Browning, 52, brings experience to UT as graduate assistant

In 27 years as a football coach, Mitch Browning has done a little bit of everything.

He's coached every position except defensive line.

He's helped struggling programs at Kent State, Kansas and Minnesota reach new heights.

He's presided over offenses that set conference and school records.

He's coached in the Atlantic Coast Conference, Mid-American Conference, Big 12, Big Ten and Big East.

He's personally recruited 20 future NFL players, including two first-round draft choices at schools - Minnesota and Kansas - where first-rounders aren't exactly common.

This season, though, the 52-year-old Browning just might be one of the most over-qualified graduate assistants in the history of college football.

"It's unbelievable," says UT offensive lineman Jacques McClendon. "The privilege we have to have him come out and want to coach us as a graduate assistant, that's something we just have to take advantage of."

Browning, who spent 2008 as the offensive coordinator at Syracuse, turned down other opportunities during the offseason and instead chose a job as a graduate assistant at Tennessee.

Browning, a 2003 finalist for the Broyles Award as one of the nation's top assistant coaches, called UT defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin, who he coached for at North Carolina State 1980-81, about a possible spot on the staff. Due a one-year buyout from Syracuse, Browning decided to spend a year learning from UT's new coaching staff and picking up some new wrinkles from Lane Kiffin's pro-style offense.

"At the end of the day, I didn't want to take a job just to take a job," Browning said. "I wanted to take something I could get excited about. The Southeastern Conference always intrigued me. Tennessee's obviously a great program and the Southeastern Conference is a great conference. Probably the best conference in the country. At the end of the day, that was something that excited me."

Browning, in turn, spent his spring exciting UT's players, particularly on the offensive line.

A favorite pupil was converted tight end Aaron Douglas, who made the move to offensive tackle this spring. During practice, Douglas often made a beeline for Browning after reaching the sideline or finishing a drill for plenty of one-on-one instruction.

"In his case, he's a young player that made a position change. He needed a little more. But he's going to be an awful good football player," Browning said. "He's high-energy, he's got talent. He's tough, wants to be a good football player. Willing to do whatever it takes."

That pretty well describes Browning's coaching philosophy.

Knowing that different players need different approaches, Browning wants to find the approach for each of UT's offensive linemen, which is where he spent the bulk of his time during spring practice.

"It's an emotional game, an intense game. Obviously your approach has to be," Browning said. "It's hard to play this game and be good at it without enthusiasm. You have to have enthusiasm. Guys have to play and practice with it. I don't know. Every guy's different. Some guys need repetition. Some guys don't. Some guys need more one-on-one work on the chalkboard, the other guys need repetition on the field. Whatever it takes."

Browning's resume indicates he knows which buttons to push and the right plays to call - particularly if it's a running play.

In his lone season at Syracuse, Browning helped Curtis Brinkley become the Orange's first 1,000-yard rusher in five seasons. At Minnesota, the Gophers produced a 1,000-yard rusher eight consecutive seasons during Browning's tenure.

Browning's Minnesota offense set a Big Ten record by becoming the first team to rush for 3,000 yards in three consecutive seasons. For perspective, Tennessee has rushed for more than 3,000 yards in a season only once, in 1951, the year UT won its first of two consensus national championships.

From 2003-2005 – near the end of his seven seasons as offensive coordinator and co-offensive coordinator at Minnesota - the Gophers had not one but two different backs rush for at least 1,000 yards in three consecutive seasons.

Future pros Marion Barber and Laurence Maroney each topped 1,000 yards in 2003 and 2004. Then in 2005, Maroney and Gary Russell, another future NFL back, each topped 1,000 yards and combined for nearly 2,800 yards between them that season.

The success didn't end on the ground, though.

The Gophers made NCAA history by rushing for at least 2,000 yards and throwing for at least 2,000 yards in each season of Browning's tenure.

