Tennessee dodged a major bullet when Colorado, instead of Auburn, decided to hire Deion Sanders as its head coach this weekend.
Seeing Sanders go out west instead of coaching on the plains is a good thing for the Vols for one simple reason: recruiting. Had Auburn made a risky hire with Sanders, it would have affected the Vols on the recruiting trail. Hiring Hugh Freeze could also be formidable, but we’ll get there in a second. Let’s start with Sanders if he had gone to Auburn.
One of Sanders’ first recruiting goals would have been to set up recruiting shop in the Atlanta area. Auburn is only about a two-hour drive from Auburn and the Tigers have been at their best when they recruit the Atlanta area well. The same is true for the Vols. Tennessee doesn’t need another formidable recruiting rival in the Atlanta area. Sanders wouldn’t dominate Atlanta, but he’d win enough recruiting battles for the Tigers to be very formidable and put a dent in other schools’ recruiting classes.
Sanders can bring in NIL dollars and there is no more important aspect in recruiting currently than that. His NIL influence could even rival Tennessee’s pay-for-play prowess and the Vols are about as good as it gets. Sanders’ name would mean that much. He’s already proven he can succeed by landing the No. 1 prospect in the nation per some recruiting services: defensive back Travis Hunter in December 2021.
Sanders could also excel in the transfer portal, again with NIL money in line. How many prospects would be wowed by playing for Sanders at a college with top facilities? A lot. That’s about to prove true at Colorado as he recruits the west coast. For the Vols, he’s better off there.
Now, the Vols will have to square off against Freeze, who has had incredible recruiting success. However, there’s one problem. All of that recruiting success was followed by NCAA violations. That means Freeze will have to be on his p’s and q’s for the foreseeable future. In fact, one could argue that we don’t even know how good of a recruiter Freeze is. There are about a half dozen other schools in the SEC that can have better success recruiting in Atlanta than Freeze. Tennessee is one of them.
Then, there’s the other baggage. No one has to bring up the escort scandal that will forever blemish his resume, but I did. Sanders seems much more wholesome. However, he’s a Buffalo. Tennessee coach Josh Heupel has that wholesome feel. If everything were equal, where who would you want your young son to play for, Sanders or Freeze? Here’s a hint: he used to high step. As for Sanders versus Heupel, that’s a much more level playing field on the morality front.
Sanders might not be a successful coach, but I think he will. However, I truly believe this. He’ll be successful in recruiting and in the transfer portal. You can bank on that. However, the odds are that, based on Colorado’s recruiting history, that success will occur in Los Angeles, not Atlanta. That’s good for the Vols.