There’s no wonder players everywhere love Tennessee offensive line coach Walt Wells. If he winds up coaching half as well as he’s recruiting, the new Volunteers assistant will wind up being a home-run hire for coach Butch Jones.
Upon getting hired by the Vols to be the full-time offensive line coach, Wells referred to Tennessee as his “dream job.” So far, it’s been a dream fit.
How many times have you heard over the past few years of Jones’ tenure that the Vols needed another “ace” recruiter. It’s hard to believe there’s been one just down the hall as an offensive quality control assistant. After last year, South Carolina head coach Will Muschamp came calling, trying to get Wells to be the Gamecocks’ new offensive line coach. But Wells stayed. Perhaps he already knew what was going to happen as UT parted ways with O-line coach Don Mahoney and promoted Wells to a full-time gig.
It’s already paid massive recruiting dividends on the recruiting trail, and it looks like it could be one of the best hires of an offseason full of assistant flipping.
“It’s always been a dream of mine to be here and I know it’s more than a dream, it’s reality now and I know what the reality is – we need results,” Wells told the media in his first interview as UT’s O-line coach. “That’s my goal just as much as anybody in this building.”
While those on-field results must wait, the work in the living rooms is paying off for Wells and Tennessee already.
Currently, Wells ranks eighth out of all assistants in 247Sports’ recruiter rankings, credited with five commitments. Five-star Knoxville Catholic commit Cade Mays, instate stud safety Brendan Harris and defensive tackle D’Andre Litaker lead the pack with Farragut tight end Jacob Warren and 3-star Knoxville (Gibbs) offensive lineman Ollie Lane credited to him, as well.
Wells already has landed 2019 commitments from Chattanooga athlete Cameron Wynn and midstate prospect Adonis Otey.
He’s also the lead recruiter on stud defensive lineman Greg Emerson of Jackson, Tennessee, who UT is right in the thick of, as well as Memphis top offensive tackle target Jerome Carvin, elite JUCO defensive lineman Dorian Gerald (who has UT and South Carolina at the top of his list), IMG Academy offensive lineman Reuben Unije, Virginia tight end James Mitchell and others. Tackle prospects Tanner Antonetti and massive IMG Academy standout Daniel Faalele are also being targeted by Wells.
The Vols are throwing him at some of their top targets, and he’s helping build an exceptional recruiting class. While Brady Hoke gets credit for Nashville defensive tackle Brant Lawless, Wells at least provided an assist there, too.
With all the talent instate this year and next, it was vital for the Vols to win their share of battles in the Volunteer State. Any time you can keep home 8-12 players who are being recruited by the rest of the SEC, it gives you the opportunity to build a firm foundation for a top-10 class that can compete to win the SEC East, if not the league. That was a major failure a season ago as top talent like receiver Tee Higgins, linebacker Jacob Phillips and defensive back JaCoby Stevens went elsewhere.
While linebackers coach Tommy Thigpen has won a lot of recruiting battles for UT, his star was fading in the state, especially in the I-24 corridor between Mufreesboro and Nashville that has become fertile recruiting ground the past few years.
The Belmont graduate and Tennessee native has long-time ties in the Midstate. He’s a proud Tennessean, and he plays up the state pride angle very well. His Twitter profile even has a #MidStateMade hash tag right there for the world to see. He has firm roots in relationships with coaches and camps within Nashville and beyond. People know Wells, and Wells knows people. More importantly, people like Wells.
Coaches like Wells. Parents like Wells. And, most important, kids like Wells.
It’s easy to see why. He’s also one of the most fun follows on all of Tennessee Twitter, quickly becoming known for his Pro Wrasslin’-themed tweets that either herald a coming commitment or celebrating one once it’s official. No, coaches can’t comment specifically on players, but there’s nothing cryptic about the references Wells flings out every time the Vols add one to their “Dom1n8” class.
Like this tweet in response to last weekend’s duo of running back commitments Lyn-J Dixon and Anthony Grant where he references the great Sting during his NWO days.
And this one in reference to the same duo, throwing a little former UGA player Bill Goldberg out there with a Georgia reference.
You gotta love that, right?
For a coaching staff (and head coach) who embraces social media and getting a positive message out there, Wells is a perfect fit. Now, about that coaching, he’s got to do a much better job than his predecessor.
Mahoney was an assistant UT’s offensive linemen loved, but the on-field results were always underachieving. He inherited a talented bunch in his first season with Ja’Wuan James, Zach Fulton, Tiny Richardson and James Stone, but UT’s line didn’t live up to the expectations, struggling in a scheme fit as the Vols relied on zone-blocking concepts when they were built primarily for man blocking.
The next year in 2014 was an absolute disaster as graduation and early departures of all those aforementioned players and Derek Dooley’s recruiting gaffes led to an awful season up front. The failure of JUCO offensive tackle Dontavius Blair didn’t help matters, either. Then in ’15, UT made a big leap up front in what was Mahoney’s best coaching job. The unit plummeted a year ago, however, and it became evident Tennessee needed to go in a different direction.
Now, Wells gets the opportunity to see if his infectious personality and recruiting chops can materialize with some strong Xs and Os. If he winds up being a great coach, the Vols’ offensive worries for the upcoming season with a possible dropback passer in Quinten Dormady under center and some new weapons for a new coordinator Larry Scott may not be such a big deal after all.
A lot is riding on Wells and UT’s offensive line, which returns a slew of players who have a great blend of youth, talent and experience. It’s far from a barren cupboard, so Wells doesn’t have any excuses. Tennessee fans have to hope he coaches as well as he convinces kids to commit.
If he does, Tennessee’s trenches will be in good hands for years to come.