Just two months after Tennessee hired him, Kiffin signed a top-10 recruiting class that featured the nation's top overall prospect in Wichita (Kan.) East running back Bryce Brown. Even though Tennessee was coming off its first losing season in nearly two decades, the Volunteers had plenty of reason to feel good about their future.
Three years later, Kiffin is long gone. So are all seven Rivals250 prospects from that 2009 Tennessee recruiting class.
This isn't the only heralded recruiting class that has failed to live up to expectations. In fact, we've put together a list of 13 classes that were ranked in the top 10 by Rivals.com but underachieved because of off-field issues.
Consider them the "Unlucky 13."
In putting together this list, we weren't focusing on players who stayed at the same school for the duration of their careers but never quite lived up to their recruiting ranking. Instead, we wanted to find the classes that were hurt the most by early defections unrelated to star players forgoing their senior seasons to enter the NFL Draft.
These classes were hindered because of players who transferred, got kicked off the team, failed to qualify or suffered career-altering or career-ending injuries. We weren't as interested in graduate transfers who played their final season at another school only after earning their degrees. We focused more on Brown and other transfers who switched schools much earlier in their careers.
This list helps explain why two of the biggest national powers from the 1990s - Florida State and Tennessee - have struggled for much of the last decade despite often signing highly ranked recruiting classes. Those two schools account for five of the top six classes on our list
Before we reveal the list, we'll mention one class that's notable by its absence.
USC topped the Rivals recruiting rankings in 2010 with a class that included four five-star prospects. Three of those five-star recruits - wide receiver Markeith Ambles, running back Dillon Baxter and wide receiver Kyle Prater - already have left the program. That class also was put together by Kiffin.
Even though that group has included plenty of high-profile early exits, we didn't feel it should make our list because the rest of the class has performed so well. The one five-star prospect who stayed at USC is All-America wide receiver Robert Woods. And all the four-star recruits from that class remain at USC, with many of them having developed into key contributors.
Class rank: 10th
The signees: Five-stars: RB Bryce Brown (No. 1 overall), CB Janzen Jackson (No. 17). Four-stars: WR Nu'Keese Richardson (No. 68), LB Jerod Askew (No. 79), RB David Oku (No. 97), WR James Green (No. 123), S Darren Myles (No. 133), CB Eric Gordon, LB Marlon Walls, OT JerQuari Schofield, ATH Marsalis Teague. Three-stars: CB Mike Edwards, OT Daniel Hood, DT Arthur Jeffery, LB Greg King, LB Nigel Mitchell-Thornton, LB Robert Nelson, ATH Nyshier Oliver, C Kevin Revis, WR Zach Rogers, DE Rae Sykes, RB Toney Williams.
What went wrong: All seven Rivals250 members from this class are no longer with the team. Brown stayed at Tennessee just one year before transferring to Kansas State. Jackson, a second-team all-SEC player in 2010, was kicked off the team last summer and ended up at McNeese State. Richardson and Edwards were kicked off the team in the fall of 2009 after being arrested in connection with an attempted armed robbery. Myles was kicked off the team in the summer of 2010 after being arrested on charges of assaulting a university police officer and resisting and evading arrest. Askew was dismissed for a violation of team rules in February 2011. Oku and Revis transferred, Green failed to qualify academically, and Sykes was dismissed for academic reasons. Nelson and Jeffery also have left the football program. Oliver remains with the team, but he has missed two entire seasons with injuries.
Rivals.com national recruiting analyst Mike Farrell's take: "This was Lane Kiffin and his dream team of recruiters and on paper this was a great class clearly, but there were some questionable takes here as far as off the field issues and academics. Kiffin and some of his guys bolting to USC as a year later didn't help I'm sure, but this is a classic example of some great players not having the guidance or direction to become ever better."
