One coach was back in Cincinnati, preparing for a bowl game. Another was in Wisconsin, stuck in snow.
But every other member of Butch Jones’ first Tennessee coaching staff was in town today, meeting with the media and giving their first public comments since the staff was finalized this weekend.
“Our energy level is at an all-time high,” said new offensive line coach Don Mahoney.
Jones brought five coaches, including Mahoney, from his staff at Cincinnati. He added Tommy Thigpen and Willie Martinez from the dismissed staff at Auburn. Running backs coach Jay Graham was retained from Derek Dooley’s 2012 staff. The last hire, receivers coach Zach Azzanni, is coming from Wisconsin.
“Continuity is huge in a coaching staff. We’re familiar with each, we know the day-to-day operations and that comfort level extends to the players,” said defensive coordinator John Jancek, who spent the last three years with Jones at Cincinnati.
Coaches said the focus since their hiring had been almost exclusively on recruiting, so time to evaluate the current roster has been limited.
But speaking generally, many said that developing depth would be crucial in the spring and summer.
“We’ve got a group of guys up front who have played a lot of football together,” Mahoney said of his line. “Behind them, we have to improve our depth.”
Jancek said the same of his linemen, who will be playing in a defense that is transitioning back to a 4-3 set (four linemen, three linebackers) after one rocky year in the 3-4 (three linemen, four linebackers).
Jancek said Thigpen would coach linebackers, not cornerbacks as was originally announced. Jancek said he would be a “walk-around,” coordinator, meaning he works without different position groupings throughout practice while supervising the entire defense. Willie Martinez, originally identified as safeties coach, will handle the entire secondary.
Thigpen said he was finally getting a chance to study his new crew.
“Our first focus was not falling behind in recruiting,” Thigpen said. “I’m taking all the tapes back home with me to watch over Christmas.”
In addition to the on-field coaches, strength coach Dave Lawson also followed Jones from Cincinnati.
“This is not a strength coach,” said Lawson, pointing to his starched shirt and slacks. “A strength coach is wearing shorts, a pullover and running shoes with a whistle around his neck. That’s what I’m looking forward to.”
Evan Woodbery covers Tennessee football. Follow him at www.Twitter.com/TennesseeBeat.