Tennessee’s search for a receivers coach: Zach Azzani has close links to Butch Jones, CMU

zach-azzanni.jpgKNOXVILLE, Tennessee — It’s the only position left to fill on Butch Jones’ first staff as Tennessee head football coach.

That means, of course, that we will spend an inordinate amount of time dissecting the vacant wide receiver position, especially in the wake of Tee Martin’s decision to decline an offer from UT to remain at Southern California.

We updated the list Thursday to include Wisconsin receivers coach Zach Azzanni, who makes a lot of sense for many reasons.

But since we don’t know what Butch Jones is thinking, this post is largely speculative. To inform our list, we looked at some of the attributes Martin would have brought the staff….

* Experience coaching receivers.
* Well-respected recruiter with experience in the South.
* Young, not that far removed from his playing days.
* A link to Tennessee through playing or coaching or both.
* A minority who would help diversify Jones’ staff, which currently has two black coaches (Jay Graham and Tommy Thigpen).

In compiling a list of potential candidates, we’re trying to find coaches with as many of those attributes as possible. If you have any ideas, shoot me an e-mail, leave a comment or talk to me on Twitter.

I’m also going to add a sixth category: A connection to Jones or a member of his coaching staff. Of the eight coaches currently on Jones’ staff, only Thigpen doesn’t have a direction connection to the Jones/Central Michigan coaching trees, and Thigpen worked with Willie Martinez, who does have such a connection.

That’s where Azzani comes in. Based on the sixth category alone, Azzanni or T.J. Weist (both listed below) make the most sense. But we’ll see what happens.

Here are some names, in no particular order…

*  Dameyune Craig. I’m adding him to the list because my old colleague Phillip Marshall reported that he is a candidate at Auburn. That at least indicates a willingness to consider leaving Florida State, where Craig is an assistant under Jimbo Fisher.

Craig would offer the same instant recruiting boost that Martin could have brought. He fits four of the six criteria, and would be a bona fide home run hire.

But if he truly is looking to get back on the market, his alma mater mater (Auburn) would probably be his first stop. Still, it’s worth a try.

* Thomas “T.D.” Woods: He was an All-SEC receiver for the Vols in 1988-1989 and was an assistant under David Cutcliffe at Ole Miss from 2001-2005. Most recently he was receivers coach at Tulane from 2007-2012. The Gallatin native has recruited the South his entire career.

* Latrell Scott. He coached receivers at Tennessee from 2008-2009 and was on the college coaching fast track. He replaced Mike London at Richmond but was let go after a DUI arrest. (Scott had already one DUI arrest in the past and Richmond officials told him when he was hired that another one would be unacceptable). So he has some baggage, and he’s having to work his way back up the coaching ladder. But he’s well respected and might be worth taking a chance on.

* Zach Azzanni: He’s currently at Wisconsin, which is going through a coaching transition, so he’s putting out feelers to other schools. It’s hard to imagine he hasn’t spoken with Jones or someone else in the Central Michigan crew.

A native of Utica, Mich., Azzanni was a receiver at CMU from 1994-1998 and was assistant head coach there under Jones from 2007-2009.

Rather than go with Jones to Cincinnati after the 2009 season, Azzanni got a job at Florida coaching wide receivers under Urban Meyer (a close friend of Jones’.). After Meyer’s “retirement,” Jones had to scramble for a job and ended up at Western Kentucky for one season before moving to Wisconsin.

(At WKU, he followed in the footsteps of the next guy on our list.)

* T.J. Weist. When Jones was hired, we assumed that Weist would be coming with him from Cincinnati. He could still be an option, although the fact that he wasn’t on board the moment after Martin turned down the Vols indicates that Jones is looking at other candidates, too.

Weist is a Michigan native (like much of Jones’ staff) but went to college at Alabama and spent eight years at Western Kentucky, where he was assistant head coach. He was listed as recruiting coordinator at Cincy.

* Darin Hinshaw: The former Derek Dooley assistant has been formally released by Jones and was reportedly hired by Kentucky, although that has not yet been confirmed. But if the contract’s not yet signed, it might not be too late to ask. Hinshaw was well-liked by his players and is a versatile and hard-working offensive coach known as a strong recruiter.

* Troy Walters: He might be retained by new N.C. State coach Dave Doeren. Otherwise, he’s on the market for a new job. With two degrees from Stanford and an impressive NFL career, Walters has a nice resume.

* Kippy Brown: I’m adding him to the list by popular demand, although I’m not sure he’s interested in leaving a good job in the NFL, which is where he’s spent most of his career. Still, the Memphis native has coached at Tennessee before and even served as interim coach after Lane Kiffin departed.

* A lot of people have mentioned Trooper Taylor, and two years ago, that hire would have been a no-brainer. But he was pulled off the recruiting road at Auburn this year and until that NCAA cloud resolves, it would be difficult for UT to hire him.

* Others in brief: See if Georgia’s Tony Ball wants a raise….Longtime UT coach Pat Washington is now at East Carolina. If you want to go with youth, former Vol receiver Casey Woods, son of longtime coach Sparky Woods, is in limbo at Arkansas State….Chris Beatty is a former Vandy coach who played at East Tennessee. He’s co-offensive coordinator at Illinois.

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One thought on “Tennessee’s search for a receivers coach: Zach Azzani has close links to Butch Jones, CMU

  1. Volunatic

    Some good suggestions there. My #1 choice would be TD Woods. I didn’t think Latrell Scott did very well when he was here, though– I hope he isn’t the choice. The DUI is another red flag.
    I’m curious about how our new OL coach will do– I was hoping that Pittman would get a chance to stay because the OL did so well.

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