Steve Stripling on coming to UT and hitting the recruiting trail
Coming to coach at the school once known as Wide Receiver U. clearly appealed to Zach Azzanni.
Tennessee's status at the moment is more like Wide Receiver Who?
"It's pretty depleted,'' Azzanni said Thursday.
"There's some young guys that are hungry. We don't have enough of 'em. That's why we're on the road right now grinding, recruiting.''
Azzanni is both receivers coach and recruiting coordinator on Butch Jones' new UT staff. He and defensive line coach Steve Stripling were late arrivals due to bowl commitments with their previous teams. Both met with the media Thursday.
Azzanni takes over a corps that lost juniors Justin Hunter and Cordarrelle Patterson to the NFL draft, plus senior Zach Rogers.
All told, players who accounted for 198 of the Vols' 285 receptions in 2012 are gone.
Pig Howard's 13 catches make him the most productive returning wideout.
"For me, it's good,'' Azzanni said. "I've got to have a silver lining, losing a bunch of first-rounders.
"There's no bad habits I've got to break. I get to come in with a blank canvas.''
Recruiting has to help fill in that canvas. Azzanni said UT could be more
picky about future classes but has a sense of urgency for the group that will sign next month.
"Right now, it's about who's interested,'' Azzanni said. "We've got to find guys that are interested that we can build a relationship fast and convince them this is the place for them.''
UT has a long track record of convincing blue-chip receivers Neyland Stadium was a good place to showcase their skills.
"Receivers should be knocking on our door, quite honestly,'' Azzanni said. "We need to get that back here.''
Stripling's defensive line canvas isn't as bare, although Darrington Sentimore's early exit to test the draft was a setback.
He looks forward to working with Dan McCullers, listed at 6-foot-8, 360 pounds, whom Stripling described as the biggest player he's ever coached.
As the defense moves back to a four-man front, Stripling anticipates McCullers will be just as comfortable as he was as the nose tackle in the three-man front.
"Big Dan has athletic ability,'' Stripling said. "I think he's going to be able to express that and we'll find the best place for him to be successful.''
This will be Stripling's first venture into the SEC after stints at three Big Ten schools and two in the Big East.
"I've got experience coaching in the big stadiums and coaching great players,'' he said. "I believe it prepared me for this.''
Terry Fair also talked about his appointment as defensive quality control assistant. The former Vol and NFL defensive back has spent the past couple of years in local media.
But coaching was always his plan.
"One of my reasons for coming back to get my degree was to further my coaching career,'' Fair said. "Here I am.''
Fair isn't allowed to participate in off-campus recruiting, but said he's closely observing the full-time assistants.
"I'm in there soaking in all I can,'' he said, "taking notes, and when I do get that opportunity, I'll be prepared.''