The University of Tennessee began on Tuesday soliciting orders from its donors for the Volunteers’ season-opening football game Sept. 4 inside Atlanta’s yet-to-be-completed Mercedes Stadium.
And two things, based on donors with whom I spoke, immediately jumped out about the prospective ticket options:
Donors cannot choose where they will sit beyond requesting a preference, with no guarantee, other than relying on their donor rank for tickets that range from $80 to a whopping $205 for a regular-season contest. So someone who might be looking to just sit in the upper deck could, in theory, instead plunk down nearly a thousand bucks for four together, though that would be unlikely.
The point is, people must submit requests and won’t know how much — or if — they’re getting tickets until their credit cards are charged later this summer.
Meanwhile, the other thing that drew strongest consternation: Vols fans, at least now on the form sent out from UT, have no access to lower-level seats between the 20-yard lines nor do they have access to club seats between the 30s. Mercedes Stadium/Chick-Fil-A game officials, it seems, did not make available those tickets to UT.
Four together in a club section could run $800 and be in a corner end zone club; or the venue with maximum football seating of 75,000 could place a fan in the midfield upper sections of 339 and 340 for $320 for a group of four tickets.
It will be interesting to gauge the response from Vols’ fans, many of whom shelled out well above $100 for Battle at Bristol tickets last fall but saw that promising season of SEC East dreams crash with late-season losses to both South Carolina and Vanderbilt, as well as off-the-field turmoil.
And Tennessee is applying the pressure to get those requests submitted, with this included in the donor email: “The request period will be from Tuesday, May 16 to Wednesday, May 31. Any requests received after the priority deadline will be filled on a first-come, first-served basis — regardless of your priority level.”
Tennessee will be among myriad powerhouse programs in Memphis early next month for a prospect camp under the NCAA’s new guidelines aimed to curb the Satellite Camp phenomenon that blossomed last season due to Jim Harbaugh’s foresight and the never-ending recruiting arms race that soon followed across collegiate football, particularly at the FBS level.
The Vols, Oklahoma, Florida Gators, Alabama and countless other powers — roughly 20 to 25 — will participate in the Memphis camp. Tennessee will host its annual ‘Orange Carpet’ day on June 17, a camp/recruiting bonanza that is the brainchild of the indispensable Bob Welton as well as Butch Jones.
Look for Tennessee to likewise work in conjunction with camps at Chattanooga, Tennessee State and perhaps one more in-state spot this summer.
But the NCAA has severely limited allowable contact and personnel who can be on hand. Only head coaches and full-time assistants may work the camps; additionally, communication is to be limited to on-field instruction and is not permissible with anyone other than campers, i.e. family members.
It should result in widespread spending cuts for college football programs; consider how many teams — Michigan, Oklahoma, etc. — which “hosted” Satellite Camps inside the Volunteer State last summer.
Tennessee, for example, spent more than $30,000 simply on private flights to/from last summer’s limited camps in which UT staffers participated. The private King Air jet that ferried Ja’Wuan James and his then-Dolphins teammate Jamil Douglas to the camp in Jackson, Tenn., referred to by many as the “Trey Smith Satellite Camp,” carried a discounted price tag of approximately $15,000.
UT likewise had more than a dozen rooms at the Vanderbilt Marriott for a private reception the night before the camp.
John Currie now is searching for his first high-profile coaching opening after the forced resignation this week of sixth-year coach Dave Serrano, who never advanced Tennessee into the NCAA Tournament after Serrano, a former Vols assistant from their 1995 World Series run, had made three CWS appearances as a head coach.
So where does Currie turn? Expect former Vols All-American and ex-Major Leaguer Chris Burke to get an interview — again. Burke interviewed six years ago, when UT hired Serrano.
Tennessee, per sources, also has not only vetted Auburn assistant coach Brad Bohannon but has unofficially gauged potential interest. Bohannon has been an NCAA Assistant Coach of the Year and owns longtime SEC experience as an assistant — first at Kentucky and the past two seasons at Auburn. Bohannon also has some common ties with Currie and Reid Sigmon after Bohannon initiated his career at Wake Forest.
Auburn had been the surprise success story in all of college baseball this season until it slumped of late with seven-straight losses that have imperiled the Tigers’ NCAA Tournament hopes.
Elsewhere, some names being bandied about include Memphis assistant coach Clay Greene — a former Vols player and assistant coach who’s produced admirable success at both ETSU and Memphis; Southeastern Louisiana coach Matt Riser, a person considered in baseball circles as one of the sports national rising stars. Riser played at Tulane when the Green Wave reached a No. 1 ranking with Riser as captain, and in his first three years at SELA Riser averaged 40 wins, a conference title and two NCAA Regionals. Riser’s squad has positioned itself for potential NCAA play again this year with four wins against ranked opponents plus victories against Tulane and West Virginia. Unafraid to play power schools, SELA proved competitive in losses to Vanderbilt (twice) and LSU on the road.
Additionally, look for New York Mets scouting ace Ashley “Ash” Lawson to be in the mix. Lawson has multiple stops of collegiate experience and led Tennessee Wesleyan to some of that school’s ultimate success despite plenty of obstacles stacked against him. Additionally, Lawson served a year as an UT assistant and had been tabbed to a post for perennial power Miami when the Mets’ spot opened and Lawson chose MLB over the Canes. A resident of Tennessee, Lawson likewise has hosted some of the state’s and South’s most high-profile baseball camps and clinics, with players coming from as far as Memphis and Atlanta, among other locales, to participate in the sessions routinely stocked with Major League instruction.
Mykelle McDaniel, who left the Vols’ program in mid-December but did return for spring semester and spring camp, once again has indicated to multiple people that he is exiting the Tennessee football program after a redshirt-freshman season in which he did not play. People close to McDaniel have been in contact with junior college coaches, and folks at UT have indicated McDaniel will not return to the Vols moving forward.
The Atlanta-area native who starred at Grayson High School had a strong spring camp, flashing the type of talent that made folks believe McDaniel could be a special teams contributor and develop into a starting role in the future. But McDaniel also did not always take care of his business on or off the field, per sources, and instead has elected to pursue options elsewhere.
Jordan Murphy, Tennessee’s top-rated wideout in its 2017 signing class, continues to be the Vols’ primary concern in terms of qualifying and arriving to campus this summer. Murphy, per multiple sources, still has not completed his necessary academic work to finish up at Hattiesburg High School and enroll this summer on Rocky Top.
Additionally, Murphy may also be dealing with an illness to a close family member per some high school coaches in Mississippi.
LOOKING AT THE ‘O’
Tennessee doesn’t play this weekend, but if it did, I’ve spoken to enough people, as well as based on what we learned during spring camp, to project this starting offensive lineup, with the offensive line a bit fluid:
OL: Drew Richmond, LT; Trey Smith, RT or RG; Jashon Robertson, C or LG; Coleman Thomas, C or RG; Brett Kendrick, LG or RT; Venzell Boulware, LG.
In the backfield, it’s Quinten Dormady definitively out in front at quarterback although most expect both Dormady and Jarrett Guarantano to play; John Kelly is far and away the Vols’ starting tailback. Ethan Wolf is the tight end; Jakob Johnson is the backup and began to flourish this spring.
At wideout, Jauan Jennings is the Alpha while Marquez Callaway could be positioned for a breakout campaign and projects to start; Tyler Bird or Josh Smith would be the slot.