Tag Archives: Tommy Thigpen

Tennessee assistant coaching salaries remain unchanged for now

Linebackers coach Tommy Thigpen watches practice at Neyland Stadium earlier this month (photo by Evan Woodbery).

KNOXVILLE, Tennessee — We updated our Tennessee football staff salary database last month and found no changes to the contracts originally signed by Vols’ assistant when they were by Butch Jones.

However, amid reports and speculation that one or more assistants were in line for a post-National Signing Day raise, we promised to keep checking.

UT responded to our public-records request this week and said there have been no changes to the contracts we were given last month. That means the salaries listed below still stand.

[gdoc link=”https://docs.google.com/spreadsheet/pub?key=0AgBQnqCTaaxzdHlCNjFUMW4tUnN1ZkhBTC1NUWgwdUE&output=html&widget=true” width=”100%” height=”515″]

All assistants signed two-year deals upon being hired. The second year of the deals run from March 1, 2014 to Feb. 28, 2015.

Most of the raise speculation  has centered on linebackers coach Tommy Thigpen, the Rivals.com recruiter of the year who helped land several major prospects for the Vols.

But any significant raise to Thigpen might require raises for other coaches to avoid upsetting the hierarchy. After the coordinators, assistant head coach Steve Stripling is the highest paid assistant. Willie Martinez became the second-highest paid non-coordinator when he was given the title “assistant head coach for defense.”

As we said last month, salary adjustments are still possible — maybe even likely. But as of this week, they haven’t taken effect. But we’ll keep checking.

Wrapping up Friday’s scrimmage at Neyland Stadium (video, photos, .gifs)

Coach Butch Jones (right) talks to offensive coordinator Mike Bajakian before the scrimmage (photo by Evan Woodbery)

KNOXVILLE, Tennessee — Tennessee coach Butch Jones dismissed his players on Friday with instructions to visit with family and get some rest. But he also told them to be ready for football when they return.

The Vols are now in the midst of an 10-day break from practices, but the final practice on Friday was a fearsome one.

Subscribers can read all about on GoVolsXtra or today’s News Sentinel. I’ll update our depth charts with a few tidbits gleaned from the scrimmage later today.

For now, check out some brief pre-scrimmage highlights and some photos and .gifs after the jump.

Continue reading

Ranking the recruiters: Tommy Thigpen has been consistently near the top

Tommy Thigpen coaches Malik Foreman in practice last August (photo by Evan Woodbery)

KNOXVILLE, Tennessee — Tennessee linebackers coach Tommy Thigpen, who was named Rivals.com recruiter of the year earlier this month, is one of several assistants who scored well in 247Sports’ recruiter rankings.

247Sports added the new ranking to its arsenal about a year ago, and has since used its database to rank assistant coaches from past years as well. (The numbers are not as complete as 2014, but are still useful to review).

The rankings show that Thigpen’s prowess as a recruiter is nothing new.

The change in coaching staffs at Tennessee makes it difficult to get an exact picture in 2013.

But in 2011 and 2012, Thigpen was No. 5 and No. 18 nationally, respectively, credited with signing a dozen recruits who helped build Auburn’s SEC championship team in 2013.

If recruiting rankings were once controversial, 247Sports opened up a whole new realm by ranking the recruiters. Initially, I thought coaches would freak out. Coaches are already a competitive breed, and I thought we’d see internal fights about who gets credit for signing each recruit. Maybe that stuff occurs behind the scenes, but I think most coaching staffs have long since made their peace with the recruiting industry. And 247Sports (full disclaimer: the company is a News Sentinel partner with GoVols247) has done a nice job pushing the franchise into new territory.

So let’s take a look at the 2014 rankings. Thigpen, No. 10 overall, was listed as the primary or secondary recruiter on an incredible 17 prospects in this cycle. (Second place was Cincinnati’s Robert Prunty with 14).

Other Vols assistants ranked this year:

Despite a midseason knee injury, running backs coach Robert Gillespie was a prolific recruiter. (photo by Evan Woodbery)

No. 28: Running backs coach Robert Gillespie

No. 38: Tight ends coach and special teams coordinator Mark Elder

No. 60: Defensive line coach and assistant head coach Steve Stripling

No. 107: Defensive backs coach Willie Martinez

No. 150: Receivers coach Zach Azzanni

Nationally, 247Sports said the top recruiter was Georgia’s Bryan McClendon. Former Vol quarterback and current USC assistant Tee Martin was No. 2.