Five-star video: RB Bryce Brown
Class rank: 3rd
The signees: Five-star: QB Xavier Lee (No. 10). Four-stars: CB Tony Carter (No. 32), CB J.R. Bryant (No. 52), LB Lawrence Timmons (No. 61), RB Jamaal Edwards (No. 64), DT Aaron Jones (No. 74), CB Trevor Ford (No. 84), LB Jae Thaxton (No. 94), OG Dumaka Atkins, WR Greg Carr, OG Jacky Claude, DE Emmanuel Dunbar, LB Rodney Gallon, WR Kenny O'Neal, QB Drew Weatherford, LB Barry Wright. Three-stars: OT Geoff Berniard, WR DeCody Fagg, S Kenny Ingram, OG Cornelius Lewis, RB Lamar Lewis, CB Joe Manning, CB Darius McClure. Two-stars: K Gary Cismesia, RB Joe Surratt.
What went wrong: This class included one four-star recruit who never ended up in school and four more who finished their careers elsewhere. Edwards moved on to North Alabama while Jones transferred to Eastern Kentucky. Ford transferred to Troy. O'Neal was dismissed in the summer of 2006 for conduct detrimental to the team. Wright transferred to West Virginia. Warren had his scholarship offer rescinded after he arrested the same month he signed his letter-of-intent. Dunbar struggled with a back injury for much of his career. Lamar Lewis transferred to Georgia Southern, and Cornelius Lewis was dismissed from the team.
Farrell's take: "Plenty of high school talent here but this class is also one of the reasons FSU struggled in the last years under Bobby Bowden. Xavier Lee was the headliner in the class but he was more of an athlete than a quarterback and some of the others like Dunbar were just bad luck. FSU is a repeat offender on this list of 13, so it's not all on the players. The coaching staff under Bowden wasn't getting the job done with some talent."
Five-star video: QB Xavier Lee
3. Florida State 2006
Class rank: 3rd.
The signees: Five-stars: ATH Myron Rolle (No. 12), DE/TE Brandon Warren (No. 24). Four-stars: OT Daron Rose (No. 30), LB Marcus Ball (No. 37), WR Damon McDaniel (No. 69), LB Marcus Sims (No. 76), CB Ochuko Jenije (Rivals250), S Anthony Leon (Rivals250), WR Preston Parker (Rivals250), TE Caz Piurowski (Rivals250), ATH D'Vontrey Richardson (Rivals250), CB Patrick Robinson (Rivals250), DE Doug Thacker (Rivals250), OLB Recardo Wright (Rivals250), OT Shannon Boatman, DT Paul Griffin, OT Matt Hardrick, DE Kevin McNeil, DE Justin Mincey, S Toddrick Verdell. Three-stars: S Mister Alexander, OG Evan Bellamy, WR Brent Brewer, C Brandon Davis, OG Tyler Graves, RB Seddrick Holloway, DT/OL Ryan McMahon, QB Christian Ponder, LB Tim Rawlinson, LB Dekoda Watson.
What went wrong: You could make a case this class helped Terry Bowden much more than Bobby Bowden. Rose, Parker and Sims all ended up finishing their careers with North Alabama, the Division II program coached by Terry Bowden at the time. Five of the six Rivals100 players in this class finished their careers elsewhere. Warren played only one season at Florida State before transferring to a junior college and eventually heading to Tennessee. Ball transferred to Pearl River Community College and ended up at Memphis. McDaniel finished his college career at Hampton. Leon transferred to Arkansas. Richardson left early to pursue a pro baseball career after the Milwaukee Brewers drafted him. Hardrick was dismissed for a violation of team rules and ended up at USF. This class doesn't rank higher on our list because of the three-star prospects, who were much more productive than the blue-chip guys. Ponder was a first-round draft pick, McMahon started four years and Watson had a solid career.
Farrell's take: "The second FSU class on the list, two of the top three not a good sign. Ball was a guy we never thought would qualify so when he did it was a surprise, but certainly not a surprise he didn't last. Warren could have been the first great FSU tight end in a long time, McDaniel was clearly a product of the attention paid to his teammate Percy Harvin in high school and on and on we go. Even the top player in the class, Myron Rolle, ended up more famous for being a Rhodes Scholar than we he did on the field. Another class that helped send a legend packing."
