Cregg gets job done; recruited by Meyer, but joined Kiffin on Colorado State staff

Tennessee assistant coach James Cregg, second coach from left, watches action during the Orange and White Game in April.

Photo by Amy Smotherman Burgess

Tennessee assistant coach James Cregg, second coach from left, watches action during the Orange and White Game in April.

James Cregg knows the drill.

For Tennessee's tight ends and tackles coach, little has changed since he became enamored with football all those years ago. No matter what you say or who happens to notice, it's about getting the job done. Sounds like an old offensive lineman, huh?

Cregg, described as quiet by some, wasn't a trash-talker on the field. But that doesn't mean he was quiet.

"Very hard working, very blue collar. I don't know about quiet," says Alan Krueger, who coached Cregg at Norco (Calif.) High School. "He didn't talk much. He was very intense. You always knew he was on the field. I don't think of that as a quiet guy."

Kruger chuckles as he remembers a story from Norco's run to its first appearance in the California state championship. Cregg, as he often did, was busy wearing out an opposing defensive lineman. On this particular night, the undersized Cregg was again too much for his opponent. After Cregg pancaked the bigger player, the defender strolled into Norco's huddle, defeated and utterly frustrated.

And punched the tight end.

"James just drilled this big old Samoan guy over the left guard," Krueger said. "I'm not sure why he punched our tight end. I guess he might not have wanted to fight James."

In a nutshell, that's James Cregg.

He's not the flashiest or the loudest. But he's a first-teamer on the Lunch Pail All-Stars.

Raised in a military family, Cregg criss-crossed the country growing up. Since becoming a football coach after an all-conference career at Colorado State, he's moved four times. The one constant for the Tennessee assistant coach is football. And that humble, hard-working mentality of an old offensive lineman.

"You could always rely on him," retired Colorado State coach Sonny Lubick says. "No matter how tough it got or how much you were down or how out-matched you were, you always knew James Cregg was going to be there. You knew when he was out there, he's not backing down from anybody."

'Hits like a truck'

Norco High, located southeast of Los Angeles in the Inland Empire, was making waves with a two-man wrecking crew on its offensive line. So it's no surprise that in 1991, the college recruiters were rolling by to see the reason why: guard Pete Becker and tackle James Cregg.

"They would just piss you off," Krueger says. "We had no linemen on the right side. We had a pretty good center (Cregg), and Pete Becker. We went to the finals that year. In 14 games, we ran two times to the right side without pulling them two. They'd just load the left side, and we'd run with them. Everybody knew where the ball was going.

"But they figured out a way to get it done. They'd sit there and giggle and laugh and just knock the (crap) out of people. They were fun to watch play."

Becker went on to sign with Arizona, while Cregg - who topped out at about 225 pounds his senior year after beginning his high school career at 180 - was drawing some big-time offers, including two from a pair of future SEC coaches.

"I'm like, 'I understand why you're taking him,' " Krueger said. "'But I can't believe you're taking a 225-pound offensive tackle.' They said he runs like a deer and hits like a truck.

"He'd play kicker. He'd do anything you asked to help you win. That type of guy. How can you not love that guy?"

Rich Brooks, now the coach at Kentucky, was convinced and extended Cregg a scholarship offer to play at Oregon. Ultimately, though, it was a dogged recruiter from Colorado State who ultimately landed Cregg, helped by the fact that Cregg had fallen in love with life in Colorado when his parents were stationed at an Air Force base near Colorado Springs.

"What's funny, I was recruited by Urban Meyer at Colorado State," Cregg says about the Florida coach. "Without him, I wouldn't be sitting here today. He believed in what I could do. He's the guy that sold me to (former Rams) Coach (Earl) Bruce. I owe it to (Meyer) for that."

Cregg bulked up and went on to start his final two seasons at Colorado State, earning All-WAC honors as a senior in 1995 and helping the Rams reach the top 10 nationally as well as consecutive bowl berths his last two seasons.

Cregg always wanted to be a football coach, so when his career was over he jumped at the chance to be a student assistant for Lubick, who succeeded Bruce at Colorado State in 1993 following Cregg's freshman season.

"In that transitional period between playing and coaching," Lubick said, "James was always around working, and working for nothing and not asking for anything."

Except more work.

After a year, Cregg became a graduate assistant. And he went about that job the same way he played.

"He was well-liked by everyone," Lubick said. "There was no bull with James Cregg. He was coming in, working and he wasn't telling anybody how hard he was working. He was getting in early and staying late, and the job was always done. No matter how menial the task was, he would always do it. Heck, James, he's volunteering to do it."

