John Adams: Losing Jay Graham is more than just losing a running backs coach

John Adams
Tennessee running backs coach Jay Graham tries to strip the ball from running back Devrin Young during practice at Haslam Field on Monday, August 6, 2012. 

(Saul Young/News Sentinel)

Photo by Saul Young, Knoxville News Sentinel

Tennessee running backs coach Jay Graham tries to strip the ball from running back Devrin Young during practice at Haslam Field on Monday, August 6, 2012. (Saul Young/News Sentinel)

You can’t fully appreciate Jay Graham’s departure from Tennessee without recalling his arrival.

He left a secure job at South Carolina in December of 2011 for one of the most insecure positions in college football. The Vols had suffered back-to-back losing seasons under former coach Derek Dooley, whose assistant coaches were fleeing the premises as though a crime had been committed.

But in came Graham, a former UT running back who seemingly couldn’t resist the lure of his alma mater, even though it meant leaving SEC coaching legend Steve Spurrier for a coach who had just lost to Kentucky.

UT fans were ecstatic. One of their own was coming home when home didn’t look all that appealing to an objective eye.

Graham wasn’t just the new running backs coach. He was a flicker of hope for a program where the longest lines formed below the exit sign. Head coaches left. Players left. Assistant coaches came and went so fast that even diehard fans couldn’t identify them in a lineup.

Now, Graham is gone, too. He was hired Monday as an assistant coach on coach Jimbo Fisher’s Florida State staff.

College programs rarely tilt over the arrival or departure of a running backs coach. But Graham was more than a running backs coach. More than an accomplished recruiter, too.

He was a Tennessee guy who made Tennessee a priority, perhaps to the detriment of his resume. He also was a guy worth keeping if — for no other reason — than that he qualified as a firsthand source on what Tennessee football was all about. The majority of new coach Butch Jones’ assistants qualify as firsthand sources on what Central Michigan football was all about.

Unlike most of Jones’ hires, Graham had no history with Jones at either Central Michigan or Cincinnati. Jones retained him nonetheless. Raved about him, in fact.

Maybe Graham would have preferred more money than praise. Maybe he suddenly felt like an outsider at his own school. Or maybe he was merely putting his career first. Florida State is a better job.

Replacing him will be a challenge.

Not only did Graham have Tennessee ties. He had experience recruiting the Southeast. That experience was magnified on a staff whose deepest roots can be traced to Ohio.

Something else about Graham: He’s black. On a staff already lacking in diversity, you can’t ignore that.

Many SEC football programs have three or four black assistant coaches on their staff. UT is down to one. Think that won’t come up in recruiting?

Jones would be wise to hire a black assistant coach to replace Graham. He should also be a dynamic recruiter. And if he has SEC experience, so much the better.

I can understand the importance Jones places on familiarity with his assistants. He doesn’t want to spend too much time teaching the teachers when he has an entirely new team to educate.

However, familiarity shouldn’t always carry the day. It certainly won’t always carry signing day.

It’s not overly dramatic to think Jones’ next recruiting class will weigh heavily as to whether he succeeds or fails at UT. Dooley had three years to change the course of a program headed in the wrong direction. Why would Jones have any longer?

So there’s a sense of urgency about every recruit and every hire, especially when you are hiring a coach who offered as much as Graham did.

He wasn’t just a running backs coach.

John Adams is a senior columnist. He may be reached at 865-342-6284 or adamsj@knoxnews.com. Follow him at http://twitter.com/johnadamskns.

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

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Comments » 126

vut5686#1405392 writes:

Never met Graham; he certainly was a good football player; he played for Tennessee. He was/is nothing more than our past running back coach.

We all hear the clamor for a "link to the past." We seem to think a lineage all the way to Neyland somehow convinces teenage kids who never heard of Johnny Majors, let alone The General. On top of that...with no criticism intended, I have never heard or read one word written about Graham as a coach. Play it back for me; when has it been mentioned that he affected our running attack...for the better or worse? Seems his work was rather anonymous last year.

So, Adams would have us believe we need a "token." I offer for consideration that any coach, who can coach, who will work hard to build relationships and can help us win is the right coach. Pedigree and color nothwithstanding.

