published Wednesday, December 7th, 2011

Ex-Vol Graham to coach UT running backs

KNOXVILLE -- Derek Dooley didn't have to look far in his search for solutions to fix Tennessee's broken ground game.

A quick check of the highlights of the Volunteers' heyday, the school's rushing record book and the coaching staffs of UT's Southeastern Conference rivals did the trick.

Dooley hired former Vols tailback Jay Graham to his staff as running backs coach Tuesday to fill the vacancy created by Charlie Baggett's departure. Graham, a former UT-Chattanooga assistant, had just finished his third season coaching running backs and tight ends at South Carolina.

"Jay is not only one of the most accomplished running backs in Tennessee history, but he has also proven to be one of the top running backs coaches in the SEC," Dooley said in a release. "Jay understands what it means to be a Vol, and we are thrilled to have him on our staff."

The Vols won 38 games and three bowls during Graham's career (1993-96), as the North Carolina native ran for 2,609 yards with some iconic runs. As a junior in 1995, Graham had 11 100-yard games, including a streak of nine. UT's all-time seventh-leading rusher was drafted in the third round by Baltimore and spent six years in the NFL.

He was a graduate assistant for the Vols in 2005 before becoming the Mocs' running backs coach in 2006. Following stops at UT-Martin, San Diego and Miami (Ohio), Graham joined Steve Spurrier's staff at South Carolina in 2009.

"I am thankful to Coach Dooley for giving me the opportunity to return to Tennessee," he said. "Tennessee is a program with great football tradition and fan support, and I am honored to join the coaching staff."

The Vols' staff may not be done making moves. Multiple unconfirmed reports have linked tight ends coach and special teams coordinator Eric Russell to new Washington State coach Mike Leach's staff. Before Dooley hired him at UT, Russell joined Leach's staff at Texas Tech in 2009 after two years with Dooley at Louisiana Tech.

Quarterbacks coach Darin Hinshaw is expected to slide over to coach receivers, with offensive coordinator Jim Chaney working more with the quarterbacks. Hinshaw, one of the Vols' most valuable recruiters, coached receivers at Memphis for three years before joining Dooley at UT.

The Times Free Press reported last week that Baggett decided to retire after two years at UT, but the school's release did not give a reason for his departure.

"I appreciate Charlie's contributions to the Tennessee football program during the last 22 months," said Dooley, who hired the esteemed 11-year NFL coaching veteran from the St. Louis Rams. "Charlie has made an incredibly positive impact toward our efforts to build a strong foundation for future success. He has had an excellent career as a coach, and I am grateful for his efforts during his time at Tennessee."

Chaney has been listed as the running backs coach since Dooley arrived at UT, but graduate assistant Chino Fontenette, Dooley's running backs coach at Louisiana Tech, worked primarily with the Vols' backs. With Graham as the program's first full-time running backs coach since Eddie Gran in 2009, the Vols hope to improve a running game that finished the season 116th nationally and last in the SEC at 90 yards per game.

Including sacks, the Vols averaged less than 3 yards per carry this season.

South Carolina's Marcus Lattimore was the SEC's freshman of the year last season, when he ran for 1,197 yards and 17 touchdowns. He was averaging 117 yards per game and 5 yards per carry in seven games this season before torn ligaments in his knee ended his season. In Lattimore's absence, the Gamecocks went 4-1 and averaged 198.2 yards rushing without their injured star to 197.9 yards with him.

"Finally got a running backs coach," Vols freshman tailback Tom Smith wrote on his Twitter account Tuesday. "I heard he a good one and he played running back for UT. I like that."

Smith and rising sophomore Marlin Lane are the lone full-time tailbacks on UT's roster. Rajion Neal doubled as a wide receiver, and Devrin Young was primarily a return specialist, though the Vols looked to get those two the ball in a variety of ways, including traditional handoffs and tosses.

Graham, who made $175,000 this year, is not expected to stay with 10th-ranked South Carolina for its matchup with Nebraska in the Capital One Bowl on Jan. 2 so he can begin recruiting for the Vols.

UT has been desperate in its search for a running back for its 2012 class. Alden Hill, a 6-foot-2, 220-pound back from Ohio, is expected to enroll at UT in January, and the Vols landed Quenshaun Watson, a speed back from Athens, Ga., last week. Imani Cross, another big back from Gainesville, Ga., who was the Vols' first commitment, has decommited.

"It came to a point where they were looking for other things," Cross told ESPN Monday. "It just didn't work out like I thought, so I decommitted yesterday. I want to look at my options."

Former Florida commitment Mike Davis, a four-star back from Stephenson High School in Stone Mountain, Ga., visited UT last weekend and opened his recruitment after reneging on his pledge to the Gators. The 5-10, 200-pounder is the brother of former Clemson star James Davis.

In Graham, the Vols now have a full-time assistant coach for its present and future running backs.

"Coach Graham did an excellent job here for the past three years," Spurrier told the Columbia media. "He told me that coaching at his alma mater is something he wanted to do. He's a very good coach and an outstanding person. We wish him the best in his coaching career."

about Patrick Brown...

Patrick Brown has been the University of Tennessee beat writer since January 2011. A native of Memphis, Brown graduated from UT in May of 2010 with a bachelor’s degree in Journalism/Electronic Media and worked at the Knoxville News Sentinel for two years on the sports editorial staff and as a freelance contributor. If it’s the NBA, the NFL or SEC football and basketball, he’s probably reading about it or watching it on TV. Contact him ...

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