Five-star video: DE Brandon Warren
Class rank: 2nd
The signees: Five-stars: WR Fred Rouse (No. 6), DT Callahan Bright (No. 14), RB Antone Smith (No. 25). Four-stars: LB Derek Nicholson (No. 30), LB Geno Hayes (No. 36), OT Matt Hardrick (No. 41), DE Justin Mincey (No. 65), CB Jamie Robinson (No. 66), DE Everette Brown (No. 78), RB Russell Ball, ATH Matt Dunham, LB Dan Foster, CB Michael Ray Garvin, LB Neefy Moffett, DT Kendrick Stewart, S Clarence Ward. Three-stars: K Graham Gano, WR Richard Goodman, LB Anthony Kelly, CB Korey Mangum, WR Rod Owens. Two-stars: TE Charlie Graham, DT Letroy Guion.
What went wrong: Two of the three five-star prospects were washouts. Bright never qualified academically, while Rouse played just one season before getting kicked off the team. Hardrick, who went to Hargrave Military Academy before signing with FSU again a year later, was dismissed for a violation of team rules and finished his career at USF. Ball moved on to Prairie View A&M. Dunham left the program early. Foster didn't qualify and ended up in junior college. Ward transferred to Texas Tech and eventually finished his career at UTEP. While this class featured plenty of high-profile busts, it also had a few success stories. Gano won the Lou Groza Award, and Brown earned All-America honors. Hayes and Nicholson were multi-year starters at linebacker.
Farrell's take: "Mercifully this is the last of the FSU classes in this list of 13, and it's pretty easy to see why the 'Noles had to make a move to Jimbo Fisher and send the program in a different direction. I can safely say I knew Fred Rouse would be a handful and he simply squandered his talent. Callahan Bright was another one with off-the-field issues and was a risk, but he was a phenomenal talent. The other two FSU classes rank higher because there was more of a washout percentage, but this class probably hurts the most. Brown exceeded expectations while almost everyone else fell short."
Five-star video: WR Fred Rouse
6. Tennessee 2007
Class rank: 3rd
The signees: Five-stars: CB Eric Berry (No. 3), LB Chris Donald (No. 18), DE Ben Martin (No. 20), Kenny O'Neal (JUCO transfer), ATH Brent Vinson (prep school transfer). Four-stars: RB Lennon Creer (No. 57), ATH Gerald Jones (No. 87), QB BJ Coleman (Rivals250), DT Donald Langley (Rivals250), WR Ahmad Paige (Rivals250), OT Darris Sawtelle (Rivals250), S Nevin McKenzie, DT Rolando Melancon, DE Rae Sykes, LB Chris Walker, CB DeAngelo Willingham. Three-stars: ATH Anthony Anderson, S Deshaun Barnes, DT William Brimfield, WR Todd Campbell, RB Kevin Cooper, ATH Art Evans, CB C.J. Fleming, LB Savion Frazier, RB Josh Hawkins, WR Tyler Maples, ATH Denarius Moore, OT Cody Pope, RB Dennis Rogan, RB Daryl Vereen, DE Rufus Williams. Two-stars: DE Cory Hall.
What went wrong: Berry won the Jim Thorpe Award and was drafted in the first round, but the other four five-star prospects didn't work out nearly as well. Donald transferred to Chattanooga. Vinson was kicked off the team and ended up at North Alabama. O'Neal struggled with academics and eventually transferred. Martin remained at Tennessee for the duration of his career, but a pair of Achilles injuries limited his effectiveness. At least seven four-star prospects also left early or never arrived at all. Coleman transferred to Chattanooga. Creer and Paige moved on to Louisiana Tech. Langley transferred to a junior college before finishing up at Texas Tech. Coleman headed to Chattanooga. Melancon was unable to qualify and ended up at Texas Southern. Sawtelle transferred to Grand Valley State. Sykes went to a junior college and re-signed with Tennessee two years later, only to run into academic problems.
