KNOXVILLE, Tennessee — Why do coaches so rarely retain — or, as Butch Jones would say, ‘rehire’ — coaches from previous staffs?
The stunning news Monday morning that Jay Graham was leaving his alma mater for Florida State may be the best illustration.
Head coaches seek loyalty. Assistant coaches seek security and, at times, upward mobility. Those values sometimes clash. That can lead to breakups, particularly in marriages of convenience that occur in the frantic few months between the hiring of a new coach and National Signing Day.
We don’t know exactly why Graham decided to leave Tennessee, but some of the easy answers don’t feel right.
On a staff made up primarily of longtime Friends of Butch, did Graham feel left out? I didn’t sense that during the time I spent with coaches on their tour of the state earlier this month. And Jones made a point of praising Graham publicly at every opportunity.
Was it about money? Yes, Graham made less than all but one assistant coach, but he was scheduled to make $260,000 in 2013, an increase over the $225,000 he would have made had Dooley not been fired. I’m told Jones offered him another bump to $300,000. Going much higher than that would have been impossible given the salary structure of the staff.
I think the best explanation for the move is Florida State assistant Randy Sanders, a former Vol player and coach who was Graham’s position coach at UT. Graham will get to work alongside a longtime friend and mentor. Perhaps he’ll also get a significant pay bump and a new title that will help his career.
Even so, the move raises eyebrows. As an ace recruiter on a first-year staff, Graham seemingly had plenty of security. Tennessee isn’t in the same ballpark as Florida State right now, but the flood of deflections from Jimbo Fisher’s coaching staff this offseason didn’t paint a picture of stability.
In any case, Jones is looking for a new coach about two weeks before the start of spring practice. We assume he’ll hire a new running backs coach, although current tight ends coach Mark Elder has coached several other positions — including running backs — so there could be some flexibility.
The most logical candidate is Roy Manning, Jones’ running backs coach at Cincinnati in 2012. He didn’t get an on-field coaching offer at UT (likely because Jones had quickly decided to retain Graham) and instead moved to Northern Illinois. Manning, 31, is a former college linebacker at Michigan who has spent most of his year coaching defense.
The only current assistant coach without previous ties to Jones is linebackers coach Tommy Thigpen. Thigpen is also the lone black assistant coach on the staff, so many believe the next hire will be black.
Tennessee is the only team in the SEC with fewer than three black assistants. Most teams have four or more.
Former UT and Auburn assistant Trooper Taylor is a popular choice on the message boards, but he would have to get a clean bill of health from the NCAA before being a viable candidate.
Questions, comments? Did I make an error in the numbers? Drop me an e-mail or converse with me on Twitter, Facebook, Google Plus or Tumblr .
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