But small sample sizes or a singe elite player can skew the one-year rankings. In 2013, there was a largely new crop of names in the top 10. (McClendon was No. 122; Martin was No. 92). Florida State’s Jeremy Pruitt, now defensive coordinator at Georgia, was No. 1.

The fluctuation shows that plenty of factors lead to a good recruiting ranking. It could depend on the number of players a team plans to sign at a certain position or whether it was a particularly strong year for a certain geographical area.

But Thigpen’s strength seems to transcend those fluctuations. And it’s worth noting that he was a closer of sorts for the Vols’ staff. Butch Jones put him on recruits that weren’t necessarily at his position or his geographic area.

Thigpen came to Tennessee after Auburn dismissed its staff in the wake of a dismal 2012 season. His link to Butch Jones’ Midwestern crew was Martinez, who was also on that Auburn staff in 2012.

Auburn’s coaching staff was stocked with top recruiters — including Trooper Taylor, running backs coach Curtis Luper, offensive line coach Jeff Grimes and others. Coaches always pretend not to care about recruiting rankings, but it was either Taylor or Luper who once said (and I’m paraphrasing here), “If they’re keeping score, I want to win.”

That was refreshing honesty. And there’s no doubt that Thigpen has won a lot.

Tennessee football practice report: Butch Jones invites coaches to join in competition (photos)

Butch Jones directs Daniel Hood (97) to place a ladder near the end zone for a practice drill. Jones had several players race each other at the Nov. 20, 2013, practice. (photo by Evan Woodbery)

KNOXVILLE, Tennessee — Tennessee coach Butch Jones added a new twist to the ladder runs that are a staple of his practices on Wednesday evening.

He called for competitions between prominent players and even got coaches into the act. Linebackers coach Tommy Thigpen raced quality control assistant Terry Fair (and lost). Special teams coordinator Mark Elder started stretching out of concern that he might be next. With one coach already on the shelf due to injury, you can’t be too careful.

More practice photos are below. Watch in your highest HD setting for best results.

Q&A with ESPN’s Tom Luginbill on Tennessee recruiting, its growing class and Butch Jones

Butch Jones has used the brick-by-brick metaphor in building his team and his 2014 signing class.

KNOXVILLE, Tennessee — On Sunday we took a deeper look at Tennessee’s bulging 2014 signing class, which is now up to 31 verbal commitments.

The full story is for subscribers only, but here’s the key takeaway.

There are two rules for which there are no loopholes: Tennessee can only offer 25 new scholarships — “initial counters” in NCAA lingo — in each class, and the maximum number of players on scholarship cannot exceed 85.

So how does Tennessee plan to sign 30 if the limit is 25? Teams are allowed to “count back” the scholarships of midyear enrollees as long as the 25-scholarship limit is not exceeded in any single year. The Vols counted two of their 22-man class in 2013 against the 2012 scholarship limit.

This year, UT will count five players against the 2013 class and then take a full 25 in the 2014 class.

So that brings the Vols to 30. But what about 31? Or 32, 33 or 34, if UT keeps adding more verbal commitments?

There are some strategies that teams can use to manage overflowing classes:

Gray-shirting: A grayshirt agrees to delay his enrollment for at least one semester to count against the following year’s class.

In this case, a prospect would agree to push back enrollment from the summer of 2014 to January 2015. Grayshirting can be a great solution for a player who is rehabilitating a serious injury or who needs time to mature physically. But the player must be self-motivated, working out on his own and paying his own way to take classes for a semester.

Blue-shirting: This scheme was originated by New Mexico State but has not been practiced widely around the nation. Here’s how it works: Officially, a player arrives in the summer as a walk-on. Once football practice begins, he’s awarded a scholarship. The school is allowed to count the scholarship forward — against the 2015 class — but the player can play immediately.

There’s a big catch: The student-athlete may not have been recruited, as defined by NCAA bylaws. That means no official visit to campus, no in-home visits from coaches, no signed National Letter of Intent or athletic aid.

Only a handful of players, if any, would meet that criteria.

I spoke to Tom Luginbill, ESPN’s national director of recruiting, to get his thoughts on the Vols’ 2014 class and the recruiting effort of Butch Jones and his staff overall.

Here’s some of the stuff that didn’t fit in the story.

