Nearly 20 years ago, when Butch Jones was a young college assistant on the recruiting trail, he always looked forward to visiting Bob Welton’s high school on the shores of Lake Michigan.
Welton was detail-oriented and organized. His players were smart and well-coached.“I knew the type of player I would be recruiting,” Jones told the News Sentinel.
A friendship developed between the two coaches, who stayed in contact even while Welton’s career path took him to the NFL and Jones became a highly sought-after head coach.
Last month, Jones hired Welton to be the Vols’ new director of player personnel, hoping to leverage Welton’s extensive scouting and evaluation experience in Tennessee’s recruiting department.
“I know him. I trust him,” Jones said. “You want to bring people into your football program who understand your values and standards. He does.”
Welton was one of two important additions in the football wing of UT’s athletic complex. Mike Vollmar, a Michigan native who worked closely with Tennessee athletic director Dave Hart when they were at Alabama, was hired as UT’s senior associate athletic director in charge of football.
Vollmar replaces David Blackburn, who was hired as the new AD at Tennessee-Chattanooga.
Blackburn, who had an office near Jones and the other football coaches, worked closely with Jones and served as a liaison between Hart and the football program.
“In our business, he’s known as the best there is at his job,” Jones said. “Dave knows what he’s all about, and I know what he’s all about.”
Vollmar will make $170,000, according to UT, the same salary paid to Blackburn. Vollmar made $155,000 at Alabama, according to published reports, and $127,000 at his last position at Michigan, according to a public records database.
Jones is only six months into his tenure as Tennessee’s head coach, but the hiring of Welton could reflect a new direction for the Vols’ recruiting offices.J.R. Sandlin, who was given the title “director of recruiting” when he was hired by Jones from Alabama in December 2012, left the program abruptly in April.
Although Welton wasn’t brought in specifically as a replacement for Sandlin, his hiring indicates that Jones sought an experienced talent evaluator as much as an administrator. Sandlin earned $55,000 annually at UT, according to salary figures provided to the News Sentinel earlier this year. Welton will make $120,000.
Welton’s ties to Jones are also important. Changes during Jones’ tenure at UT have reinforced the importance of relationships in the coaching business. Former UT player Jay Graham, who had been retained by Jones as running backs coach, left for Florida State after National Signing Day largely because of his close relationship with FSU assistant Randy Sanders.
Many big football programs have bolstered their recruiting staffs to serve as de facto personnel offices in the mold of NFL teams. Proposed rules changes also promised to expand the role of non-coaching staff members by relaxing some of the restrictions on contacting prospects.
However, many of those changes were tabled and are unlikely to affect the NCAA rule book. That has left many recruiting departments in limbo.Jones said he’s not worried about his administrative team, which includes Brad Pendergrass, the director of football operations, and Scott Altizer, director of high school relations.
“I like the infrastructure that we have in place,” Jones said. “We are very aware of the possible rule changes, but whether they ultimately happen or not, I like the way we’re set up.”
Evan Woodbery covers Tennessee football. Follow him at www.Twitter.com/TennesseeBeat.