TAMPA, Fla. — Tampa Bay Tech coach Jayson Roberts has a difficult time believing Phillip Fulmer could have been involved in the process of pulling a scholarship offer from his quarterback, Michael Penix.
Roberts has never met Fulmer, but he knows the Tennessee athletic director had a sterling reputation during his Hall of Fame coaching career with the Volunteers. His impression from afar is that Fulmer is a man of integrity who did the right things in recruiting.
“I know that as an athletic director he has a lot to oversee,” Roberts said Thursday. “I can’t imagine he had a hand in how Tennessee’s new staff dealt with this.”
Fulmer is indeed a beloved figure in the Volunteer State, and a man the Tennessee fan base has rallied around since he took over as athletic director on Dec. 1. Thus, Roberts and others remain stunned at the awkward and uncharacteristic nature with which the new Tennessee staff cut ties to Penix, a well-respected 3-star recruit.
Penix, who had been committed to the Vols since April, stuck with Tennessee through Butch Jones’ Nov. 12 firing, a 26-day coaching search and the hiring of new coach Jeremy Pruitt.
It’s Pruitt’s first time as a college head coach, and calling the 15 players who were committed to Tennessee at the time was almost certainly one of the first things on his to-do list.
Sure enough, Pruitt called Penix last Friday, the day after he was hired, to tell the quarterback and his family that he was honoring his commitment.
That changed Wednesday, when Penix received a text asking him to call the UT football office. Penix said that when he made the call, new offensive coordinator Ty Helton told him not to come on the official visit to Knoxville that had been planned months earlier.
Apparently, the Vols had another pro-style quarterback they were bringing in to visit.
The Tennessee staff is not allowed to discuss recruiting, so it’s unknown if Pruitt was even aware of how or when the call took place.
Roberts, who has developed about a dozen FBS scholarship players in his seven years at Tampa Bay Tech, was not pleased with how his quarterback was treated by Tennessee. He was also surprised, because he said he was led to believe something else by Vols recruiting coordinator Robert Gillespie.
“Around 5 o’clock [Wednesday], I looked at my phone and saw Michael de-committed on Twitter, and then I was on my way home from Bible study around 8:30 when Coach Gillespie called me,” Roberts said. “I know Coach Gillespie is in a tough spot. He loves Michael, and he recruited him and recruits this area.”
Roberts figured Penix had contacted Vols coaches and decided to de-commit after determining they had a different philosophy than Jones’ staff.
“But then I found out that, no, they had pulled the offer and told him to start looking somewhere else, and that they didn’t need him to come on the visit this weekend,” Roberts said. “That took me aback.”
Penix said in a Facebook Live interview with SEC Country on Wednesday night that he doesn’t have any regrets and he appreciated the support he has received from Tennessee fans and the previous coaching staff.
Two of those former Tennessee assistants were at Tampa Bay Tech on Thursday as part of a five-man, full-court press recruiting effort Indiana University made in hopes of landing Penix. Former Vols offensive coordinator Mike DeBord and former UT graduate assistant coach Nick Stephens accompanied Indiana coach Tom Allen and two other Hoosiers assistants.
Earlier in the week, new Florida State coach Willie Taggart offered Penix a scholarship for the third time. When Taggart was coach at South Florida two years ago, he offered Penix for the first time. Taggart extended another offer last year after he became coach at Oregon. Now, Taggart is in charge of the Seminoles, and he’s still sold on Penix.
On Wednesday night, current South Florida coach Charlie Strong made an in-home visit, as the Bulls hope to convince Penix to stay close to home and play college ball in Tampa.
Penix, 17, was born in Cookeville, Tenn. His parents were student-athletes at Tennessee Tech — his mother ran track and his father played football. Penix had long dreamed of playing in Neyland Stadium and he’s still processing the sudden change in his life.
Penix plans to sign a letter of intent on Dec 20 and enroll in college next month. But suddenly, he’s not sure which college.
“If I’m a new coach, and this is the quarterback that fell into my lap, I’m ecstatic,” Roberts said. “That program has so many things that need to be fixed, and so with two quarterbacks, here’s one less problem.
“I thought if things didn’t work out, it would be because Michael wasn’t feeling it, but that wasn’t the case. He didn’t do anything wrong. He stayed loyal and trusted the process.”
Tampa Bay Tech 3-star quarterback Michael Penix discusses his Tennessee recruitment with SEC Country:
QB Michael Penix discusses his recruitment
Posted by Tennessee Volunteers Insiders on Wednesday, December 13, 2017