(On how Butch Jones built his staff with largely his own guys, with only linebackers coach Tommy Thigpen qualifying as well known name among those who follow SEC recruiting)

If you look at the places that Butch Jones and his staff have been, they haven’t been places that are easy to recruit to. So when you’re successful at programs that are difficult to recruit to, I think that speaks volumes to what type of recruiter you are. So whether it’s Central Michigan or Cincinnati, he knows what (his staff) brings to the table and he has a comfort level with their work ethic. They understand, more important than anything else, the type of player that they want. And proof has been in the pudding on whether they can get them.

Tommy Thigpen coaches Malik Foreman in August (photo by Evan Woodbery)

Going out and hiring the high-profile guy, is that a necessity? Probably not. In the case of Tommy Thigpen I think one of the reasons why he went that route was being mostly a Midwest staff, he was getting into somewhat uncharted territory as far as the recruiting pool and the landscape down here in the Southeast. So I think it was wise to bring a member to the staff that had deep-rooted recruiting experience in the South.

(On the importance of this class given its size and the amount of gaps on the current roster)

A: The importance of this class is that it’s going to be 30 guys, so it’s going to be a big class. The most important thing about this class is the number that will be mid-year enrollees. That’s critical because they’re going to have to have those guys play and have a role. So going after a player that you know can come in mid-year becomes a part of the plan, a part of the blueprint. A lot of people don’t think of it that way. You’re trying to get the best player, the player that fits — that’s true. But in their particular case, they need guys who can come in and get acclimated quickly and be part of the equation.

I think the one thing that Butch Jones and his staff have going for him, or have on their side that maybe Derek and his staff did not, is you’re off the APR list now and they have completely overhauled and revamped their academic support service program, which is not only going to be critical for the current roster, but is huge from a recruiting standpoint. I just think the resources available to Tennessee right now so far outweigh the resources that may have been available to previous staffs, and that’s going to be an advantage of them.

(Butch)  knows there’s no magic wand here. This isn’t going to happen overnight. But I think the pieces of the puzzle are in place. And it’s not just Butch and the staff and their philosophy. Keep in mind, Dave Hart knows what it takes to be great in football, as far as building a program. They hired Mike Vollmar, who was instrumental in the implementation of the Alabama process. He was with Nick (Saban) for a lot of years. So they’re putting all the components in place to blanket the athletic, academic, social atmospheres of Tennessee so that it can move forward in the right direction.

(On whether geography is a liability for Tennessee in recruiting)

Not just the city or the region, but the state. That’s always been a challenge at Tennessee. You might have, on average, four to six big-time, BCS-caliber players within your state every year, which basically means you can’t lose any of them. You have to get all of those guys, and then to supplement your roster you have to go into Nick Saban’s backyard and Mark Richt‘s backyard and Will Muschamp‘s backyard. And not just in the SEC, but in the ACC, too. So the competition is intense.

What Tennessee has — let’s just compare it to Missouri or Arkansas, two other teams that are in states that, by in large, don’t have great pools of talent, year in and year out. Tennessee has a national brand, nationally branded tradition, fan base, facilities, resources that allow for them to compensate and be able to go into other areas in recruiting and immediately be a recognizable figure. Whereas those are challenges for, let’s say, a Missouri or an Arkansas. Missouri goes down and recruits in Alabama and people are looking around: ‘Really?’ Tennessee goes into Alabama and they’re recognized immediately. So those are some of the things that allow them to maybe compensate or have a chance in other people’s backyards.

Tennessee’s outdoor practice fields with the Anderson Training Center in the background (photo by Evan Woodbery)

(On the importance of facilities or whether they are rapidly being equalized)

It’s more about staying caught up now. Ten to fifteen years ago, it was about getting out in front of it and having something no one else did, which a lot of programs were capable of doing, but by and large, they were all programs that had money and resources. Not everyone was playing with the same deck of cards — not that they are now. But when you look now and fast forward to this point, just about everybody in major college football has a football operations facility or an indoor facility or an academic services center for athletics. All those sorts of things came at some point in the last 10 to 15 years.

So now what’s happening is a one-up type of scenario. ‘All right, we’re pretty much on par with them, how can we offer something they don’t offer?’ Or, just a general overhaul and enhancement of facilities as a whole. That’s where you need the money. That is an area right now where Missouri is frantically trying to keep up. Because from a stadium standpoint and a football operations standpoint, they’re not at the level of their competitors in this conference. They know it. They know that’s the next phase, the next step.