Coach Graham just left us; so much for loyalty. Whoever we get....if he is good and if we are successful, someone else will want him. If that be the case, he will have left us better than when he arrived. Graham has not proven that in one year. Might have someday..but not yet. Big tears are not in order; just wish him well.

NYCApple writes:

Adams...yawn..

Tennfan4075 writes:

This think just gets worst by the day, when will it end?

crutch1966 writes:

florida st is a better job? bull....

jjsteel writes:

in response to crutch1966:

florida st is a better job? bull....

Maybe JA should go to Florida state to cover them. If he thinks it's a better job for coaches it's surely better for the writers.

Mansonlamps writes:

Yes Florida state is a better program. My god Tennessee fans can be so delusional sometimes.

orangecountyvols writes:

It was just a matter of time before hack/Adams
chimed in. Situations such as this finds him licking his chops to throw in his astute comments.

pingkr62 writes:

in response to Tennfan4075:

This think just gets worst by the day, when will it end?

BLAH..BLAH..BLAH..What is the big deal about losing a running back coach. No one is irreplaceable. C.B.J. will hire another one who can probably out coach AND out recruit J.G. If Graham doesn't want to be here then GOOD RIDDANCE!

pingkr62 writes:

in response to Mansonlamps:

Yes Florida state is a better program. My god Tennessee fans can be so delusional sometimes.

No more delusional than you Charlie.

BIVOLAR_BEARE writes:

in response to pingkr62:

BLAH..BLAH..BLAH..What is the big deal about losing a running back coach. No one is irreplaceable. C.B.J. will hire another one who can probably out coach AND out recruit J.G. If Graham doesn't want to be here then GOOD RIDDANCE!

Good point, the sky isn't falling..Heck, last year UT lost 8 assistants and everyone was okay with it..

Nighthawk writes:

And this too shall pass.

jt45 writes:

I guess john was a little late to the party AGAIN but at least he gets to rehash the bullet points from earlier stories, like the race factor wich seems to be something that keeps getting brought up. Keep on grabbing at those straws JA.

bigdisbig writes:

Losing Jay is HUGE! He turned the running backs around 100% last year. The Vol running backs were some of the worst in the SEC before Jay got here. They should have paid whatever it took to keep him. So much for Butch Jones "BEST COACHES IN THE NATION". He just lost the best coach on his staff.

rb4346 writes:

Loyality and VFL = Jay Graham, is that what you think John. John would it be possible for you too say something positive about the VOLS once in a while. Sorry that your favorite coach took another job but that's life. Who knows, you might be making a move one of these day's but I doubt it will happen. Hope you never take a trip to New Mexico because you would come back praising the Taos Fighting Padres and knocking the VOLS. GBO !!!

formerflgranny writes:

Poor Adams, He would make a much better funeral home director than he is as a writer.

volaholic45 writes:

For all the articles on this subject, seems like some crack journalist might seek and score an interview with Jay Graham.

SummittsCourt writes:

The only writer to write an article about being critized by readers so he can be critical wonders why people hate him so much, yet he continues to write this phooey he calls an article.

His attempts to kick the Vols when they are down knows no bounds, however, his newest article appears to not have much kick to it. He tried, but no power to this article, it's just dumb.

Jay Graham is just another ex-coach.

rb4346 writes:

in response to vut5686#1405392:

Never met Graham; he certainly was a good football player; he played for Tennessee. He was/is nothing more than our past running back coach.

We all hear the clamor for a "link to the past." We seem to think a lineage all the way to Neyland somehow convinces teenage kids who never heard of Johnny Majors, let alone The General. On top of that...with no criticism intended, I have never heard or read one word written about Graham as a coach. Play it back for me; when has it been mentioned that he affected our running attack...for the better or worse? Seems his work was rather anonymous last year.

So, Adams would have us believe we need a "token." I offer for consideration that any coach, who can coach, who will work hard to build relationships and can help us win is the right coach. Pedigree and color nothwithstanding.

