Photo by Adam Brimer, Knoxville News Sentinel // Buy this photo
Photo by Amy Smotherman Burgess // Buy this photo
Tennessee running backs coach Jay Graham, a former Vol great who returned to his alma mater just over a year ago, is leaving for Florida State.
New head coach Butch Jones confirmed the news on his Twitter account this morning. It was first reported by WarChant and Volquest, the Rivals.com affiliates of the two schools.
“The process of adding a new coach to our staff is underway, and we will hire the best person possible as we continue to build our program,” Jones wrote.
Graham, 37, came to Tennessee from South Carolina after the 2011 season and spent one year under coach Derek Dooley.
He was the only coach from Dooley’s staff retained by Jones, who raved about Graham’s recruiting ability.
Graham, a North Carolina native, played for the Vols from 1993-1996, rushing for 2,609 yards before embarking on a five-year NFL career.
He was slated to make $260,000 in 2013, a $35,000 raise from what he would have made on Dooley’s staff, but still the second-lowest salary on Jones’ nine-man coaching staff.
Graham’s role on Jimbo Fisher’s staff at Florida State has not yet been announced.
FSU just hired new running backs coach Randy Sanders, a longtime UT assistant who was Graham’s position coach in college.
Graham will also be reunited with FSU defensive ends coach Sal Sunseri, who was UT’s defensive coordinator in 2012.
Graham was a popular figure with Vols fans, receiving three standing ovations during a post-National Signing Day tour of the state earlier this month.
Jones told fans that he had “rehired” not “retained” for his new staff, and that Graham had helped him get the lay of the land during his first few weeks on the job.
For his part, Graham said he felt welcome on the staff that was made up largely of coaches who had worked with Jones in the past.
"This is a great group of guys,” Graham said in December. “I've enjoyed being around them and I've enjoyed being around Coach Jones. There are no egos; they just work hard. They're blue-collar coaches that understand recruiting and watching tape and understand what they're looking for."
Graham’s departure leaves Tennessee with only one African American coach in an on-field coaching role -- linebackers coach Tommy Thigpen. Every other SEC team has at least three black assistant coaches in on-field roles. Eight of the 14 SEC teams have at least four black assistant coaches.
If Jones follows the script for his previous hires, he could turn to Roy Manning, who coached running backs for Cincinnati last year but was not invited to join the staff at UT. Manning, who is black, is now at Northern Illinois.
Evan Woodbery covers Tennessee football. Follow him at www.Twitter.com/TennesseeBeat.