New Tennessee linebackers coach Tommy Thigpen has spent most of his career crisscrossing the South in search of prospects, and for the last four years at Auburn he's engaged in head-to-head recruiting battles for some of the country's most coveted players.
Thigpen, one of only two assistants who had never worked with new head coach Butch Jones before joining his staff earlier this month, has a deep, rich and authentically Southern drawl.
He also has plenty of hard-won insights about working the recruiting trails in the SEC to offer his new colleagues.
"I tell them, 'It's as different as any place you're going to be,' " said Thigpen, who has joked with other UT coaches about the "boogeyman" haunting Southern recruiting trails. "But coaching is coaching. It's the same everywhere: You've got to get players. They understand that. Butch understands that."
Recruiting has been job one for Jones' new staff members since they first began arriving in Knoxville only days after he was hired. It's why only one coach from Jones' staff stayed behind in Cincinnati to prepare the Bearcats for their Dec. 27 bowl game and why evaluating current players has taken a back seat to recruiting new ones.
"Our first focus was not falling behind in recruiting," Thigpen said. "I'm taking all the tapes (of current players) back home with me to watch over Christmas."
The pressures of recruiting have eased a bit this week during the NCAA dead period, which bars coaches from visiting prospects. Jones used the opportunity to do a media tour with interviews and radio appearances earlier this week. On Thursday, it was his assistants' turn to meet the press.
Most of the staff has worked with Jones before and five coaches, including both coordinators, came directly from Cincinnati.
"Continuity is huge in a coaching staff," said defensive coordinator John Jancek. "We're familiar with each, we know the day-to-day operations and that comfort level extends to the players."
Jancek said he would be a "walk-around coordinator," meaning that instead of coaching one specific position, he would bounce around from unit to unit during practice. Thigpen, who was originally announced as cornerbacks coach, moved into the linebacker slot. Willie Martinez, originally the safeties coach, will now handle the entire secondary.
Jancek said he planned to return Tennessee to a 4-3 set, meaning four linemen and three linebackers, ending a failed one-year experiment with the 3-4 under former coordinator Sal Sunseri.
On offense, coordinator Mike Bajakian said the Vols would run a fast-paced offense, as they did in 2012, but other decisions would be made by adapting to the strength of the team's personnel.
"We're not going to try to be something we're not," Bajakian said. "If our strength is throwing the ball, we'll do that. If it's running it, we'll do that."
Offensive line coach Don Mahoney, inheriting a veteran group, said his goal was not to "create confusion" unnecessarily and that he would even tweak some of this things he does if it helps his linemen succeed.
"Coach Jones always says, 'We never want our minds to tie up our feet.' We certainly don't want to do that up front," Mahoney said.
Mahoney, who first coached with Jones in 1998, has worked on his staff for the last six years and came with him from Cincinnati earlier this month.
Of the new assistants who weren't on the UC staff, running backs coach Jay Graham was retained from Derek Dooley's staff at UT, and Thigpen and Martinez joined from Auburn.
Martinez and receivers coach Nick Azzanni, snowbound in Wisconsin on Thursday as he helps the Badgers prepare for the Rose Bowl, worked with Jones at Central Michigan.
Graham said his hiring by Jones helped calm some apprehensive nerves after spending much of November in limbo after Dooley was fired. Martinez said he's been welcomed to the mix and doesn't feel like a newcomer left out of the club.
"We're all coaches," Thigpen said. "We've all got the same passion."
Evan Woodbery covers Tennessee football. Follow him at www.Twitter.com/TennesseeBeat.