Coach Graham just left us; so much for loyalty. Whoever we get....if he is good and if we are successful, someone else will want him. If that be the case, he will have left us better than when he arrived. Graham has not proven that in one year. Might have someday..but not yet. Big tears are not in order; just wish him well.

How true on your post. Left out one thing I think is important and that is the offensive line, that is why the offense was good. Credit for that goes to Sam Pittman and not Jay Graham. He was so happy to be here according to Jay, what a pile of cripe

CoverOrange writes:

Hire Charlie Coiner back instead of paying him to do nothing.

baldingalum writes:

Wow, how the bloggers have fallen. This article is spot on and well-written. Losing Graham is huge on so many levels. You can play Adams for telling the truth all you want but you're embarrassing in doing so.

BIVOLAR_BEARE writes:

in response to CoverOrange:

Hire Charlie Coiner back instead of paying him to do nothing.

Anyone except Sal and his sorry DB coach..

Prostar writes:

As I posted on another article, if FSU is such a wonderful job then why did Eddie Gran leave to go to Univ. of Cincinnati? FSU hires Randy Sanders, Sal Sunseri and now Jay Graham. Is that what you call "improving your staff"? Their DC (Stoops) left to be HC at Kentucky and he is replaced with someone who has never been a DC in college. If Randy Sanders was our Running Backs coach when Jay played, then surely we can find someone equally competent now. Why don't we wait and let CBJ do the job he was hired to do. Nice article John, pretty much a rewrite of what has already been written.

cloudodust writes:

JA : Sorry, but I take issue when what's at stake is building back Tennessee and then bringing flipping racial crud to appease the weak brains hung up on diversity numbers and making wrong a right, or is that the other way around..? The right man for the job can be rainbow colors for all I care. Let's move this topic into the 21st century. Just get the job done. Be that as it may, I hate seeing Graham leave.

volcop writes:

in response to baldingalum:

Wow, how the bloggers have fallen. This article is spot on and well-written. Losing Graham is huge on so many levels. You can play Adams for telling the truth all you want but you're embarrassing in doing so.

DITTO

pcshowtime writes:

I heard we are looking at a rb coach at northern Illinois to add to the greatest staff in America. This is a joke. Auburn hires rodney garner we hire big east and mac specials with no southern recruiting ties. Be honest vol nation do we not see the difference. It may not be Jones it may not be hart but something is wrong with our school. If you are honest with yourselves you know it also.
You can not win in the SEC doing this. And if you can not win in the sec this athletic Dept will lose money.

ROCKYnROCKFORD writes:

Blacks coaches in SEC:

Fla. 5

Ala. 3

LSU. 5

Tenn. 1

Ole Miss. 4

Ga. 3

Aub. 4

Ark. 4

Vandy. 4

Ky. 4

So Car. 4

Anything jump out at you? Blacks make up 90% of the skill

positions in the SEC football. How do you recruit the 4 * and 5 *

atheletes and their families when their race appears to be

excluded in the coaching ranks. You can win in Mid-America

and Big East Conferences with 3 * white guys, but not the SEC.

I think Coach Jones has been short-sighted. He who wins the

recruiting war...WINS. Coach Graham was a HUGE loss.

The University is good at buying coach's silence. Wouldn't

you like to know the real stories over the last 2-3 years.

Many who profess to being color-blind will say I'm stirring the

pot and playing an ugly race card.

I hope Coach Jones and his staff prove me wrong...but I don't

think so.

Go Vols

dvols writes:

uh... TN running backs are not that good, and no running backs were signed this year.....

poor job performance is not usually rewarded on hoping that Jay will make the turn against Georgia one more time.....

geez

except in JA's case

Geofffourmyle writes:

in response to Mansonlamps:

Yes Florida state is a better program. My god Tennessee fans can be so delusional sometimes.

Tennessee has a winning record against FSU. And against Ohio State and Michigan too, as a matter of fact.

Walt

UT '81

snowpeapod#263184 writes:

in response to NYCApple:

Adams...yawn..

