Eric Russell, black shirt, is a self-taught special-teams coach who plans to help Tennessee duplicate the kicking-game success his units displayed at North Texas, Louisiana Tech and Texas Tech the past eight seasons.
Eric Russell earned a promotion and a choice.
The promising assistant at North Texas had proven himself worthy of a larger role under coach Darrell Dickey, but what exactly it would be was up to Russell.
The Mean Green were ready to add coordinators for special teams and recruiting, and the option belonged to their young defensive assistant.
"I thought the one way to make a difference would be on the grass, which is why I went with special teams," Russell said. "Now, it's not the most fun job in America because it's gut-wrenching, but thank God I made the choice I did."
There's little doubt Russell made the right one. Eight years later the self-taught guru has some impressive special teams statistics on his resume.
And even with all the pressure that comes from leading the often overlooked third phase, it's mostly opponents that have had their guts wrenched by Russell's units since he made that important decision in 2002.
At North Texas he oversaw a group that blocked 14 punts, including an eye-popping seven in one season.
At Louisiana Tech during his first tour of duty with new Tennessee coach Derek Dooley, the Bulldogs were the top-ranked team in the nation in four different special teams categories and scored five times in that phase in 2008.
And in one season with Texas Tech, Russell helped the Red Raiders become one of the best teams in the country at picking up yardage on kickoff returns and preventing it in coverage - which certainly would be appealing to Tennessee considering its struggles to do either last season.
"You look at what went on here last year, and let's say on the return team they got the ball outside the 35, offensively they're going to score," Russell said. "Inside the 20? There wasn't much success. Same thing defensively.
"It's about getting our guys to understand how all three phases play together, getting the guys to buy in and develop that pride and how, even to the average fan, there are lots of things on teams that to the naked eye don't stand out."
Russell's impact on special teams is plain to see for anybody, though pinning down an exact reason for his success isn't nearly as simple.
The Vols have roundly praised their new coordinator for the simplicity of his schemes, so he hasn't been doing it with smoke and mirrors. He didn't have the best talent in the country at North Texas or Louisiana Tech, so it wasn't just pure force either.
For his part, Russell seems to shoot down any idea that there's a secret formula. But considering that the flat-screen mounted to the wall in his office was cued up to a UT Martin game during an afternoon meeting last week, he might have tipped his hand when it comes to the traits UT prizes more than most - preparedness and organization.
"There was a lot of trial and error for me early," Russell said. "Getting together with Derek was huge because he had a background with teams and had been successful, and Derek's set on the ways he wants some things taught and the amount of detail he expects.
"The huge thing with getting with coach Dooley was the value of having a kind of organized menu on how you put things in and letting them all tie together. It was good for me the way we teach things.
"But you've also got to find the right guys. I think the scheme is important, but it's the guys you've got that execute it. It's about the time you spend coaching, the details and all those things. If you lose the edge on teams, there's a good chance you're not coming out on top. It can be the difference-maker."
Which is exactly what drew Russell to special teams in the first place.