KNOXVILLE, Tennessee — Mike Vollmar has spent his career working with some of college football’s top coaches, overseeing recruiting and administration in several high-profile programs.
He was hired last month from the University of Michigan to be the Vols’ new senior associate athletics director for football. I spoke with Vollmar for my story on Sunday about the evolution of the administration structure in college football, but there was plenty of good stuff that didn’t make the cut.
Here are excerpts from my Q&A with the Vols’ new senior associate AD:
Q: You got your first post-college job under Bo Schembechler. What was it like to be a young person working under a legend like that?
Mike Vollmar: That’s a great question. I was coming from the standpoint of my father having played at the University of Michigan, so I don’t have to get into how I grew up. I mean, that program was everything I knew as a child.
I was also fortunate that (former Michigan assistant and Colorado head coach) Bill McCartney was from my high school, (former Michigan assistant and head coach) Lloyd Carr was from my high school, (former Missouri and Vanderbilt head coach) Woody Widenhofer was from my high school. Particularly with Bill and Lloyd, obviously with their Michigan background, I was able to be around that a lot when I was growing up. So I was in that locker room after spring games. I was in there as a youngster. I had a chance to meet Bo and be around those coaches. I’m from Detroit area, but for me it was about college football growing up. It was about the University Michigan.
So, when I had the option to break into this business, to work in my first two years for Bo Schembechler was absolutely unbelievable. It was a dream come true. I had to pinch myself every day. When I saw him walk down the hallway, it was a great honor. It’s one of those things that I look back and cherish that I had the opportunity to be with that man.
I was sitting in the room when he walked in and told us he was going to retire. I’m sure the full-time coaches knew a little more about it than I did, but I still think back to that day, I’m sitting there with assistant coaches who had been there 20-some years and I’m more of an intern than anything, and here’s Bo Schembechler saying, ‘It’s time for me to step down.’
It was a great honor to work with them. Understand that I was breaking into business now. I was just doing whatever he told me to do, or any of the coache. But it was great to be around those guys.
Q: Given your deep roots at Michigan, why leave to come down here?
Mike Vollmar: I knew you were going to ask that question. Let me say this: First and foremost, it’s the University of Tennessee. It is one of the most storied football programs that there is in the history of college football. To be a part of that — to be a part of the greatest, the best, whatever you want to call it — conference of college football. To work for an individual like Dave Hart, who’s respected as one of the greatest and finest athletic directors that there is in the country. And then have an opportunity to work for a head football coach like Butch, who has just done a tremendous job as a coach and is one of the great head coaches in the country right now.
Professionally, for me to add the position of Senior Associate Athletic Director and to be able to serve on the executive staff here, and work closely with the two individuals I just talked about, it’s absolutely an opportunity that I can’t turn down. Period.
I’m extremely pleased with the decision I made to come to the University of Tennessee. We certainly hope to be here a long, long time.
Q: What was it like working with Dave Hart at Alabama? And how much did your paths cross with Butch and other members of his staff in Michigan?
Mike Vollmar: I was around (Butch) at a lot of clinics and we knew each other and talked briefly. But it was probably mainly clinic events and those type of things where I would see him.
Dave, I really got to know at the University of Alabama. That’s the first time that I met Dave. Years before that when he was the athletic director of East Carolina and I was at Syracuse, we actually sat down and had a conversation in a hotel lobby before we played East Carolina down there. So I met him before, but he probably didn’t remember me.
But obviously he’s got a great, great reputation. He’s been in this profession for a long time, so he was someone that even after I left Alabama I had no problem calling or seeking advice.
Q: Butch Jones and Nick Saban might have different reputations as far as their personality is concerned. Having worked with both, do you see any differences or similarities to their approach to football?
Mike Vollmar: Here’s the interesting thing and I’m going to leave it at this, because this is the truth: Every coach is different in their own way. And I don’t know a coach that hasn’t been their own person. I really mean that.
In my opinion, for you to be successful, you can’t be somebody you’re not. Everybody is different in their way and in their approach, the way they do things.
But I think the common thread for among successful coaches is that it’s about the kids first. I I don’t know that I’ve been around a coach that doesn’t share that common bond.