With the Kansas City Chiefs’ selection of Central Michigan offensive tackle Eric Fisher first overall in the NFL draft, there are now three current SEC head coaches who have recruited No. 1 picks.
New Tennessee Volunteers coach Butch Jones joins the Alabama Crimson Tide’s Nick Saban and Georgia Bulldogs’ Mark Richt. Richt signed 2009 first overall pick Matthew Stafford in 2005.
Saban’s No. 1 draftee was actually 2004 LSU Tigers signee JaMarcus Russell. He played just one season for Saban before going to the Oakland Raiders. Ironically, Saban has yet to have an Alabama recruit go first in the draft.
Of less irony is that Saban and Richt are also the conference’s most successful coaches, with win percentages of .740 and .747. Jones is in good company.
He also matches a lofty feat last achieved at Tennessee in 1998. Hall of Famer Phil Fulmer recruited Peyton Manning onto Rocky Top in 1994. Manning was the last Vol to go No. 1 four years later.
Among the most evident challenges Jones faced upon his hire at Tennessee was recruiting with the heavyweights of the SEC. He responded with the nation’s No. 21 class in 2013, but his 2014 class is shaping up with top 10 potential based on the current verbal commitments.
While the highly touted recruits are certainly necessary for building a championship caliber program, mining the occasional diamond in the rough can have profound impact. Jones’ Cincinnati Bearcats teams far surpassed their signing day rankings, but Fisher is the now the poster boy of outperforming star ratings.
Rivals.com rated Fisher a two-star prospect coming out of Rochester Hills (Mich.) Stoney Hills in the 2009 signing class. He committed to Jones and CMU nearly a year before signing, and never really attracted power conference attention. The whiff of Big Ten recruiters from their own backyard is especially evident on an NFL draft day in which no one from the league is expected to go in the first round.