Under Browning's watch, quarterback Bryan Cupito became the school's all-time leading passer, and during one five-season span, the Gophers allowed 60 sacks - 35 fewer than the next-best team in the Big Ten (Northwestern) during that same span.

"Mitch was very valuable for us because he has so much history in coaching up front and he's been around a lot of great offenses and a lot of great run games. And he's been a coordinator as well," Lane Kiffin said. "To bring that expertise to your staff is very valuable to us, especially when we have a few young coaches on offense. He's been very important to us."

Browning's history at Minnesota, and his reputation for a strong, physical running game, isn't lost on McClendon.

"He's brought that physical emphasis to us," McClendon said. "He's trying to lead us in the right direction. We kind of got off track, but this coaching staff plus Coach Browning - all the athletes he had, especially at Minnesota, that Maroney-Barber offense they had - they're bringing that to us. I think we're going to be much more physical next year."

And well-coached, both in terms of quality and quantity.

In past seasons, UT's offensive line was used to hearing more than one voice on the practice field. Most recently, it was offensive line coach Greg Adkins, now at Syracuse, and former coach Phillip Fulmer, himself a former offensive lineman and offensive line coach.

This year, though, the Vols have Browning in addition to offensive coordinator and line coach Jim Chaney and tackles and tight ends coach James Cregg, both of whom came to Tennessee from the NFL.

"We got the Three Horsemen, man," McClendon said. "You've got to listen to them every which way. You got to listen here and listen there. That's one thing we've found out is that there's such a focus on the offensive line."

As another experienced voice on UT's coaching staff, Browning is helping sharpen that focus. He's also expanding his horizons for the future.

"There's a thousand ways to skin a cat, as Monte used to say. The only thing that matters at the end of the day is getting it skinned," Browning said. "We had a lot of success offensively at Minnesota and at Kansas. But we were in a different system. Now I'm learning a different way of doing things. At the end of the day, it will be good."

Browning's offenses ran a predominantly zone scheme, as does Lane Kiffin's. But for the most part, the similarities end there. The fundamentals and philosophy were different in his previous stops, Browning said.

"The bottom line is whether or not you get it done and making it work," he says.

Like the rest of UT's new coaching staff, the work has barely stopped since Browning arrived in Knoxville. As a graduate assistant, he can't go on the road to recruit but he nonetheless helps evaluate prospects and prepare recruiting materials. He also has strong connections to Ohio and the Midwest as well, something Tennessee's staff will surely benefit from this year.

After the upcoming season ends, Browning hopes to take what he learns from UT's staff and - combined with that lengthy coaching resume - land a job as a coordinator or perhaps his first head-coaching job.

But for now, Browning said he's trying to help Lane Kiffin any way he can and enjoying the chance to coach at a program with a winning history like Tennessee while he's here.

"I'm excited to be here," he said. "(Kansas and Minnesota) are two programs I would consider 'have-not' programs. We won at both of them. Now all of a sudden, I'm at a have program. Tennessee's what I would consider a 'have' program.

"You've got all the tools and resources here to be successful and to play for championships and be in position where you ought to be coaching and playing for not only Southeastern Conference championships, but national championships. I'm anxious to experience it. At the end of the year, see where it takes me. See what happens."

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

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Comments » 30

belayvol writes:

i was wondering what happened to this series. Great story.

NoogaVol55 writes:

in response to belayvol:

i was wondering what happened to this series. Great story.

I agree, sounds like a stand up guy. I hope he can land a nice job next year. Go Vols.

footballtime writes:

ya know considering the way special teams was neglected over the past few years I believe this guy would do what is needed there

vol_chaz writes:

We should have one heck of a running game this year..

hotrodvol writes:

in response to belayvol:

i was wondering what happened to this series. Great story.

It looks like this series is planned for the Sunday papers. I will look forward to it every Sat. night until two-a-days.

belayvol writes:

in response to hotrodvol:

It looks like this series is planned for the Sunday papers. I will look forward to it every Sat. night until two-a-days.

