The soap opera that is college football recruitment
by Tony Basilio
Before you join the cast of UT fans heaping hot coals on Phillip Fulmer for his ’06 recruiting “failure,” be advised: Tom Lemming has spoken. Lemming, a former postman who matriculated to recruiting when enough checks started coming in the mail over a quarter century back, is the Godfather of recruiting. So, here’s what Tom Terrific promised Chris Low of the The Tennessean on the day that Fulmer brought in his “worst” recruiting haul in his 14 years on the Hill.
“In my opinion, Phillip Fulmer is still without a doubt the best recruiter in the country. This is just a one-year thing, and I still think it’s a good class,” Lemming said. “With David Cutcliffe back, though, it’s going to be back to normal soon enough. Next year, I guarantee that Tennessee will have a top-five year.” Well, that’s that!
High-school football recruiting is akin to a shoddily produced soap opera. The interesting story lines are few and far between. Then again, there are the Fred Bledsoes of the world who keep the Internet subscriptions coming. An Arkansas schoolboy, Bledsoe was a Tennessee commitment through and through a few years back. UT fans were convinced his dream was to play in Knoxville. Then Bledsoe awoke in the early morning on National Signing Day and had an epiphany. It was a vision on Bledsoe’s wall. It wasn’t exactly Punxsutawney Phil, yet it did signal the end of UT’s chances with him. He recounted a vision, a shadow on his wall in the shape of a Hog, specifically a razorback. Bledsoe, a four-star player who was regarded as a can’t-miss, signed with Arkansas. Like many of his ilk, this signing day warrior (according to Jeffrey Stewart with Rocky Top News magazine) “must be in the witness protection program because he hasn’t been heard from since!” Kids like this make me think that I would rather eat and try to digest a handful of 10 penny nails than work in recruiting!
Then there’s Tom (good news) Lemming. A caller/acquaintance of mine who is a recruiting junky tells a great Tom Lemming story. This went down pre-Internet when recruiting “experts” made their bones with 900 numbers. These “information” pushers would deal in propaganda designed to make the phone ring. Thus, the more phone calls, the more money! The patter from the industry was standard. “Everybody’s having a great recruiting year! Everybody’s cleaning up! Call back and I’ll tell you more!” Lemming, who was recently exposed as the Notre Dame shill that he is by Myron Rolle (more on that later), decided on this occasion to jack up the Michigan fans. He talked of a nationally reputed prospect on Michigan’s campus being shown around. According to Lemming on the 900 number at $1.99 a minute, the prospect was having a great visit. Only one problem with the story that included several updates throughout the day: The prospect never made it to campus. He didn’t even visit Ann Arbor! Lemming lied!
Lemming is the king of recruiting. He created his own all-star game (U.S. Army Game), which is televised on NBC. Year after year he makes thousands of dollars on the rubber chicken circuit, speaking before quarterback clubs all over the country with his profit-driven propaganda. Lemming’s detractors in the business have quietly whispered about his zeal for Notre Dame for years. Critics have also whispered about Lemming’s recent use of the all-star game as a platform for the ultimate quid pro quo. It is said that Lemming would jack up a player’s ranking in exchange for a young man staying involved or at least seemingly staying involved with Notre Dame. Quite a coincidence that the All-Star game airs annually on NBC a.k.a. “Notre Dame Broadcasting Company,” isn’t it?
Florida State signee Myron Rolle, a tremendous prospect out of Princeton, N.J., shed some recent light on Lemming. Rolle claims that Lemming told him he would be “showcased” in the aforementioned All-Star Game by keeping Notre Dame on his short list. Lemming said this would “enhance my chances of being the game’s MVP.” Rolle made the remarks last week in Washington at a public forum on the “Collegiate Athlete Experience” hosted by the Knight Commission. It should be noted that his claim came in response to a question. Rolle had no agenda behind making the claim. Unlike Lemming, he has nothing to gain. Lemming for his part is predictably attacking Rolle as “the biggest media hound that I’ve ever seen.” Lemming went on to tell USA Today the “real” reason for Rolle’s testimony. “Myron has a huge ego, and it hurt his ego when he wasn’t [on my] first-team All-American [team].”
In all deference to Fulmer critics, it is true that UT is seemingly fishing in the same stream with the Ole Misses of the world. Not a good sign. At the same time, getting your boxers in a bunch over where UT’s class is ranked by recruiting experts is pretty inane. Besides, Tom Lemming, paragon of truth and credibility that he is, has already guaranteed UT a top-five recruiting class this year. Need I say more?
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