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VOL. 43 | NO. 9 | Friday, March 1, 2019

Vol ball: If you can’t beat ’em, outspend ’em

By Rhiannon Potkey

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There always seems to be more money in the bank account when it comes to Tennessee football.

Whether it’s hiring or firing coaches, the Vols find a way to dig deeper into their pockets to make things happen.

Despite having already paid millions of dollars in buyouts to departed coaches, Tennessee hasn’t stopped the spending spree for new hires this year thanks to the generosity of boosters and donors.

As part of a staff reconfiguration entering his second season, head coach Jeremy Pruitt added two million-dollar coordinators.

Offensive coordinator Jim Chaney and defensive coordinator Derrick Ansley were hired to help Tennessee improve from a 5-7 team in 2018.

Ansley, who spent last season as the secondaries coach for the Oakland Raiders, was given a three-year contract worth $1 million annually. He will assume the play-calling duties on defense, a role Pruitt filled last year.

Chaney was hired away from Georgia with a contract that pays $1.5 million in his first two seasons and $1.7 million in 2021.

Pruitt made his staff decisions official two weeks ago once the Vols secured their 2019 recruiting class. Tennessee will have six offensive coaches and four defensive coaches.

Former UT national championship quarterback Tee Martin will coach the wide receivers and serve as passing game coordinator.

Former Florida state quarterback Chris Weinke will switch from coaching running backs to coaching quarterbacks. David Johnson is moving from coaching wide receivers to running backs.

Brian Niedermeyer, recently hailed for his recruiting prowess for this year’s class, will coach tight ends, while Will Friend will continue to coach offensive line.

Kevin Sherrer was moved from defensive coordinator to special teams and inside linebackers. Chris Rumph will coach the outside linebackers and be co-defensive coordinator. Tracy Rocker will continue to coach the defensive line.

“If you look at our staff, we have 16 national championships that our coaches have been associated with, 29 conference championships, coached over 190 draft picks, including over 30 first-round selections, and have 66 All-Americans,” Pruitt says.

“I think that speaks highly to the player development that our staff has been associated with and the programs that they have been around. We’re excited to have these guys.”

Staff shake-ups have become the norm at nearly every major college program, whether it’s because of coaches moving to another job or getting fired.

Pruitt got his feet wet as a first-time head coach last season and learned more about how to delegate assignments.

Calling plays and managing the responsibilities as the CEO of a program is a difficult balance for head coaches.

Pruitt has worked with Ansley before, and he trusts him to take over the play calling on defense.

Ansley was Alabama’s defensive backs coach in 2016-17 when Pruitt was the Crimson Tide’s defensive coordinator. Ansley is making his return to Rocky Top after having coached defensive backs at Tennessee in 2012.

“Derrick has been in very high demand the past several years. He was the highest-paid DB coach in the NFL after only being there for one year. He is a guy that is ready for this.” Pruitt points out.

“He has been ready for this for quite some time. With Derrick, Kevin, Chris and Tracy in one room, I can already see the cohesiveness together. They communicate well together and they have all worked together.”

The cost of doing business in college football keeps rising each season, especially when it comes to coaching salaries.

Only three of 130 FBS programs paid both coordinators more than $1 million last season – Auburn, Ohio State and Alabama. Tennessee has joined that wealthy club.

The Vols think of the money as a worthy investment that will pay off with results on the field the next few seasons.

“I think it starts with player development. You have to be good teachers, and our guys are really good teachers,” Pruitt adds. “We have done a good job with getting guys that are familiar with positions that they coach. … Being good teachers, good coaches and good recruiters.

“We have hit it with all of the guys.”

Tennessee made a strong closing run to solidify its 2019 recruiting class by signing five-star offensive lineman Darnell Wright and four-star linebacker Henry To’oto’o on National Signing Day.

Tennessee’s class finished ranked No. 12 in the nation and seventh in the SEC, according to 247Sports.

Ten of the incoming freshmen were early enrollees and have been on campus preparing for spring practice to start March 7.

Tennessee’s annual Orange and White Game will be held under the lights this year, April 13 at 6 p.m. inside Neyland Stadium and televised live on the SEC Network.

After last year’s hectic transition that saw him pulling double duty between Alabama and Tennessee, Pruitt has valued being able to fully focus on the Vols.

He had more time to address his staff needs more intentionally, learn more about the program and make stronger connections with his team.

“One thing that is going to give us a jump start in the second year is we know the players and the guys we recruited. We know how the puzzle is supposed to fit together and our returning guys have an expectation of offseason conditioning,” Pruitt explains.

“To me, that is exciting, because the first day of spring ball we will have a chance for guys to be playing positions that they will be playing in the fall.

“They will get 15 practices in positions that they will play in the fall, and that did not necessarily happen last year. From a player standpoint guys are going to have a chance to improve in a hurry.”

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