The appeal of coaching close to where he grew up alongside one of his closest compatriots was apparently too much for Tennessee tight ends/special teams coach Eric Russell to resist.
According to a source with knowledge of the personnel but not authorized to speak publicly, Russell will leave the program and assume a similar position on Mike Leach’s staff at Washington State.
Leach, who was hired as the Cougars’ new coach last week, has yet to announce any hires to his staff, but multiple outlets have reported that he’s set to bring in a number of his former assistants from his time at Texas Tech.
UT spokesman Jimmy Stanton said the university does not comment on athletic department personnel relative to other opportunities.
Before he joined Derek Dooley’s staff at UT in 2010, Russell was Leach’s special teams coordinator at Texas Tech, where he picked up a nomination for the Frank Broyles Award, which is given to the nation’s top assistant coach. Russell is also an Idaho native and was a quarterback at Spokane (Wash.) Falls Community College in 1986-87.
Russell was a member of Dooley’s staff at Louisiana Tech from 2007-08. He spent the previous 13 seasons at North Texas.
Under Russell, the Vols had their share of highs and lows on special teams.
Thanks to the emergence of freshman Devrin Young, the Vols made significant statistical improvements on punt returns and kick returns from 2010 to 2011. In both of Russell’s seasons, UT was among the nation’s best at defending kickoffs despite the lack of a kicker who could consistently put the ball in the end zone. Outside committing a comedy of errors on a highlight-reel touchdown return by Arkansas’ Joe Adams, the Vols were also solid at defending punts in 2011.
One year after uninspiring senior seasons from Daniel Lincoln and Chad Cunningham, kicker Michael Palardy and punter Matt Darr both struggled with consistency issues in 2011.
At tight end, Russell helped groom junior Mychal Rivera, who finished second on the team in receptions and receiving yards, into a reliable pass-catcher and blocker. Freshman Cameron Clear also showed steady improvement throughout the season.
Russell made $200,000 in 2010 and $250,000 in 2011. Terms of Russell’s contract are unknown, as UT has yet to respond to an open records request made by the News Sentinel in June.
Russell, 43, is the second assistant from Dooley’s 2011 staff to leave the program since the Vols ended the season with a loss at Kentucky. Last week, Dooley replaced wide receivers coach Charlie Baggett’s spot on the staff with former Vol Jay Graham, who was named the team’s new running backs coach Tuesday.
Multiple sources told the News Sentinel last week that quarterbacks coach Darin Hinshaw will slide over to coach wide receivers while offensive coordinator Jim Chaney will take on responsibility for the quarterbacks.
Andrew Gribble may be reached at 865-342-6327. Follow him at http://twitter.com/Andrew_Gribble and http://blogs.knoxnews.com/gribble