Farrell's take: "This was an important class for Phillip Fulmer because I thought his 2006 class was showing a slide in recruiting for the Vols. He responded with a monster class but as we can see only Berry lived up to the hype as a five star. Some was bad luck like the injuries to Martin and the academic struggles of O'Neal, while other problems were just guys not committed to being top players. This class can be looked upon as the one that might have sealed Fulmer's fate, fairly or unfairly."
Five-star video: CB Eric Berry
Class rank: 8th.
The signees: Five-stars: OT Sam Young (No. 11), RB James Aldridge (No. 27). Four-stars: CB Darrin Walls (No. 51), QB Demetrius Jones (No. 54), CB Raeshon McNeil (No. 74), TE Konrad Reuland (No. 81), OT Matt Carufel (Rivals250), QB Zach Frazer (Rivals250), OT/OG Eric Olsen (Rivals250), OG Chris Stewart (Rivals250), C Daniel Wenger (Rivals250), WR Richard Jackson. Three-stars: S Sergio Brown, S Jashaad Gaines, WR Barry Gallup, CB Leonard Gordon, TE Paddy Mullen, WR Robby Parris, RB Munir Prince, LB Morrice Richardson, DE John Ryan, RB Luke Schmidt, LB Toryan Smith, DE Kallen Wade, OT Bartley Webb, ATH George West, TE Will Yeatman. Two-star: K Ryan Burkhart.
What went wrong: Five of the 10 four-star prospects in this class left Notre Dame earlier than expected. That total increases to six if you include Wenger, who earned his Notre Dame degree before heading to Florida as a graduate transfer. Reuland left Notre Dame for Saddlebrook College before moving on to Stanford. Other four-star transfers included Jones (Cincinnati), Carufel (Minnesota), Frazer (Connecticut) and Jackson (UCF). Three-star recruits who left this class early included Gaines (Texas Southern), Prince (Missouri) and Yeatman (Maryland). Injuries wrecked the careers of Webb and Wade. Medical issues also prevented Aldridge from ever living up to his five-star billing, though he stayed at Notre Dame for his entire career.
Farrell's take: "This class is infamous in Notre Dame circles because it's the first full one under Charlie Weis. There were a few head scratchers taken in this class, but the injury to Aldridge and the regression of Young really hurt this class. That and the fact that the first two quarterbacks Weis handpicked after having such success with Tom Brady in the NFL didn't help either."
Five-star video: RB James Aldridge
Class rank: 4th.
The signees: Five-stars: QB Matt Barkley (No. 5), DE Devon Kennard (No. 8), ATH Patrick Hall (No. 19), S T.J. McDonald (No. 30). Four-stars: DE Jarvis Jones (No. 72), OT Kevin Graf (No. 86), S Byron Moore (No. 98), C John Martinez (No. 100), S Jawanza Starling (No. 112), LB Marquis Simmons (No. 136), LB Frankie Telfort (No. 141), ATH James Boyd (No. 190), WR De'Von Flournoy (No. 226), DT Hebron Fangupo, CB Torin Harris. Three-stars: DE Kevin Greene. Two-stars: K Jake Harfman, RB Simione Vehikite.
What went wrong: It's difficult to find too much fault in any class that features Barkley as its headliner, but injuries and transfers have weakened the rest of this group. The biggest loss of all is Jones, who didn't get cleared by USC medical officials after spraining his neck his freshman year. Jones transferred to Georgia and earned first-team All-America honors from The Associated Press last season. Fangupo, the nation's No. 2 junior college recruit in 2009, transferred to BYU. Moore and Boyd also left the program to create two more Rivals250 defections. A heart ailment prevented Telfort from ever playing for the Trojans. Injuries have limited the effectiveness of Hall, whose future with the program remains in doubt.
