Majors said he contacted some of those he had cultivated in Pittsburgh last fall. "I told them I wasn't about to bad-mouth Pitt, it's too good a school. But if they had a visit or two left, come down to Knoxville and see us."
"Most schools can give you a good education," Majors said. " Tennessee has fine engineering, medicine, business, law. But all things being equal, I think a kid wants to know he has a chance to play, maybe a chance to play for a championship. A successful recruiter doesn't lie. He accents the positive. At least I can tell them we're starting out in the middle instead of rock bottom. Tennessee hasn't had losing seasons; it just isn't satisfied to go 6-5."
The rental car that Robbie Franklin had ordered was not at the tiny airport in Bowling Green. Neither, however, was the snow. The storm had lifted and in its wake temperatures had fallen. Robbie, scouting around the airport for a substitute vehicle, found a set of keys that had been turned in, but he couldn't find a car to fit the keys. "How do you like going first class?" Majors said.
The rental agency finally delivered a car from town, and Robbie took the wheel, heading south on Interstate 65 with his foot hard on the accelerator, hoping to regain some time. Majors laid his coat over the seat.
"I don't want a kid whose arm you have to twist," he said. "I want one who it means something to to wear that orange shirt. Even outside Tennessee, it means something. I didn't have that at Iowa State, and not much of it was left at Pitt, either, but I can appreciate the importance of it. I told the Tennessee players at our first meeting, 'It should mean a lot to you to play here, where there's tradition. That orange shirt meant something to the great players who were here before you. Regardless of when we become champions, and I don't have any idea when that'll be, you can play like champions. Like Tennessee teams have played before. This is a fresh start.' "
He slapped the seat with his hand.
"That's why I say, 'Don't come here if it doesn't mean something.' "
He slapped the seat again.
"And that's why recruiting is so important in the fall, when you can bring a boy in on game day, let him hear the whooping and hollering. He has to think, 'Boy, I may be just another student on Friday, but on Saturday I'm special to a whole lot of folks.' "
We left the thundering interstate at the junction of State Road 100, a much narrower ribbon through blood-red strips of raw land opened for seed, and rode past glistening silos and crushed, beaten-looking farmhouses.