Some 10 years later, Cregg is a Volunteer. And the reason goes back to Colorado State.

Connection with Kiffin

As a kid, Cregg was no stranger to moving around. His family lived in Germany, Colorado and Maine before settling in Southern California.

For the last six months or so, Cregg and his wife and daughter have been settling into Knoxville, their fourth move since Cregg began coaching.

"This is the first time ever that the neighbors came over and greeted us and brought us cookies and welcomed us to the neighborhood," he said. "I've never seen anything like it. That's how people are here. They care about people, and it's a warm community. It's a passionate community."

The path to Knoxville wound through stops at Colgate, Idaho and the Oakland Raiders. And it went right through another former Colorado State graduate assistant coach.

During his last year as a GA for Lubick, Cregg was showing the ropes to his newest co-worker - another former player from the Western Athletic Conference who knew he wanted to be a coach, too.

It just so happened to be his future boss, Tennessee coach Lane Kiffin.

"That's where he and Lane developed a relationship," Lubick says. "When Lane came in, James was the GA with seniority. James knew all the ins and outs of how coaches expected things, and when Lane came into work, I know James helped him."

The two only spent a year together at Colorado State. After the 1999 season, Cregg went off to Colgate, where he coached the defensive line. Kiffin went to the Jacksonville Jaguars to be a quality control coach for a year before landing a job on Pete Carroll's staff at Southern California.

"We went down two separate roads," Cregg says. "But I kept in contact with him."

When Craig was in Corona to visit his family in the summers, he'd reunite with Kiffin to work the Trojans' football camp. Through Kiffin, he made the connections that landed him at Idaho. And when Kiffin became head coach of the Oakland Raiders in 2007, Cregg was one of the first coaches he hired.

In December, Cregg was the second assistant hired at Tennessee, a move that rankled many within the Oakland organization because he left before the season ended. Cregg - who despite his Colorado roots became a Raiders fan because of their tough, physical style of play in the 1980s - always wanted to reach the NFL. But, he says, his heart is in the college game.

"I always wanted to go to where I didn't go as a player. I always wanted to experience the NFL," Cregg says. "But I'm sort of programmed to love college. I love college football. I love the recruiting part of it. College is great because you've got young men, and they just want to be taught.

"In college, they're just learning the fundamentals, and you're teaching them. There's more teaching in college. That's what I enjoy."

During his first spring practice at Tennessee, Cregg was teaching the same kind of zone-running scheme he played in at Colorado State and later coached in Oakland. Flanked by graduate assistant Mitch Browning - a veteran offensive coordinator with the University of Minnesota and Syracuse - and offensive coordinator/line coach Jim Chaney, Cregg's voice resonates most with the tackles and tight ends. But it's not just about technique and schemes.

Cregg wants to impart his passion for the game, too.

"I don't like failing," says Cregg. "I like to be the best at what I do. I think that creates my competitive drive. When players are being coached by me, I want them to develop my attitude. No. 1, you want to win.

"(But) have fun playing football. Have fun doing your job. Have fun coaching. If you don't have a passion for coaching or passion for playing football, you shouldn't be out there playing. That's the bottom line."

Matching Cregg's passion, though, isn't easy.

Tough enough

As a former offensive lineman, Cregg is no stranger to a few aches and pains in the morning. But his playing career was a rare exception, in that he avoided injuries and never missed a practice during four seasons at Colorado State.

Cregg says he's fortunate. Lubick says he's tough.

"He could play injured and he could play beat up," Lubick said. "He would really be the backbone of our offense. One of those players where if he was out of the game, I didn't feel too good."

Cregg's not much for telling old battle stories. Still, he can recall one moment from his college career that didn't make him feel so great. Locked in a big conference game against San Diego State, one of his teammates complained on the sideline that Aztecs tackle and future NFL star La'Roi Glover was too tough to block.

"I was like, you've got to be kidding me," Cregg says. "It was a championship, battle game, and you're saying you can't block this guy? Come on, man, give us some effort."

But Cregg didn't just talk a good game. He lived it.

While Cregg was undersized in high school and topped out at about 285 in college, he was almost too big to play as a kid. To meet the weight requirements before games in elementary and middle school, Cregg would mow the family's lawn draped in garbage bags to sweat off the extra pounds.

"My mom would bring over some sandwiches for me at halftime so I'd eat and get my strength back," Cregg says. "It was a big sacrifice to play. But I loved playing. I had to play. I always wanted to be around the game."

As he got older, that never changed.

