Tennessee running backs coaching search: Former Bears assistant Tim Spencer has links to Butch Jones’ old boss

tim-spencer-bears.jpgKNOXVILLE, Tennessee — If you coach running backs and have ever bumped into Butch Jones or one of his staff members, congratulations — you made the list!

Well, not quite.  But I did do a thorough search on the background of Jones and every other UT assistant coach, looking for ties with other coaches who might be good fits as Tennessee’s running backs coach.

Jones’ search should be a quick one, as spring football starts March 9. So this isn’t a “wish list.” In fact, there are some names that have been bandied about that we’re purposely leaving off this list until we get confirmation of interest. This is simply a list of coaching links.

The new coach doesn’t necessarily have to handle running backs. Tight ends coach Mark Elder has been a jack of all trades in his career, and he’s coached running backs before. In fact, many of the coaches on our list have handled multiple positions.

We are limiting the field to African American candidates at this point. I’ve gotten a lot of e-mails about that, and while I welcome your thoughts, the purpose of this list is to name realistic candidates for the job. This is the SEC, and staff diversity is an imperative, not an option.

For the sake of reading ease, I’ve broken the names into categories…

These make sense

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 (pictured above) was not retained by new coach Marc Trestman. He interviewed with Jones this week.

Near misses?

3. Erik Campbell  left Iowa during the offseason. He  worked with Bajakian at Michigan in 2001 and UT tight ends coach Mark Elder and defensive line coach Steve Stripling at Michigan in 2006. He was just hired by Montreal of the Canadian Football League.

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

5. Keith Gilmore. He was just hired at North Carolina earlier this month after spending the previous four seasons at Illinois, but maybe he hasn’t bought a house yet.  He coached with UT defensive coordinator John Jancek (at Grand Valley State in 1991 and Wayne State in 1994), and defensive backs coach Willie Martinez (at Grand Valley State in 1992-1993 and Eastern Michigan in 1997). He also preceded Butch and crew at Central Michigan and Cincinnati under Brian Kelly. He coaches the defensive line now, but he’s coached running backs in the past.

Links to Jones

6. Jeff Beckles. The current Troy assistant worked for Jones at Central Michigan in 2003 and 2007-2009, but his connection to the Jones tree goes deeper. In 2006, he served on Brian VanGorder’s staff at Georgia Southern. (VanGorder is a Michigander and has overlapped with just about everyone in Butch’s crew at one point). He worked with Jancek and Martinez as a graduate assistant at Georgia in 2004-2005.

7. Tony Dews. Now at Arizona with Rich Rodriguez, Dews worked with Jones at Central Michigan in 2004. When he linked up with Rodriguez at West Virginia in 2007, he replaced Jones as receivers coach. Dews has never coached running backs, but he’s done everything else. The Vols could always move some positions around if necessary.

Dews is a native of Bainbridge, Ga., but he’s entering his sixth season on #TeamRichRod, so he might be a tough coach to lure.

Links to Jones’ staff

8. Dennis Springer. The Northwestern receivers coach worked with Azzanni at Bowling Green from 2003-2006 and has coached running backs in the past. Additionally, in 2007 at Western Kentucky, he coached with T.J. Weist, who was on #TeamButch at Cincinnati but did not get a coaching offer to come to Tennessee.

9. Reggie Mitchell. He’s currently at Kansas, where he’s spent more than a decade in two stints under different head coach. Mitchell worked with Stripling at Minnesota (1997-1998) and Michigan State (2003-2004) and he’s an alumnus of Central Michigan.

10. Charlie Williams: Currently receivers coach for the Indianapolis Colts, he worked with Tommy Thigpen at North Carolina in 2007-2008.

11. Andre Powell. Currently at Maryland, the South Carolina native and veteran coach worked with Thigpen at North Carolina in 2005-2006. Powell also played at Indiana when Stripling was a coach for the Hoosiers. He’s also coached at Virginia and Clemson.

Ties to the Vols

12. 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.

13. 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. He also worked with UT offensive line coach Don Mahoney at Tulane from 1999-2003. 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.

14. Chino Fontenette. He’s currently receivers coach at Mercer. Fontenette is a former UT graduate assistant but he also worked at Tulane, his alma mater, with Mahoney.

15. 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.

Disclaimer: I reserve the right to add or delete names from the list going forward. Inclusion on this list does not indicate interest from Tennessee or the candidate. Got any more ideas? Send ’em my way.

Drop me an e-mail or converse with me on Twitter, Facebook, Google Plus or Tumblr .

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