We might actually make it through the doldrums with articles like this.

Voluvr writes:

Right now we have at least 3 assistants and 1 graduate assistant that many universities would love to have as head coach. One day all but one, Monte, will likely be one. Now that's the kind of staff that gets you places.

bigorangefan79 writes:

WTF!?!? THIS IS AMAZING!!!!!!!!!

txsvol#372416 writes:

This is a very intriguing situation with Graduate Assistant Browning! His choosing to be with us just shows how highly our coaching staff (in particular, Monte Kiffin) is regarded. And, he'll get that Orange ribbon across the top left corner of his dipmoma! That's worth a year of anybody's time, when another Orange school is paying. My guess is that he will be offered the first football coaching vacancy we have, but I hope that we do so well that none have to be replaced, it's just the offers for head coaching positions that cause the vacancies. My guess is that Browning, Cheney, and Clegg will coach our OL up enough that we'll be much better in 2009. Maybe we'll have to offer Browning a position just to coach up the replacements for the 4 seniors finishing in 2009. Go Vols! SAVol

pdhuff#552644 writes:

Good read.

Indeed, a much-needed fresh wind blows thru the Vol's personna and outlook.

gatorzwearstebowpanties writes:

in response to BobbeaVol:

(This comment was removed by the site staff.)

Why don't you GO AWAY FOREVER !!!

CoachFulmer writes:

3,000 yards for three years straight?? WOW. He needs to coach the heck out of the runningbacks and the offensive lineman. Like one poster said before me, I feel alot better.

GO VOLS!

volnbig11land writes:

in response to Florrible:

(This comment was removed by the site staff.)

Thanks for the link.

dvhill100 writes:

Whatever you may think about LK and his media comments, he is absolutely brilliant regarding his staff. He could have had a lot higher personal salary, but instead spent it on his staff to hire the best, and still is only the third highest salary in the SEC. The expertise he has assembled is amazing. When someone like Mitch Browning is willing to spend a year as a graduate assistant just to learn from this staff speaks volumes.

Success certainly won't happen overnight, but give it time and TN will be back up with the top teams year in and year out.

volnbig11land writes:

in response to dvhill100:

Whatever you may think about LK and his media comments, he is absolutely brilliant regarding his staff. He could have had a lot higher personal salary, but instead spent it on his staff to hire the best, and still is only the third highest salary in the SEC. The expertise he has assembled is amazing. When someone like Mitch Browning is willing to spend a year as a graduate assistant just to learn from this staff speaks volumes.

Success certainly won't happen overnight, but give it time and TN will be back up with the top teams year in and year out.

Agree 100%, nice post.

marvinVol writes:

Ditto. 100% or better. Can't wait until "football time in Tennessee"!!!!!

Go Vols!!!!

ps: I think it will happen this year.

oldsarge writes:

I hate to rain on everybody's parade, but what Coach Kiffin and company are doing is circumventing NCAA rules. The NCAA limits D-1 coaching staffs to 10, the HC plus 9 assistants. By bringing in Coach Browning as a "Graduate Assistant", Tennessee is adding an extra member of the staff. But, don't worry it's perfectly legal, and the Volunteers aren't the only ones doing it. Notice in the article there was no mention of what graduate courses Coach Browning is taking.

In case you were wondering Alabama and Auburn have also brought on experienced "Graduate Assistants".

http://blog.al.com/ray-melick/2009/03...

belayvol writes:

in response to oldsarge:

I hate to rain on everybody's parade, but what Coach Kiffin and company are doing is circumventing NCAA rules. The NCAA limits D-1 coaching staffs to 10, the HC plus 9 assistants. By bringing in Coach Browning as a "Graduate Assistant", Tennessee is adding an extra member of the staff. But, don't worry it's perfectly legal, and the Volunteers aren't the only ones doing it. Notice in the article there was no mention of what graduate courses Coach Browning is taking.

