There is one unintended consequence from the recent college trends that could help Tennessee’s football program. Well, maybe.
More than ever before there is reason to root against the Vols’ SEC rivals. There is even reason to root for rival SEC coaches to be fired, despite the fact that we’re taught to not wish ill on anyone. A fired coach means a program is struggling, which has always made things easier for that program’s frequent opponents. With the transfer portal, there’s even more reason to root for coaches, like former coach Texas A&M coach Jimbo Fisher, to be fired. Such coaching movement opens the door for Tennessee or any school to cherry pick another school’s players. Tennessee has been down that path.
The Vols lost a ton of talent when they fired Jeremy Pruitt and replaced him with Josh Heupel. Those loses can hurt programs in recruiting, but also on the field. Former Tennessee linebacker Henry To’oto’o comes to mind. He ended up being a standout player for Alabama after Pruitt ran out of covert Chick-fil-A bags. However, such a move isn’t as easy with NIL in place.
There are plenty of Aggies that might look northeast towards Tennessee with a vacant head coaching position in College Station, Texas. Former Powell (Tenn.) High School star Walter Nolen comes to mind instantly considering he has ties to East Tennessee. However, Nolen almost certainly has NIL deals in place that would keep him in the Lone Star State. Per On3, Nolen ranks second among all defensive linemen in the nation with an NIL valuation of $502,000. That’s pretty steep for a number of reasons.
First, Tennessee has a pretty stout defensive line. If the Vols could actually get Nolen, would it be worth it if he was simply a defensive tackle in the rotation at Tennessee and not a bona fide superstar? Even if Nolan turned into an All-SEC player – or an All-American, one could argue that any NIL money spent before the 2024 season could be spent more wisely in areas other than defensive tackle. Offensive line and linebackers come to mind. There’s further reason to think Nolan – or any other Aggie player – might not be worth the trouble of re-recruiting.
There’s no denying that Tennessee has mastered the NIL game with the Spyre Sports Group leading the way. However, Texas A&M isn’t far behind. In a recent ranking by On3, Spyre is No. 1 followed by The 12th Man Fund, which is ranked second and is designed to fund Texas A&M to new football heights. There are other current and future SEC opponents that will be tough to best in NIL as well. Texas’ collective is No. 4 in the nation followed by Arkansas at No. 8 and Ole Miss at No. 9. Those top-10 NIL schools will be the toughest to tussle with. Looking for low-hanging fruit. How about Florida?
It seems just a matter of time until coach Billy Napier and Florida part ways. After just two seasons, Napier’s “detail-oriented” approach, which was lauded initially, look like an abject failure. The Gators are 11-12 and 6-9 in the SEC despite beating the Vols in September. Think there might be some Gators that want to win eight, nine or 10 games per season instead of six, which is what Florida won last season? Almost certainly. However, there’s more than one reason to target the Gators. Let’s just say they’ve proven they’re not astute NIL participants. Just ask Jaden Rashada.
Rashada arrived at Florida with a promise of an NIL deal that was reportedly close to $14-million. That fell through shortly after Rashada showed up on campus, so he enrolled at Arizona State. That makes the sales pitch in any NIL situation against Florida pretty easy. First, Tennessee can pony up as much money as any other school in the nation. Second, it would be prudent for Tennessee coaches to mention Rashada’s plight to any prospect that is considering the Gators. Unfulfilled promises by the Gator Collective certainly sidetracked Rashada’s career.
Tennessee might benefit from recent coaching firings, such as Fishers, but the Vols would almost certainly benefit more if Napier is fired. That means if you’re looking for ways that coaching changes can benefit the Vols via NIL and transfers, don’t think Aggies first. Simply root against the Gators. That shouldn’t be hard.