Mike Strange: Vols' coaches worked their way up

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

the room.

“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 strangem@knoxnews.com. Follow him on Twitter at Strangemike44.

© 2013 govolsxtra.com. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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Comments » 13

td writes:

This staff appears the most motivated of any Tennessee Football Staff I can remember; and that goes back to my first live game at Neyland -- Nov 11, 1961 when the Vols beat Bobby Dodd's 9th ranked Georgia Tech team 10-6. Thanks for the memories! That's my story, and I'm stickin' to it!

Henley-Street-Bridge writes:

yes but by the end of 1962 Bowden Wyatt and staff (mostly) were all let go, and the slide in the VOLS between 1960-63 was the worst in recent memory.
The same coach with the 59 Vols also beat LSU and Billy Cannon the Heisman Trophy Winner all who were #1 coming into the game.. but we lost the last 3 games including Kentucky and the dreaded Vanderbilt.

Just to get the real "memories" updated for TD. I was at everyone of those games.

pms151 writes:

in response to td:

This staff appears the most motivated of any Tennessee Football Staff I can remember; and that goes back to my first live game at Neyland -- Nov 11, 1961 when the Vols beat Bobby Dodd's 9th ranked Georgia Tech team 10-6. Thanks for the memories! That's my story, and I'm stickin' to it!

That must be the same day your daddy gave you those orange tinted sunglasses. (I had to buy mine when I got to school here since my daddy went to Bama). I agree, though I do remember Doug Dickey's staff being extremely motivated as were Fulmer's early staffs. However, coaching and winning in the SEC will directly influence their motivation going forward.

CroKev writes:

Hope they find the "gizmo" button that has the big "W" on it...

6972 writes:

Hope they can "work the atheletes" up the ladder to be competitive against a loaded SEC this year.
I need a tranquilizer when I look at this years schedule. GBO

TheRealDragonSlayer writes:

While I honestly do believe that the zeal shown by this coaching staff is infectious and praiseworthy, we should keep in mind that the social media of today is one of the main reasons why we even know about this. In the old days (like even when Fulmer took over the reins), there was no such thing, and even if the coaching staffs were as enthusiastic or as motivated, we would never have known or even had the chance to find out.

Just from watching gameday reactions and activity of various coaching staffs, I get the impression that many of them were very motivated. Its just one of those things..we will never really know if they can be compared.

But coming back to the present, I just love what I am seeing and hearing from this coaching staff. They are doing their job for now - getting the fan base excited again, recruiting well, and training the players - and they are doing it well. I hope and look forward to them doing their job equally well (and even better) when it comes to gamedays.

Go Vols!

thevoice writes:

Not sure what to expect with wins and losses in 2013, but this staff is very impressive with what they've done so far. "Best coaching staff in the country?" Right now I wouldn't trade them for any other staff.

johnlg00 writes:

in response to thevoice:

Not sure what to expect with wins and losses in 2013, but this staff is very impressive with what they've done so far. "Best coaching staff in the country?" Right now I wouldn't trade them for any other staff.

Even if he really thought it, Butch might--or might not--wish he hadn't said that "best staff in the country" bit. I do believe that these guys are glad to be where they are and that they will do everything in their power to stay there. Whether that will be enough or happen soon enough to satisfy all the rabid fans may be another story, but I like what I have read and heard so far.

LovinMyVols writes:

in response to thevoice:

Not sure what to expect with wins and losses in 2013, but this staff is very impressive with what they've done so far. "Best coaching staff in the country?" Right now I wouldn't trade them for any other staff.

7-5 Losses to OR, FL, GA, AL, SC.
Wins the ones we should for a change.

2014, on the other hand.... :)

rb4346 writes:

in response to 6972:

Hope they can "work the atheletes" up the ladder to be competitive against a loaded SEC this year.
I need a tranquilizer when I look at this years schedule. GBO

Agree with you on this, the schedule this year is enough to cause a stroke. We as fans have to stay the course with the new staff and a lot of new players. Turning the program around is not going to happen overnight, so we have to be patient. I know fans get tired of hearing that but with our new staff and the way recruiting is now going, the Vols will once again be playing for championship's. It is just a matter of time. GBO

arkyvol writes:

in response to Henley-Street-Bridge:

yes but by the end of 1962 Bowden Wyatt and staff (mostly) were all let go, and the slide in the VOLS between 1960-63 was the worst in recent memory.
The same coach with the 59 Vols also beat LSU and Billy Cannon the Heisman Trophy Winner all who were #1 coming into the game.. but we lost the last 3 games including Kentucky and the dreaded Vanderbilt.

Just to get the real "memories" updated for TD. I was at everyone of those games.

"...the slide in the VOLS between 1960-63 was the worst in recent memory"

disagree. dooley's back to back to back losing seasons take that cake by a country mile. as for dooley, its somehow appropriate that his last game as vol h.c. was getting his butt handed to him by vandy. those multi-million dollar golden parachutes scored by him and hammy rank right up there with the brinks job.

tulelakevol writes:

Well said arky vol.

Go Vols!! I hope we win the ones we are supposed to win, and maybe pick another one off. That would be a good year.

OTPVol writes:

7-5? I think we set our sights too low for our Vols.. ;-) GBO!!! Go Coach Jones!!

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