Adams...puke..

sameolvolalum writes:

Graham failed at recruiting the best backs. He's proven nothing at UT and simply had superior backs to work with at SC. His leaving is pretty much a big nothing. FSU a better job? No. An extra $40k is most of what grabbed him. JA, you're getting weaker and worse.

jack4444 writes:

John Adams wrote another article. John is tenacious in his efforts to strike that right chord of pessimism and gloom.

But more than that, John is white. And in this world of diversity, that can't be overlooked.

Yes John is a writer. John is a white writer.

papavol writes:

its all about trooper taylor at this point.

volfanlostnbama writes:

Fisher is almost in the same boat at FL ST that Dooley was in last year here...and the instability is just as bad if not worse when you look and see all the assistants bolting like they did at the end of season for FL ST. IMO, TN is in a better place right now than FL ST...they are a step ahead of FL ST's instability. One bad season now & Fisher might experience the same fate as Dooley and so will Graham.

fearthehound writes:

in response to GlennFordsFoible:

(This comment was removed by the site staff.)

So JUMP. Go ahead, do it!

I haven't been reading many posts lately. I've found it's much better for my psyche, but every now and then I can't help myself.

It's nice to see that you're still cut and pasting your old posts. You just go back and remove Dooley and insert Butch.

volthrunthru#658770 writes:

John Adams gets it, but understates the real problem. I posted this elsewhere:

a. Historically UT is one of the best NCAA programs. A dozen UT alumni actively coach in D-1, all more qualified than all but one of Jones’ gang.

b. Jones fired two good non-Orange-blooded coaches. His gang got raises of almost 60%, yet have never even worked at SEC level.

c. Jones tried to hire Tee Martin, and keep Graham, but had overpaid his Cincinnati staff so much, no money was left to match USC's counter offer to Tee.

d. Fact is, Jones' team was beaten by Derrick Dooley's.

For the record: Graham's background is better than ANY coach on Jones' staff, including Jones's. Graham has good NFL experience, coached w/Steve Spurrier, & did better recruiting than Jones’ entire group combined

Yet Graham was paid 1/3 less than whites coaches Jones brought with him. Jones brought no blacks among the "best coaching staff in the U.S.A" He apparently wanted Graham as token, plus another SEC level black guy from Auburn, after Martin’s “No.”

e Hart/Jones tried to counter Graham’s Florida State offer--- prepared to give a 35% raise---almost another 100K. THEN Graham would be at a level with Jones' bubbas.

Graham saw Jones would have continued paying him almost 100K less, otherwise.

Appearance is, Jones was screwing over Graham. Just that simple.

f. Frankly, Jay Graham could appear to more than a few people as a real victim of racial discrimination---at his alma mater---the place where he made "the Run," against Alabama---and where by himself he out-recruited the entire Jones Gang.

The reason, in my opinion, Graham was allowed to be fit on by Jones is because there is not a single Tennessean or UT alum at the final decision-making level for Football, or any of its business areas, now.

Yet Jones says, "I hope I am able to retire here." "They may name a street after me." "I watched UT as a kid (in Michigan?)" Big words for a man never in a single SEC game, or a day of SEC-level spring practice.

UT cannot afford to fire either Jones or his “gang.” Hart negotiated huge salaries and severance packages. Jones alone could get $18MILLION DOLLARS regardless, yet seems to have put in place elements for a racial discrimination suit, the way he handled Jay Graham.

The take away: UT's proud heritage is being raped by this bunch. (Remember how Hart handled Pat Summitt's departure.)

If the Governor or legislature does not force the issue UT's proud tradition will become only a memory in a couple of years, associated with what happened a long time ago, and an empty stadium that used to be crammed full of screaming fans.

Rednecks and message-board-dumb need to stand down. Graham has been treated unfairly, but chose the high road, rather than messy announcements of lawsuits for discrimination, in my opinion

Thank goodness Graham IS a loyal UT alum---and has not sued his alma mater.

Geofffourmyle writes:

in response to GlennFordsFoible:

(This comment was removed by the site staff.)

Yeah.

Just like when Dooley was coach, what the people around him did spoke volumes. For Graham to leave at this juncture is very worrying.