Farrell's take: "This class doesn't have nearly the same knucklehead factor as some of the others. Jones obviously should have been cleared, Hall has been injury prone, Telfort never got a chance to suit up so that's three top 150 prospects out due to injuries. Kennard also had some injuries and was moved from defensive end to linebacker and back to defensive end so he never really settled in. Pretty good class otherwise though, especially with Barkley."
Five-star video: QB Matt Barkley
11. USC 2008
Class rank: 8th.
The signees: Five-stars: OT Matt Kalil (No. 11), OT Tyron Smith (No. 15). Four-stars: TE Blake Ayles (No. 31), DE Wes Horton (No. 40), DT Armond Armstead (No. 42), DE Nick Perry (No. 56), WR Brice Butler (No. 79), CB T.J. Bryant (No. 82), ATH D.J. Shoemate (No. 96), LB Uona Kavienga (No. 97), OG Khaled Holmes (No. 103), OG Matt Meyer (No. 151), OG Daniel Campbell (No. 153), DT Jurrell Casey (No. 191), DE Malik Jackson. Three-stars: RB Brian Baucham, S Drew McAllister, RB Curtis McNeal, LB Maurice Simmons.
What went wrong: The five-star prospects definitely lived up to their billing. Smith was the first offensive lineman taken in last year's NFL Draft and Kalil almost certainly will be the first offensive lineman drafted this year. But plenty of the four-star recruits would go on to finish their careers elsewhere. NCAA sanctions granted USC upperclassmen the opportunity to transfer without losing a year of eligibility. Ayles headed to Miami, Shoemate headed to Connecticut and Jackson left for Tennessee. Another Rivals100 transfer is Kaveinga, who now plays for BYU. Campbell didn't qualify and enrolled at Hargrave Military Academy. A foot injury forced Meyer to give up football. The list of early exits increases if you include Butler and Bryant, who plan to take advantage of the graduate transfer rule. Butler will play for San Diego State this fall.
Farrell's take: "This is the one class exception where the five-stars killed it but the rest of the group fell well short of expectations. The USC sanctions allowing upperclassmen to transfer without penalty also hurt this class, but the guys who did leave weren't exactly killing it regardless. Still the 1-2 punch at offensive tackle could be hard to beat historically."
Five-star video: OT Matt Kalil
Class rank: 3rd.
The signees: Five-stars: ATH Will Hill (No. 10), DT Omar Hunter (No. 17), OT Matt Patchan (No. 18), WR Carl Moore (JUCO transfer). Four-stars: CB Janoris Jenkins (No. 51), LB Brendan Beal (No. 73), LB William Green (No. 83), LB Lerentee McCray (No. 115), S Dee Finley (No. 124), ATH Adrian Bushell (No. 157), WR Omarius Hines (No. 163), WR T.J. Lawrence (No. 165), WR Frankie Hammond Jr. (No. 212), RB Jeffrey Demps (No. 241), CB Jeremy Brown, DE Earl Okine. Three-stars: DT Troy Epps, LB T.J. Pridemore, C Sam Robey, OT David Young. Two-stars: DT Byran Jones, K/P Caleb Sturgis.
What went wrong: If we were simply rating which Top 10 classes had underachieved the most, this group might rank higher on the list. But we're focusing on which classes were hurt the most by defections or other off-field issues. The four five-star recruits in this class haven't necessarily lived up to their rankings thus far, but all have stayed at Florida for the duration of their college careers (though Hill chose to enter the draft earlier than expected). Jenkins was kicked off the team and finished his career at North Alabama, but he played at an All-America level before running into trouble. Other four-star transfers included Beal (Minnesota), Bushell (Louisville), Finley (North Alabama) and Lawrence (Florida A&M). Pridemore and Jones also have left the program.
Farrell's take: "This class is loaded with kids who didn't live up to the billing. Will Hill became more famous for his Twitter feed than his play on the field, Hunter and Patchan have not been five stars and many of the rest are a good reason why Florida had a rough season this year. Janoris Jenkins really hurt, he was a great SEC player."
Five-star video: DT Omar Hunter