In case you were wondering Alabama and Auburn have also brought on experienced "Graduate Assistants".

http://blog.al.com/ray-melick/2009/03...

I have it on good authority he is enrolled in Monte 101 so no worries.

wagee12 writes:

And then on the other side of the ball you have former All-Pro Chester McGlockton helping with the defensive line. In reality, what Tennessee has is a 12 man coaching staff instead of 10.
What Browning did at Minnesota was nothing short of amazing. He will help Cregg develop as a line coach also. Wouldn't you like to sit in with CLK, Chaney, Browning and the rest of the offensive staff when they are putting in a game plan?

orangebloodgmc writes:

Good article, Drew.

Voluvr writes:

We will win at Florida this year.

Florida overconfident plays flat.

Tennessee targets their weakness on defense the DL
and runs it right up their throat.

Defense makes two INT TD's.

Stomp Florida.

Hey, then we'll get to see all those classy florida girls shooting birds at the TV cameras again.

panties4tebow writes:

FEAR THE KIFFIN & COMPANY all you trolls!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

10volunteers98 writes:

DON`T KNOW HOW MANY MORE YEARS MONTE KIFFIN HAS LEFT TO COACH.I BELIEVE THE VOLS WILL BE BACK ON TOP,THOUGH BEFORE HE RETIRES.STILL,LK SHOULD HAVE HIS DEFENSIVE ASSISTANTS
FOLLOWING MONTE AROUND TO LEARN ALL THEY CAN FROM HIM.I`M ANXIOUS TO SEE THIS DEFENSE IN ACTION.YOU INTERLOPERS CAN SAY WHAT YOU WANT,BUT THIS IS AN ALL-STAR CAST OF COACHES.COACHES LIKE MITCH BROWNING ARE LIKE ICING ON THE CAKE.THE VOLS ARE ON THE WAY BACK,AND IT AIN`T GONNA TAKE LONG.GO,VOLS!!!

panties4tebow writes:

The fl convict fans are the worst fans I have ever saw and have no class at all! Tennessee and Bama have been powerhouses for years while fl was a disgrace. I can't believe I actually pulled for the gators in last years sec championship game but I will never pull for the gators again in any game because of all their idiot fans!

sameolvolalum writes:

Don't respond to the trolls! This is our site and the only way they'll go away is for ALL of us to ignore them. Deal with the urge! That said. this has got to be the best lineup of coaches I've seen in my 60 years! Go Vols!

pdhuff#552644 writes:

in response to sameolvolalum:

Don't respond to the trolls! This is our site and the only way they'll go away is for ALL of us to ignore them. Deal with the urge! That said. this has got to be the best lineup of coaches I've seen in my 60 years! Go Vols!

Great insight, but many still rise to the bait.

douglasawilliams#582863 writes:

in response to dvhill100:

Whatever you may think about LK and his media comments, he is absolutely brilliant regarding his staff. He could have had a lot higher personal salary, but instead spent it on his staff to hire the best, and still is only the third highest salary in the SEC. The expertise he has assembled is amazing. When someone like Mitch Browning is willing to spend a year as a graduate assistant just to learn from this staff speaks volumes.

Success certainly won't happen overnight, but give it time and TN will be back up with the top teams year in and year out.

If we had a qb who could really place the ball and easily throw for 400 yards a game we could be in the 10 or more wins this season. That isnt't a slap tp the face of JC or NS but unless a magic transformation happens I don't see any of them hitting 65% or higher and throwing deep routes too. There are not that many qb's that can do that save Colt McCoy, Matt Stafford, Peyton Manning or lets go back to the early 80's with John Elway.

gnm53108 writes:

in response to TCHDWN10C:

(This comment was removed by the site staff.)

Yeh,like free beer.

RockyTop1998 writes:

uf 3
UT 1,715

write it down

Jamey1210 writes:

I will put money on FL not scoring over 35 for all you gator fans. I am not saying we will win but I am telling you that monte will never let a team score over 35 on him. Any takers?

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