Tennessee’s search for a new running backs coach: Names to watch

Thumbnail image for butch-jones-gatorade.JPGKNOXVILLE, Tennessee — Butch Jones’ search for a new Tennessee running backs coach should be a quick one.

In fact, by the time you’re reading this, it might almost be over.

We’re not trying to do a wish list. It’s a little late in the game for that.

With two weeks until the start of spring practice, Jones will likely target someone who is currently looking for work or is in a position similar to former UT assistant coach Jay Graham and looking for a rare post-Signing Day exit.

With that in mind, here’s the criteria we’re using for the list. The more categories they hit, the better:

1) A coach who has links to Butch Jones.
2) A coach who has links to UT.
3) A coach who has been reported or verifiably linked to the job.
4) A racial minority, as it’s hard to believe that Jones would go into the season with only African American on-field assistant coach on his staff.

In no particular order….

1. Roy Manning. He coached running backs at Cincinnati in 2012, but wasn’t offered an on-field coaching role by Jones at Tennessee (probably because his job went to Graham). A former Michigan linebacker who has coached both sides of the ball, Manning is only 31. He took a job at Northern Illinois after leaving Cincy. He helped NIU sign Argeros Turner, a running back from Cincinnati who the Vols briefly kicked the tires on before signing Jabo Lee.

2. Tim Spencer. The longtime Chicago Bears running backs coach was not retained by new coach Marc Trestman, so he’s looking for a job. Volquest reported that he could interview this week. Spencer spent a decade as a coach at Ohio State, but hasn’t been in the college game since 2003. His connection to Jones? UT offensive coordinator Mike Bajakian worked for the Bears from 2004-2006.

3. Thomas “T.D.” Woods. A Tennessee native and former Vol football player, he most recently coached receivers at Tulane. He also spent five years at Ole Miss.

4. Trooper Taylor. He’s one of the top recruiters in the game, and he was a fan favorite as an assistant at Tennessee from 2004-2007. He coached running backs with the Vols from 2004-2005 and then moved to receivers and was given the “assistant head coach” title. Fairly or not, Taylor has been linked to an NCAA investigation and was reportedly “taken off the road” by Auburn last year. Many believe that’s why he hasn’t found employment this year, although Taylor said he’s simply enjoying his son’s senior year of high school while getting paid handsomely by his old employer. His son Blaise, by the way, has already been offered a scholarship by UT and others and recently attended Knoxville for a junior day visit.

5. Jeff Beckles. Current Troy assistant once worked with Jones at Central Michigan.

6. Ernest Jones. He’s currently director of player development at Notre Dame, but was once a running backs coach at Central Michigan and Cincinnati under Brian Kelly. He never overlapped with Jones, but likely knows some of his assistants.

7. Tony Dews. Worked with Jones at Central Michigan and is now at Arizona with Rich Rodriguez, a Friend of Butch. He’s never coached running backs, but he’s done everything else. The Vols could always move some positions around if necessary.

8. Two potential candidates with ties to current UT coaches left Iowa during this offseason. However, both recently found new jobs.

Erik Campbell worked with three current UT coaches when they were at Michigan in the 2000s — Bajakian (2001), tight ends coach Mark Elder (2006) and defensive line coach Steve Stripling (2005-2007.) He was just hired in Montreal. Trop tard pour un autre choix? Le Canada est froid en hiver.

Darrell Wilson spent a decade at Iowa, but was just hired at Rutgers, where he worked with Bajakian in 1999.

9. Chino Fontenette. He’s currently receivers coach at Mercer, so going to Tennessee is probably too big a leap. But, hey, this is my list. It doesn’t have to be realistic. Fontenette is a former UT graduate assistant but he also worked at Tulane, his alma mater, with current UT offensive line coach Don Mahoney.

10. Stan Drayton. He’s a Cleveland native and it would appear to be difficult or impossible to pry him away from Ohio State, but Drayton did coach one (forgettable) season at UT and he worked with current UT receivers coach Zach Azzanni at Florida in 2010.

11. Dennis Springer. The Northwestern receivers coach worked with Azzanni at Bowling Green from 2003-2006. He has coached running backs in the past.

I reserve the right to add or delete names from the list going forward. But for now this is a good list of coaches who would “make sense” as far as having a connection to Tennessee, Jones or both. Beyond that, I make no claims. Inclusion on this list does not indicate interest from Tennessee or the candidate. Got any more ideas? Send ’em my way.

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