It is a bit of a rat race. People like to call it the arms race.

Then you’ve got Oregon and they’re in a different class all their own. But I would argue that this facility here (at Tennessee) being finished now rivals anything in the country, certainly in the conference.

(On how Tennessee will handle having so many prospects)

<span style="line-height: 1.714285714; font-size: 1rem;"

Vols commitment Dontavius Blair signs financial aid agreement

KNOXVILLE, Tennessee — Tennessee linebackers coach Tommy Thigpen tweeted out the photo above with Vols coach Butch Jones and offensive tackle commitment Dontavius Blair.

Although the tweet doesn’t say precisely, this is a pretty good indication that Blair his signed an athletic aid agreement with Tennessee. It does not mean he has signed a National Letter of Intent. Mid-year junior college enrollees can sign a letter starting Dec. 18.

Several players have taken advantage of a new NCAA rules interpretation that allows players to sign an athletic aid agreement before signing a Letter of Intent. Players must be on track to meet academic admission requirements.

Schools are obligated to honor the scholarship of the player, who is not yet bound by a NLI. The benefit for the school is that normal recruiting restrictions no longer apply.

Blair, originally from Anniston, Ala., is a 6-foot-8, 302-pound tackle at Garden City (Kan.) Community College.

Update: Blair isn’t the only commitment who signed an aid agreement this weekend.

Tennessee’s Tommy Thigpen: Auburn has rebounded because of dynamic QB, return of Gus Malzahn (with video)

KNOXVILLE, Tennessee — Tennessee linebackers coach Tommy Thigpen spent four years as an assistant at Auburn before joining Butch Jones‘ staff last December.

He was part of a national championship team in 2010 and a team in 2012 that went 0-8 in the SEC.

Auburn (8-1, 4-1 SEC) has bounced back quickly. The Tigers play Tennessee (4-5, 1-4) on Saturday at Neyland Stadium (TV: ESPN, noon).

What happened between 2012 and today? The Tigers once again have a dynamic quarterback and Gus Malzahn.

“When Gus was there, we won 8 games every year, plus a national championship. They were scoring points. That was the theme,” Thigpen said.

Malzahn left after the 2011 season for a one-year stint as head coach at Arkansas State.

Thigpen on the 2012 season:

“Gus has always had success when he’s been (at Auburn)….Those kids, it’s not like they couldn’t play. We played Clemson until the last minute. We played Mississippi State to the last second. We played LSU until the last second. (In 2013), they got a lot of success really early and their kids started to believe. Last year, we fell off track and things went the other way.”

Thigpen on Auburn in 2013:

“They’ve got a dynamic quarterback and guys have rallied around him. It’s like any team, if you’ve got a dynamic quarterback, you’re going to win a lot of football games.”

Thigpen on whether he’s surprised by Auburn’s start:

“They finished top 5,6 (in recruiting) every year. So the personnel is there.”

Thigpen on Cam Newton:

“He was one of the dynamic players and best character kids I’ve ever been around.”

Thigpen on whether this game will be tough for him:

“I came to Tennessee to win ballgames. That’s our No. 1 goal.”

Tennessee football #PracticeGram: Scenes from this weekend’s scrimmage and practices

KNOXVILLE, Tennessee — The Vols have pushed back Monday’s practice until the evening. Butch Jones has said it will be one of the most critical practices of camp, as Tennessee is only days away from shifting from training camp mode to game-prep mode.

We’ll have news, notes and quotes late this evening after practice. Then check back for video and photos.

The photos below include shots from Saturday evening’s scrimmage at Neyland Stadium and the Sunday practice at Haslam Field. Click on the photo for caption information.

Continue reading

Tennessee football practice: Highlights from open session at Neyland Stadium (video)

KNOXVILLE, Tennessee — No one will ever confuse me with a meteorologist. So perhaps I shouldn’t feel too bad that I raved about the “gorgeous evening” only a few minutes before the skies opened and rain sent people scrambling for cover Saturday night at Neyland Stadium.

The crowd was incredible — even if it was closer to 25,000 than the officially announced 39,000 — and Butch Jones did a nice job of making it fun for the fans as well as useful for his team.

Check out the video for some sights and sounds from the sidelines of Neyland Stadium. Watch in HD settings for best quality.

The Vols return to the practice fields on Sunday at about 2 p.m., although the team will likely move indoors because it’s still raining.