes are inevitably rated higher as a result).
This isn't to say that Tennessee shouldn't or won't attract top rated talent. It's to say that it's not the end-all, be-all. If Heupel & Co. can get the guys they feel they can work with and mold into their system, create a winning culture, and develop those guys, they'll be successful, regardless of where they fall in the recruiting rankings.
IMHO, we're not even close to this stratosphere yet and as such isn't so perfect. It'll be years based on the past.
Yes, I'm always amazed at how coaches with far less talent seem to develop their athletes much further than UT does. We haven't had much of talent development since......Lane K. Prior to that, it was PF. Neither Dools, Sargent Carter nor Cornbread did much to develop talent. In the next 2-4 years, I'll take a roster full of 3* and 4* who want to play for UT, are prepared for each game, can adjust in each game and end up 7-5, 8-4 or 9-3 and go bowling - than a team with several 5*/4*s who consistently underperforms/underachieves and goes 6-5, 5-5 or worse. Development is key. Potential players know that and parents of such do too... They all believe they are future draft prospects no matter low far-fetched. Development can help get them there.
I think skills improved under Pruitt but he didn't have the leadership or HC skills to pull things together.
Jones signed enough talent to end this walk through the valley. He was just not a very good coach... starting with thinking he was much smarter than he was. He thought he was going to reinvent football in the SEC with his offense and philosophy on S&C.
Well, depending on the accuracy of the ratings... you won't beat them until you are able to find and sign more talent. But is that the first target? If UT beats the clearly beatable teams on this year's schedule... all of them... then the Vols will win 9 games. I'm not predicting 9 wins. Only that there are 9 teams that will NOT have a talent advantage. Three teams will.
If UT wins 8 or 9 games and looks good doing it because of development... recruiting especially for 2023 and the transfer portal will be good enough to start catching those 3. That's a tall order I know.... but if these coaches are the kinds of player developers the OP has in mind... it is well within the realm of possibilities.