KNOXVILLE — The University of Tennessee’s former NFL coaches thought the past few weeks were difficult. The next few months will be even tougher.
The Volunteers don’t resume full-team practices until August.
Summer will be a long wait for the same coaches who have struggled adjusting to the NCAA’s 20-hour-per-week rule for the fall and spring.
“I wish we could keep going,” said head coach Lane Kiffin, who arrived at UT after nearly two years with the Oakland Raiders. “We have too much to do to become a championship team. I wish we could just keep practicing forever, but it is what it is, and we’ll maximize our time that we have.”
Kiffin and his assistant coaches will soon hit the road and recruit, and strength and conditioning coach Mark Smith will be this summer’s de facto front man.
Five UT coaches — Kiffin, defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin (Tampa Bay), offensive coordinator Jim Chaney (St. Louis), assistant head coach Ed Orgeron (New Orleans) and offensive tackles and tights end coach James Cregg (Oakland) — spent last season in the NFL.
“The hardest part for me has been all the rules, like the 20-hour rule,” said Monte Kiffin, who hadn’t coached in college since 1982 before arriving in Knoxville. “I’m used to just hanging around there, going up there on Saturdays to work out with players, like the new free agents and stuff that want to get some extra work. You can’t do it here.
“Everybody’s the same, but I wish we didn’t have all these rules. Now this is my first year back (in college), so I’m not calling the NCAA and changing all these rules, I don’t think. I don’t think that would go over real big. But I think there’s a lot of rules, and for players that want to really get better, it’s hard.
“I think you’ve got to have rules — I’m for that, all the way — but it’s been a big transition for me.”
His son the head coach will have a spring exit interview with each Vol, and each will be given offseason goals.
Quarterbacks will spend hours this summer throwing to skill players. Seven-on-seven drills will fill the Neyland-Thompson center. Reports will reach the coaches’ eyes and ears.
And as the Vols have learned since December, this new staff grades everything — even the pre-practice running drills. “Loaf cam” cameras were installed in the weight room to make sure every lift is counted.
“Conditioning is conditioning, and nobody likes to do it, but the main thing is that these (coaches) that have come in, they treat everybody the same,” said sophomore B.J. Coleman from Chattanooga, whose two Saturday touchdown passes should send him confidently into the preseason’s starting quarterback derby.
“They treat everybody the same, from the fifth-year senior to the true freshman,” Coleman said. “That’s very important. Everybody is treated as a University of Tennessee Volunteer football player, and that means you’re held to a high standard. You’re held to those standards where you’ve got to get up at 6 o’clock in the morning and come in and work and run and be productive during the day.”
Five of the Vols’ first six games under the Kiffins will be in Neyland Stadium, beginning against Western Kentucky on Sept. 5 and UCLA visiting a week later.
UT will play at defending national champion Florida on Sept. 19, and a date with mid-major Ohio will precede Southeastern Conference dates with Auburn, Georgia, Alabama and South Carolina.
Veteran tailback Montario Hardesty said Saturday that UT was “a better football team now than we were when we started” spring practice. But as spring-sensation defensive end Chris Walker said, “We’ve got to get a whole lot better, and we don’t have much time to do it. It’s not time to stop anything. It’s time to really get this thing rolling.”
Coleman joked that he “might take a half day off” before continuing his preseason preparations.
Fellow quarterback Jonathan Crompton might not have been joking when he unveiled his spring decompression period: “None.”
“It’s time to go back to work,” Walker said. “We wanted to get some momentum going into this summer and summer camp and everything, and I think that’s what we got done. The coaches, with their energy, when they first came in we were like blindsided by it. But we grew into it, and we learned to love it, and I think it’s something that’s going to help us out.”
If all the current players don’t meet Kiffin’s standards, maybe some of the signees will.
“I think that it’s very important that we have a very productive summer, as opposed to last year,” Coleman said.
Fan appreciation dayThousands attended fan appreciation day at the University of Tennessee Saturday to get autographs from their favorite players and coaches prior to the annual Orange and White game.