KNOXVILLE — Butch Jones finished his first week as Tennessee's head football coach by filling the final opening on his coaching staff and earning his first verbal commitment.
Tennessee announced the hire of Zach Azzanni as its receivers coach and recruiting coordinator on Sunday evening, shortly after Florida athlete Lemond Johnson flipped his verbal commitment from Auburn to the Volunteers.
The 36-year-old Azzanni was the receivers coach at Wisconsin this season. He had two stints with current Ohio State coach Urban Meyer at Bowling Green as a graduate assistant (2001-02) and Florida as the receivers coach and passing game coordinator (2010). Jones' tie to Azzanni came at Central Michigan, where Azzanni was his receivers coach and assistant head coach with the Chippewas for his three seasons as head coach.
"We are extremely excited to welcome Coach Azzanni and his family into the Tennessee football family and to what is historically known as 'Wide Receiver U.,'" Jones said in Tennessee's release. "He brings a wealth of knowledge and a proven track record of developing receivers into reaching their full potential on and off the field. As a recruiter, his relentless approach and diligence will pay dividends for us as we work to attract the caliber of student-athlete here."
Azzanni played receiver at Central Michigan and began his coaching career at Valparaiso before Meyer gave him his chance at Bowling Green. After Meyer left for Utah, Azzanni became a full-time assistant for the Falcons for four seasons until Jones hired him in 2007. Once Jones left for Cincinnati, Azzanni joined Meyer at Florida for a season and spent 2011 as the offensive coordinator and receivers coach at Western Kentucky for one season before joining the Badgers' staff.
Jones offered the receivers coach position to Tee Martin and met with the former Tennessee quarterback in Knoxville a week ago, but Martin ultimately decided to stay on Lane Kiffin's staff at Southern California.
The Vols figure to return an unproven receiving corps for Azzanni's first season. Juniors Justin Hunter and Cordarrelle Patterson very likely will enter the NFL draft, and Zach Rogers finished his college career this season. The potential loss of its top three receivers leaves Tennessee with Vincent Dallas, Alton "Pig" Howard and Jacob Carter -- a trio that combined for 30 catches, 329 yards and three touchdowns.
As freshmen this season, Cody Blanc played but caught no passes, Drae Bowles redshirted and Jason Croom received a medical redshirt following shoulder surgery and began the process of switching to tight end. Tennessee holds verbal commitments from four-star Maryland receiver Paul Harris and Knoxville wideout Josh Smith. One of the bigger prized receiver prospects in the 2013 class for whom the Vols are in the mix is Charlotte four-star recruit MarQuez North.
Tennessee confirmed the hire of nine assistants coaches on Thursday, and two of those assistants helped Jones land his first verbal pledge from Johnson, who committed to Auburn in June.
Willie Martinez recruited the three-star athlete while serving as the Tigers' secondary coach and used that prior relationship to convince Jones to take an official visit this weekend to Tennessee, where Martinez is now coaching safeties.
The 5-foot-11 Johnson, from Cooper City High School in Fort Lauderdale, held scholarship offers from LSU, Vanderbilt, Kentucky, North Carolina State, Central Florida, South Florida and others.
Tennessee currently has 17 public commitments, though that number will continue to change through attrition from the current list and addition from a crop of recruits the new staff will pursue.
The Vols lost two three-star linebacker commitments this week alone. Florida's Dominic Zanca switched his commitment to Duke and Hawaii's Colton Goeas reopened his recruitment. Kameron Miles, a four-star safety from Texas, flipped his commitment to Texas A&M in November shortly after the home-state Aggies offered.
The Vols are fighting to keep two long-time defensive commitments from Hutchinson Community College, the same junior college that brought them Patterson this season. Defensive tackle Ben Bradley has taken recent visits to Missouri, Georgia and Nebraska and could sign this week. Linebacker De'Vondre Campbell took official visits to Texas and Minnesota over the past two weekends.
Johnson and Clarksville four-star athlete Jalen Reeves-Maybin, who also took his official visit to Knoxville this weekend, are expected to enroll at Tennessee in January.
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 ...