The University of Tennessee should name a street after Jay Graham.
He's coming home. And he's bringing hope with him.
He was hired Tuesday as UT's new running backs coach. The news was shocking for a couple of reasons: (1) The general populace didn't realize UT had running backs; (2) he left a similar position at South Carolina, which will be able to hand the ball to Marcus Lattimore again next season.
A little background: Graham was a running back for Tennessee when Tennessee was running downhill and the No. 4 running back on the depth chart could turn the head of an NFL scout. The offensive lines were so good, Smokey could have made a first down on third-and-short.
In Graham's freshman season in 1993, Charlie Garner averaged 7.3 yards per carry; James Stewart,
6.2; Aaron Hayden, 7.8; and Mose Phillips, 5.0.
Graham rushed for 1,438 yards as a junior. He rushed for more than 100 yards in 14 games. Then he followed the running backs ahead of him into the NFL.
UT didn't mind. It was already lining up its next set of future pro running backs.
Running the ball was as easy as running through the "T" back then. Now, it's as easy as running Neyland Stadium from bottom to top in spiked heels.
When Graham carried the ball on UT's behalf, the team was capable of having three 100-yard rushers in a game. In this past season, they had two in 12 games.
Graham came home anyway.
Forget the street. Name an entire building after him. Reward him for his loyalty.
He could have stayed at a top-10 program that will return an All-SEC running back. Instead, he returned to his alma mater when Rocky Top is teetering and the running game finished in the red as many times as it had a 100-yard rusher.
Suddenly, UT fans must be thinking things aren't as hopeless as a 5-7 record and a season-ending loss to Kentucky would suggest. Graham isn't coming home for homecoming. He's coming home with his career in tow.
Given the circumstances, a former running back returning might be the next best thing to a five-star running back signing. By joining coach Derek Dooley's staff, Graham is not only taking a job. He's saying "I believe" when believers are in the minority.
UT could benefit merely by hearing his stories from the mid-1990s when the phrase "offensive line surge" was uttered casually and repeatedly, and a future 1,000-yard rusher barely could get on the field as a freshman.
Imagine the wide-eyed looks when Graham mentions "running lanes." And if a disbeliever says "What's this dude on?," he can show them the video.
Remember Graham's 69-yard touchdown run against Ohio State in the Citrus Bowl? If a UT player runs that far now, he's either chasing an opponent or being punished.
Maybe Graham can help change that. Maybe he can sign someone who reminds him of the runner he left behind at South Carolina, or all the guys ahead of him on the depth chart when he was a UT freshman.
Until he does, a Graham rerun is the closest thing the Vols have to a running game.