KNOXVILLE — Butch Jones needed less than 24 hours to begin assembling his coaching staff.
Before Tennessee's new football coach could start lining up his assistants, he had to make decisions on those who worked for dismissed head coach Derek Dooley.
Two sources close to the Volunteers football program confirmed to the Times Free Press on Saturday that running backs coach Jay Graham is the lone Dooley assistant Jones will retain.
Another source familiar with Cincinnati's program, where Jones spent the past three seasons, said he expected Dave Lawson, Jones' strength and conditioning coach for the past six seasons at Central Michigan and Cincinnati, to join Jones at Tennessee.
If current strength and conditioning coach Ron McKeefery isn't retained, his replacement would be Tennessee's sixth strength coach since the 2008 season began.
UT has made no official announcement regarding any changes to its coaching staff.
A former tailback for the Vols, Graham was one of seven assistants who joined Dooley's staff last offseason. Defensive coordinator Sal Sunseri signed a three-year contract worth $2.4 million, and special teams coordinator and tight ends coach Charlie Coiner got a one-year deal. The five other first-year assistants signed two-year contracts.
As for the holdovers from 2011, receivers coach/recruiting coordinator Darin Hinshaw signed a new two-year deal in March, and offensive coordinator Jim Chaney, who came to Tennessee with former coach Lane Kiffin in 2009, had one year remaining on his original four-year deal.
Linked to the coordinator openings at Missouri and North Carolina State, Chaney is guaranteed the salary from the final year on his contract in which he was scheduled to make $600,000.
The buyout numbers for the other outgoing assistants are fluid. According to their contracts, those assistants must use their "reasonable best efforts to mitigate" Tennessee's obligated buyout payments for the rest of their deals by "making reasonable and diligent efforts as soon as practicable" to find comparable new employment. Should they find new employment, Tennessee would have to pay the difference.
For example, if a coach who was slated to make $250,000 next season finds a new position that pays him $200,000, Tennessee would owe that coach $50,000. The maximum possible sum in buyout money to the eight outgoing assistants could reach $3 million, which, in addition to Dooley's $5 million buyout to be paid over four years and Chaney's guaranteed sum, would make the overall total to change staffs in the vicinity of $9 million.
In addition to Graham, offensive line coach Sam Pittman appeared to be the Dooley assistant with the best chance of staying at Tennessee. The Vols' front five transformed from a group that paved the way for the nation's fifth-worst ground game in 2011 to the foundation of a prolific offense, one of the best pass-protecting groups in the country this season and a talented group with several potential NFL players.
Junior offensive tackle Ja'Wuan James went public with his unit's desire that Pittman stay, and his departure could increase the chances that James and guard Zach Fulton decide to declare for the NFL draft as juniors.
Jones vowed at his introductory news conference Friday that he'd assemble the "best staff in America" and suggested that some of his assistants could follow him from Cincinnati. Four coaches on his staff with the Bearcats followed him to Cincinnati from Central Michigan in 2010, including offensive coordinator Mike Bajakian and offensive line coach Dan Mahoney.
Defensive coordinator John Jancek joined Cincinnati's staff in 2010 after five seasons as Georgia's linebackers coach and orchestrated a defense that nationally finished 41st in yards allowed and 12th in points allowed.
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 ...