West Virginia assistant Robert Gillespie has been hired as Tennessee’s new running backs coach, ending a rapid search to replace Jay Graham, who left for Florida State on Monday.
UT coach Butch Jones confirmed the news on Twitter on Friday night. Gillespie will be in place when the Vols start spring practice a week from today.
A former Florida running back, Gillespie was running backs coach at South Carolina (2006-08) and Oklahoma State (2009-10) before joining Dana Holgorsen’s staff at West Virginia after the 2010 season.
A native of Hattiesburg, Miss., Gillespie was a four-year letterwinner for the Steve Spurrier-led Gators, rushing for 1,854 yards and catching 96 passes for 1,091 receiving yards. He was team captain as a senior in 2001, helping lead Florida to a 10-2 record and No. 3 ranking.
It was a stunning loss to Tennessee in the final game of the 2001 regular season that kept the Gators from the SEC title game and a shot at the national title.
After a brief professional career, Gillespie completed his degree at Florida in 2005 and then began working for Spurrier at South Carolina as a graduate assistant.
Gillespie and Graham share an unlikely connection. When Gillespie left South Carolina, Spurrier hired Graham to replace him. Now Gillespie has replaced Graham at UT.
“We are very excited to welcome Robert and his family into the Tennessee family,” Jones said in a school release. “Coach Gillespie brings a vast knowledge of the SEC, having been a part of it both as a player and as a coach. Robert is a high-energy coach who will get the most out of his players, and he also has a great reputation in the coaching profession as a relentless recruiter.”
Gillespie reportedly made $300,000 annually at West Virginia. UT did release his salary or contract details. Graham was slated to make $260,000 at Tennessee. Florida State has yet to confirm Graham’s hiring.
Gillespie was one of three candidates who are known to have interviewed for the job. The News Sentinel reported that former Chicago Bears assistant Tim Spencer interviewed earlier this week. On Friday, Georgia athletic director Greg McGarity confirmed to the Macon Telegraph that longtime Bulldogs assistant Tony Ball had also interviewed with Jones.
Gillespie is the fifth assistant coach to leave the West Virginia staff since the end of the 2012 season.
Only weeks after arriving at West Virginia in 2011, Gillespie was pursued by new Florida coach Will Muschamp, but he declined to return to his alma mater out of loyalty to Holgorsen.
“I’m a man of my word,” Gillespie told the Times West Virginian. “I gave him my word that I’d come here and help him build this program.”
Gillespie said he wouldn’t let emotion guide his career decisions.
“I’m a football coach. This isn’t a beauty pageant,” he said. “I want to be around guys I enjoy being with, guys who can help me grow, guys where I have a voice and some input in the offense. That’s what I based my decision on.”
Evan Woodbery covers Tennessee football. Follow him at www.Twitter.com/TennesseeBeat.
Born: Nov. 2, 1979 (33 years old)
Hometown: Hattiesburg, Miss.
High school: Hattiesburg High
College: Florida, 2005, bachelor’s degree in sports management.
Career track: South Carolina (2005-2008); Oklahoma State (2009-2010); West Virginia (2011-2012); Tennessee (2013)
Family: Wife Crystal; daughter Nola (2) and son Wynston (10 months).