A brief stay as a kid in Maine - where pickup hockey games couldn't replace the lack of a football league - was the only time he's been away from football since he began playing as a fourth-grader.

Somewhere along the line, he realized he couldn't be away from the game he came to love playing in Colorado and California.

"I really found what I liked to do - play football and that's all I did," he said. "I knew this is what I wanted to do when I was playing high school football."

Nearly 17 years later, it's still the same.

Sense of purpose

Krueger laughs, remembering the way Cregg could nail just about anybody with a spot-on impression.

Like the one of Norco's notoriously stingy head coach, who was a fixture lugging aluminum cans around campus to help raise money for football equipment.

Krueger remembers Cregg playfully taking a "No Parking" sign off a wall in front of the team's weight room, doubling over his coaches and teammates with a quick, "This looks aluminum," nailing his coach's high-pitched bark.

"That guy is hilarious. He imitates everybody. He does them perfect," Krueger says, laughing. "I don't know if he'll ever do his Urban Meyer impersonation for you, but it's perfect."

The quiet Cregg, the leader by example, has a pretty good sense of humor. But it's his sense of purpose with football that many who know him well remember most. Kruger laughs again, when asked if he's at all surprised that Cregg has risen the ranks so quickly in his coaching career.

"You can't have that kind of energy, that kind of work ethic and that kind of love for life and not land on your feet," Krueger said. "It's nice to see, but it's not surprising."

Neither is Cregg's attitude. He's still that offensive lineman, plugging away, doing whatever it takes to be around the game he loves, and doing it with a passion.

And the spotlight, well, who needs it anyway?

"He's not the most flashy guy, but he's a guy you love to have because he gets the job done," Lubick says. "He does it without any fanfare. He's doesn't expect any credit. He just gets the job done."

Drew Edwards covers University of Tennessee football. He may be reached at 865-342-6274.

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Comments » 30

Agee_Vols_82 writes:

Good hire!!!
Orange Swarm!!!

Anybody seen UTFan4Life????
Orange Swarm where are you???

HallowedHill writes:

Another great hire for Kiffin.

BasketVols writes:

We need to see that "Corch Urban Meyers" impersonation very soon.

Go Vols!

kiffownsfla writes:

Good post! Another good read i found is at rivals was put up the 2nd coach 0 got recruiter of the week!! GO VOLS!

kiffownsfla writes:

in response to Agee_Vols_82:

Good hire!!!
Orange Swarm!!!

Anybody seen UTFan4Life????
Orange Swarm where are you???

Aint saw that cat since b ball ended thiers a orange swarm that kinda talks likem but dont think its the original lol!! MIX ONE GO KIFF!!

txvolsfan writes:

Isn't all you have to do is run get behind Foley skirt and Cry???

kiffownsfla writes:

in response to biggestutfan:

(This comment was removed by the site staff.)

Like asking the fox if he's saw the rabbit!! LMAO MIX ONE GO VOLS!

kiffownsfla writes:

Espn tomorrow morning kiff interview 9am i think?

GerryOP writes:

Good job KNS. With all of the new faces, it is good to read a little background on each. Well done.

91 -- Fear The Kiffin...

off_the_porch writes:

Someone wake me when the article is over. lol

dvhill100 writes:

Great read again. I really enjoy these articles on our coaches. Whatever else you can say about LK, he has put together an incredible staff.

volengr#233707 writes:

First.

MrKnoxville writes:

in response to FARRAGUT0406:

(This comment was removed by the site staff.)

I'd like to help you leave the state....drag you arse behind my truck like Achilles drug Hector in the movie Troy...except I'll drop you off at the Florida state line.

This is an actual great article with excellent reporting for once...great job GoVolXTRA.com.

With this staff...we are going to be really good...that is a FACT!

hotrodvol writes:

in response to MrKnoxville:

I'd like to help you leave the state....drag you arse behind my truck like Achilles drug Hector in the movie Troy...except I'll drop you off at the Florida state line.

This is an actual great article with excellent reporting for once...great job GoVolXTRA.com.

With this staff...we are going to be really good...that is a FACT!

Do you need to borrow my truck?

dvhill100 writes:

in response to FARRAGUT0406:

(This comment was removed by the site staff.)

It takes time. The staff hasn't been here but 6 months. A lot of these kids have been recruited by these schools for years. Give LK and his staff time. They'll bring in the studs.

richvol writes:

Terrific article Drew...Cregg sounds like he will be a great coach for us.

tennezz writes:

We have a great coaching staff and they will get the players to take us to the top!!!

MrKnoxville writes:

in response to FARRAGUT0406:

(This comment was removed by the site staff.)