Walt

UT '81

MR_VOL writes:

I hope once and for all, with Graham leaving, this will eliminate all the poster's who continually write how UT needs coaches that are especially former players or coaches with university ties. Just because a person has played or coached at UT in the past does not make a better current coach and it certainly does not make or create any loyalty (See Graham and Martin).

With the above said, work ethic could possibly be an issue here. Coach Jones has the most passion and drive than any football coach I have met going back to Majors. I do not foresee any coach staying on Coach Jones' staff that cannot pull his weight be it coaching or recruiting. I am not worried at all as I know Coach Jones will hire a coach that wants to be at UT and on his staff. Personally, I do not think it will be that difficult to find a coach that is better than Graham.

RashaadSalabeb writes:

I've got to admit, I didn't see this coming. All I ask is for us to go out and get an even better coach.

Go Vols!

MTSUVOL writes:

How many purple coaches do we have? How many yellow coaches do we have? I guess he forgot to include that. :(

GoVols_16 writes:

Nothing like a good "sky is falling" article from Mr. Adams to complete my Monday night.

I think we need a couple of Chinese coaches, to be perfectly honest.

Vols4Ever writes:

The latest news could be viewed from this perspective:

1. Jay Graham went from a program that is rebuilding in the SEC to one that can dominate its conference this year and be in the mix for a national championship.
2. His position on the current staff, after the wholesale cleaning, was highly suggested to the new coach from the AD vs. being chosen
3. He increased his compensation by over 15%.

Jay made a rationale decision for him. Doesn't mean the program is devastated by his departure but can be understood. But from the perspective of our program, isn't positive.

traderjoe writes:

Did CJ try to keep Graham or did he let him know he wanted his own people? Regardless, you can't fault the outcome because now we have the best coaching staff in the country even though they can't out recruit the other SEC newcomers. However, I'm sure they can coach the 3 stars up to 5 stars in no time.

DwayneElizondoMountainDewHerbertCamacho writes:

in response to pingkr62:

BLAH..BLAH..BLAH..What is the big deal about losing a running back coach. No one is irreplaceable. C.B.J. will hire another one who can probably out coach AND out recruit J.G. If Graham doesn't want to be here then GOOD RIDDANCE!

I agree! No one is irreplaceable, least of all Butch Jones. In three years, we'll replace him with a real SEC coach.

Apparently the best coaching staff in the world just got a whole lot better, because we lost Jay Graham, right?

All you did during the Dooley era was bash people who spoke the truth and said, "This guy can't coach." Now people are speaking the truth again and guess what...here you are again bashing the truth. I like how you think that everything Butch Jones does will be fantastic...just like how you thought everything that Dooley was doing was fantastic. Trust but ask not why, right?

Keep up the attitude though, I'm sure this time you'll be right. Just like you were right about Dooley. Just like you were right about Sunseri. Just like you were right that we'd be better off after Dooley's staff evacuated for lateral positions.

You know absolutely NOTHING about football, your record on this site alone proves it.

Coach Graham is a great coach and an even better recruiter. The idea that we can go out and get someone better is stupid. We'll end up with some C-USA or Big East flunk or Jones will make the same mistake that Dooley made and pretend that running backs don't matter in the SEC and have the TE coach take over.

But no matter...keep rah, rah, rah-ing if it makes you feel better.

abnermc writes:

Having JA for knox news is worse than no news ...much worse.. Please don't read this junk folks . Headline is all you need.

Olddogsrule writes:

in response to orangecountyvols:

It was just a matter of time before hack/Adams
chimed in. Situations such as this finds him licking his chops to throw in his astute comments.

Hey there OCV. Doncha remember teacher tellin' you that even though some words sound the same, they're spelled different? It's all about context.

Just so you know, the correct spelling of 'astute' in any context where johnnyboy is involved is 'asstoot'.

