WICHITA, Kan. - When new Tennessee coach Lane Kiffin was recruiting Bryce Brown, he told Brown the Volunteers' program would turn around quickly.
Monday, the Vols took a major step toward that turnaround when, in front of around 100 family, friends and media, Brown announced he would attend Tennessee.
Brown, a running back from Wichita's East High who was the nation's No. 1 prospect in the 2009 recruiting class, originally committed to Miami in February 2008. In the past month, though, UM apparently pulled its offer, saying it didn't want to wait any longer for Brown's decision. In the end, the choice came down to Tennessee and Kansas State, and Brown said it was trust in Kiffin and the Vols' coaches that won him over.
"I love Coach Kiffin," said Brown, who also considered LSU, Clemson, Oregon and Missouri. "Coach Kiffin doesn't back down. A lot of people don't think Tennessee is going to turn around instantly. But that's not what is going to happen. Coach Kiffin thinks it's going to be turned around by tomorrow.
"He's pushing his coaches. He's pushing his players. I think he has a lot of energy, and it's contagious."
As with Brown's entire recruitment, Monday's announcement was full of drama. It started 10 minutes late, and Brown pulled out a Miami hat that he had been wearing Sunday and Monday. But just as it appeared he might be saying he was a 'Cane, Brown turned and handed the hat to older brother Arthur Brown – a Miami linebacker – and instead donned a Tennessee hat.
"I really don't know where to begin," he said. "If you followed this recruiting process, you know it was a roller coaster. I didn't expect it to turn out like this, but some things happened that I didn't expect. I had to come up with an alternative plan and that's what we did.
"It was a spiritual decision that was made. God basically put it in my heart. I asked when I was down there to have Him reveal it to me and if this was the place to give me a sign. And it was. He gave me the sign."
Brown said that on his official visit, at first he didn't feel as if Tennessee was the right place for him. But he liked it enough to take an unofficial visit last weekend. On that trip, Brown got to see the offense up close, and by the time he left Knoxville, he was sold.
"I think it was very important because when I first went down there, I didn't get a good feel offensively for what they wanted to do," Brown said. "I heard about it, but seeing it in the third practice was important. I got to see a lot of it. It was exactly what I was looking for. They have a lot of NFL coaches there and they're experienced. I feel they are going to prepare me for the next level."
Another factor was the relationship he built with his future position coach, Eddie Gran. Brown compared Gran's blue-collar, work-first attitude to that of his mentor, Brian Butler.
"Coach Gran's philosophy is a lot like Brian's," Brown said. "He expects a lot of you, and that's what I'm used to. I wanted to go a place where I know the coaches are going to put a lot of pressure on me to work hard."
If you followed this recruiting process, you know it was a roller coaster. I didn't expect it to turn out like this, but some things happened that I didn't expect.
- Bryce Brown
Brown also spoke highly of Kansas State coach Bill Snyder and the Wildcats' program, but he said he felt in the end that Tennessee is the best place for him to reach his goal of playing pro football.
"The long-term level, I felt Tennessee and K-State were the best schools," Brown said. "That's how we were thinking in this process – long term. But I just felt like Tennessee and the coaching staff they've got is going to get me prepared for the next level. But as far as long-term success and support, I felt Tennessee and K-State were head-to-head."
With Brown's addition, Tennessee climbed to No. 10 in the Rivals.com 2009 team recruiting rankings. Brown joins a class that also features David Oku, the nation's No. 1 all-purpose running back. Brown said he has a great relationship with Oku.
"I talk to David a lot, but I don't talk to David about football," Brown said. "It's not all about football. I'm like a big brother to David. Anything David needs, any advice he needs, he'll text me. I'll call him and we'll just talk."
Oku said he was ecstatic about Brown's decision and said the duo should give Tennessee a similar punch to what Kiffin had when he was offensive coordinator at USC in 2005.
"When coach was out there, he had 'Thunder' and 'Lightning' with LenDale White and Reggie Bush," Oku said. "I think we can work very much in the same way. I can't wait to get out there on the practice field with Bryce.