They work in a state-of-the-art football palace. Every gadget and gizmo is at their disposal.
A platoon of managers and assorted support personnel wait at their beckon call.
In short, the new University of Tennessee football staff has it all.
Well, not quite all.
“At Wayne State we had a pet mouse in the office,’’ UT defensive coordinator John Jancek recalled Thursday with a grin. “We don’t have that here.’’
Butch Jones and his staff are at the top of the pyramid when it comes to college coaching jobs. But everybody starts somewhere. Usually, somewhere near the bottom.
Jancek started at Wayne State in his native Michigan. His title was defensive coordinator but that was only the tip of the iceberg.
“I was the travel coordinator, the academic coordinator, and the strength and conditioning coach,’’ he said. “I wore a lot of hats.’’
He also taught racquetball and weightlifting classes.
For offensive coordinator Mike Bajakian, the door to coaching opened at little Sacred Heart University in Fairfield, Conn. He coached quarterbacks, among other things.
“We were also in charge of field operations for the softball team,’’ he said. “So I remember laying out the tarps, setting up the pitcher’s mound, lining the field.’’
Before the football season even started, he left for a grad-assistant position at Michigan.
“I think of (Sacred Heart) as the women’s softball season was my time because I did a lot of my work there,’’ he said.
Jones’ first full-time gig was little Wilkes University in Pennsylvania. It’s a common story. Phillip Fulmer spent five years at Wichita State. One exception was Steve Spurrier, who’s first job was coaching quarterbacks at Florida.
So Spurrier never lined a field or wielded a paintbrush like UT receivers coach Zach Azzani, who started at Valparaiso.
“I painted the field every Friday,’’ he said. “My receivers would come between classes, drop their book bags and help me paint the ‘V’ in the middle of the field and the lines in the end zone.’’
The stories are good, the memories better.
For Willie Martinez, before there were archrival games at Georgia, Oklahoma, Auburn or UT, there was the rookie year at Bethune-Cookman in Daytona Beach, Fla., winning the league and beating Florida A&M.
“I didn’t really pay attention to the facilities, what we didn’t have or have,’’ Martinez said.
“Coaching high school, one-double-A or division two, what I take away is the kids are eager and want to learn.’’
Mark Elder, UT’s tight ends coach, marvels at the difference between his current gig and his first one, at Akron. A team meeting couldn’t begin until a health class vacated
“Me and the players sitting in the hallway,’’ he said. “Then we had to make a 15-minute drive on a highway over to an AstroTurf practice field.
“It’s a little different from walking down one flight of stairs from the meeting room to a beautiful indoor or beautiful grass fields out there that look like fairways for a fricking golf course. We’re unbelievably fortunate here.’’
Which is why Azzani said he whispers a little prayer every morning when he arrives on campus.
“People appreciate stuff more when they’ve had to go up all the way through the ranks,’’ he said. “That’s why I never take any of this stuff for granted.’’
Mike Strange may be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter at Strangemike44.