ConcernedaboutUT writes:

While not discussing the merits, or lack thereof, of Dooley, one of the main reasons some of the assistants left after last season was the UTAD would not give them a 2 year deal. Consequently, the short-sightedness caused many to leave for more stable jobs and UT to hire more assistants who then got 2 and 3 year deals. When your employees sense that you are only somewhat committed to success, they will look elsewhere. Also, it is no coincidence why no big-name coach would come to Tennessee since Fulmer was fired...Poor and inconsistent leadership. It is a vicious cycle - luke-warm commitment to coaches causes instability - which increases the chances of failing - which makes it far more likely that a coaching change will take place - which causes more instability.

risetothetop writes:

what is this sites deal with race?? both articles i have read on this story have mentioned race being a factor. that's ridiculous. fans want good coaches, they don't care if they're are green. players want to play for good coaches, not black or white coaches. seriously, this is pathetic that you have emphasized this so much in this story. simply disgusting

tovolny writes:

Turn the knife John. You made several incorrect inferences. We know the real story AND we know we won't hear anything real from you. You lost your Street Cred about 6 years ago. Can't you tell that we are hip to what you are trying to do? Is there anything in Knoxville that you like? Wouldn't you rather go back down to the swamps, gators, snakes, Spanish moss, and skeeters? Then, you could go to all the LSU home games. John, I'll pay your moving expenses if you leave before spring training. Besides, my sister wants to buy your house.

OwensboroVol writes:

This is, indeed, very troubling. The truth is Jay Graham should have been given whatever he wanted to remain at Tennessee. I was disappointed with the recruiting this year and without Graham its going to be much worse next year. For those of you who posted that the Florida State Job is not better than Tennessee, please don't advertise the fact that you are a Tennessee Graduate. It could cause our other Graduates to lose chances at jobs due to lack of knowledge. Florida State is much better at this time. That's not saying that Tennessee cannot become the job that it used to be. Right now Florida State finished in the Top 25 for at least the last 2 seasons and Tennessee finished in toilet bowl and I don't get a warm and fussy feeling about the next 2 years. I think maybe Butch Jones needs to reconsider and offer Jay Graham more.

volthrunthru#658770 writes:

OwensboroVol...

You are overlooking the obvious, in my opinion. Graham is a coach---who will not set fire to his future, and must live by the code of "omerta," regardless. So he will not state the obvious:

a. This group of coaches is not SEC capable. He calls them "blue collar," praising them. That is to say they work hard, they are working stiffs, they spend a lot of time at work, working.

That is to say they are not as high on the food chain as the SEC requires. They are Bum Phillips, not Bill Walsh or John Madden. They are Wade Houston, not Bruce Pearl or Ray Mears. They are Georgia basketball, not Kentucky (of lore) or Louisville. They are Anthony Parker, not Chad Cliffton or Harry Galbraith. They are a beige Ford Taurus, not a Black Mercedes, Deep Charcoal Black Cadillac or Ebony MarkVIII.

They get you to your destination...but cannot keep up with the Steve Spurrier, Johnny Majors, Phillip Fulmer---and certainly not Nick Saban. Their resumes are a house painter with vanilla colored paint; the SEC is Picaso with Dayglow or Rembrandt with a color spectrum analyzer.

And there is this inconvenient, uncomfortable fact for a football hero, who left a great position to come back to help a struggling program under a questionable coach at his alma mater---

Why the hexx are you paying me, a black coach, with half-a-dozen years in the NFL, an SEC all conference player, and an alumnus---30% less than a group of white bubbas of the Head Coach, only one of which has the qualifications I have, the experience I have; and none of which can come close to me in recruiting.

And you have the gall to offer me a raise that puts me even with most of these coaches, when I tell you I have been offered a position at Florida State. That means you would have continued under-paying me, if I had not forced the issue with you.

And you did not counter-offer Tee Martin, when Southern Cal gave him that sweet raise to try to keep him. Instead you let him---another black alum of UT---get away. Yet you paid and are paying a LOT more to coaches with less experience, qualifications or results compared to Tee and Me---both of whom helped produce Conference Championships for UT in the SEC, not at Central Michigan...and he helped deiver a national championship.

So...OwensboroVol...would YOU want to stay in that kind of atmosphere...when you knew you were going to be working with a group that is not able to compete with half the staffs they face next year---and will have inferior talent, besides?

Go figure, huh?

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