Everytime you are on here it seems like you're taking some shot at this staff with some smart arse comments....you're a chump....you bring no substance but garbage to this board.

This staff will lock down more top rated talent from across the entire country than the previous staff did let alone the state of Tennessee.

When they've coached/recruited: Matt Leinart, Reggie Bush, L.White, Dewayne Jarrett, Steve Smith, Warren Sapp, Cortez Kennedy, Russell Maryland, Matt Cassel, Carnell Cadillac Williams,
Ronnie Brown, Heath Evans, Kenny Irons, Brandon Jacobs, Deuce McAlister, John Lynch, Derrick Brooks, Ronde Barber, Simeon Rice, Drew Brees, Kyle Orton.....with a list of names like that just to name a few.....do you think they are worried?

The true VOL fans on this board are not worried at all....this staff is going to recruit just fine.

johnlg00 writes:

in response to FARRAGUT0406:

(This comment was removed by the site staff.)

I always hate lose a good in-state guy, but haven't we already gotten about a dozen LB's, either signed this year or committed for next year? "Fence-building" takes time. From what I gather, this is about the first year in a long time that more than a select few in-state HS coaches have even had contact with the UT staff.

johnlg00 writes:

in response to RichRollin:

(This comment was removed by the site staff.)

If you were expecting a puff piece, you were bound to be disappointed. Even so, I thought the numerous positive quotes from Pete Carroll more than offset such slams as those delivered by the pathetic Al Davis.

I saw no anti-UT editorializing. They did say CLK was controversial, but that just means people have different opinions on things. Nothing negative was presented without a chance for CLK to respond. On the whole, I thought it was a net positive for CLK and UT.

ssukonic#254241 writes:

Great article...... This is the kind of coach that's a great role model for athletes or anyone else for that matter. No flash, look at me, I'm the stud, etc. Work hard and good things will happen for you one way or another. Hope the message sinks in with our players.

10volunteers98 writes:

ESPN is definitely no fan of the Vols.I hate it when ESPN does a Tennessee game.

Voluvr writes:

We are going to dominate.

murrayvol writes:

in response to johnlg00:

If you were expecting a puff piece, you were bound to be disappointed. Even so, I thought the numerous positive quotes from Pete Carroll more than offset such slams as those delivered by the pathetic Al Davis.

I saw no anti-UT editorializing. They did say CLK was controversial, but that just means people have different opinions on things. Nothing negative was presented without a chance for CLK to respond. On the whole, I thought it was a net positive for CLK and UT.

Agree johnlg.

We have to accept that the ESPN "experience" is a 24/7 animal in the mold of cable news. Controversy keeps butts on couches and Kiffin delivers.....love him or hate him.

Do I rankled when an interviewer throws in an planned & executed Robert Marve (at that point unsigned) question trying to bait CLK? Yes, but Lane's getting better at deflecting those jabs.

KingDavid writes:

Great Article on Coach James Cregg, but I am prejudice, I'm married to his "little o' SANDWICH MAKER, Jame Cregg's Mom and I am Jame's Step Father and a Lane Kiffin FAN.

TrouserCough writes:

Good article KNS

volunteers4life writes:

Awesome article. Very detailed and insightful enough to help us see who Cregg really is, what type of caoch he is, and where he came from. Sounds like he really relishes the recruiting side of the game which is great to have along with the rest of our staff of superb recruiters. Glad to read some background on a member of our coaching staff!! GO VOLS!

Coach_Joe writes:

in response to KingDavid:

Great Article on Coach James Cregg, but I am prejudice, I'm married to his "little o' SANDWICH MAKER, Jame Cregg's Mom and I am Jame's Step Father and a Lane Kiffin FAN.

Welcome KingDavid! We're glad JC came to Big Orange Country and hope that he and his family are very successful here along with the rest of the coaching staff. May you continue to be able to hold your head high with all the positive things being said about your son.

From one BIG ORANGE neighbor to another, I salute you KING DAVID!

orangebloodgmc writes:

Sounds like a decent guy. I look forward to seeing him instill that toughness and grit in the players he mentors.

hueypilot writes:

I thought the ESPN piece was pretty even handed. I think the comment about the secondary violation was as much aimed how how truly stupid and petty some of the "rules" in their policy are. At least that was my take. I think ESPN likes Kiffin and by extension UT. Since Kiffin and Bruce Pearl have been here, God knows we've been feeding them some copy. Pat's in their promo ads. It's all good. Like an old boss told me , Just make sure your name and the initials FBI aren't in the same headline unless you're getting some kind of award from them. Good advice still today.

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