Tennessee recruiting: Gauging the impact of Robert Gillespie’s departure

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Tennessee is looking to recapture its glory from the 1990s. Join us daily at SEC Country for the latest Tennessee recruiting news and notes on the next crop of Volunteers. Check out previous editions here. In this edition, we discuss Tennessee and the parting of ways with running backs coach Robert Gillespie and what it means.

Impact on recruiting

The news first broke from Volquest on Tuesday morning, and I don’t think anyone was expecting it. Running backs coach Robert Gillespie and Tennessee parting ways not even a week after National Signing Day is a stunner.

SEC Country did some excellent reporting to find out it was a “mutual decision” between Gillespie and Tennessee. Still, this was a shock — and not just for the current Vols.

Here is Tennessee’s lone 2018 running back signee Jeremy Banks’ reaction to the news:

Gillespie also served as the recruiting coordinator for the last three seasons, and it’s on the recruiting trail where the impact of his departure could get interesting.

In the two cycles with him firmly in the role, the Vols finished with the No. 14 and No. 17-ranked classes in the 247Sports composite team rankings. He was also the lead recruiter for a number of top prospects in the Class of 2019.

Now, there is still plenty of time for Tennessee to put someone in place and continue the relationships Gillespie developed. But it will be interesting to see how this affects the recruitment with someone such as 4-star running back Eric Gray. The Memphis, Tenn., prospect would seem to be an important get this cycle, especially with Tennessee only taking one running back in the 2018 class.

Gillespie said the Memphis area was going to be an area the Vols were going pay much more attention to, and that probably would start with Gray.

Ultimately, there likely won’t be any lasting impact on the recruiting trail from Gillespie’s departure. In fact, there are some high school coaches who might think higher of Tennessee with him now gone.

The prospects did seem to respond positively to Gillespie’s recruiting efforts, though. He signed some great players. There is plenty for his replacement to live up to.

The top signees

Let’s take a moment to appreciate the prospects Gillespie did bring into the program, according to 247Sports composite rankings of the players he brought in.

  • His top all-time signee is running back Jalen Hurd, a player whose tenure is a little clouded by how things fell apart at the end. He was 440 yards away from breaking Tennessee’s all-time career rushing record, though.
  • Alvin Kamara is the next-highest rated player signed by Gillespie. This is probably the one Gillespie will have at the top of his resume, too. Tennessee fans might wish Kamara was used more than Hurd in the offense while on Rocky Top. They were a dynamic pairing in the backfield.
  • Ty Chandler is another signee who could go on to do big things with the Vols. Chandler enters his sophomore season with the starting running back position up for grabs. My inclination is he beats out Carlin Fils-aime in fall camp and wins the starting job. Chandler has star potential with his blend of speed and balance with the football.

These were some of the best offensive players from the Butch Jones era. Gillespie played an integral part in getting all three to campus.

The coaching

This space is usually reserved strictly for recruiting, but I’ll take a moment to touch on the job Gillespie did coaching up the running backs.

Kamara was NFL-ready when he got to the New Orleans Saints before the 2017 season. This helped him become the NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year.

John Kelly’s improvement from the time he walked on campus to his declaring for the NFL draft after his junior season is also impressive. Kelly was recruited as a defensive back by many colleges, but it was Gillespie who helped him become the hard-nosed runner he is today.

Many fans were hoping Gillespie would stay through the coaching turnover under new coach Jeremy Pruitt. But things didn’t work out and that’s just fine.

Pruitt is already searching for a replacement. I suspect he’ll hire someone he has worked with in the past. Pruitt was on coach Rush Propst’s staff at the high school level. Additionally, Propst helped guide linebacker signee JJ Peterson to Pruitt, first at Alabama and ultimately Tennessee. It’s an interesting idea, though Propst’s age (he’s 60) might lead to Pruitt looking elsewhere.

Miss a previous edition? Find all your SEC Country Tennessee Vols recruiting news here.

The post Tennessee recruiting: Gauging the impact of Robert Gillespie’s departure appeared first on SEC Country.

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