John Kelly says Tennessee athletic director 'open to suggestions' in UT coaching search

University of Tennessee athletic director John Currie, pictured, spoke Sunday afternoon in Knoxville after firing football coach Butch Jones earlier in the day.
University of Tennessee athletic director John Currie, pictured, spoke Sunday afternoon in Knoxville after firing football coach Butch Jones earlier in the day.

KNOXVILLE - Tennessee athletic director John Currie has not hired a search firm to assist with the task of hiring the university's next football coach.

He is, however, listening to input from others, and Tennesee's players appear to be among the people Currie is willing to hear from.

On Wednesday, running back John Kelly said Currie has stressed to the team he is "open to suggestions" on the next coach and what kind of characteristics the coach should have.

"He gave us his contact information, and he says that if we have any questions or any input that we should apply to his decision that we should hit him up and let him know," Kelly said. "I think he's going to really try and find somebody that fits the team well."

photo Tennessee running back John Kelly (4) turns towards the end zone after ducking under a tackle attempt on a 20-yard touchdown run against Southern Mississippi during an NCAA football game at Neyland Stadium on Saturday, Nov. 4, 2017 in Knoxville, Tenn.

Kelly's top criteria?

"Just somebody who is going to be honest," Kelly said. "Honesty, that's really the most important thing to me."

Tennessee players who were asked about the coaching transition this week have shared a variety of thoughts on what they would like to see from the program's next leader. Kelly's request for honesty seemed to cut the sharpest.

The junior from Michigan must decide at the end of this season whether to declare for the NFL draft or return for his senior year, though he said it's not a decision that's on his mind right now. When asked, Kelly said he would "absolutely" like for running backs coach Robert Gilliespie to remain on the next staff, "especially if that's what coach G wants to do."

Former Tennessee running backs coach Jay Graham was the lone holdover from Derek Dooley's staff when the transition from Dooley to Butch Jones was made after the 2012 season. Graham left for Florida State after February's national signing day, and Jones hired Gillespie.

Most new head coaches bring their own assistant coaches, who in turn bring new offensive and defensive playbooks and philosophies. Senior tight end Ethan Wolf said there's not a specific scheme the new coach needs to be successful at Tennessee.

"As long as the next coach comes in here and loves what he does and cares about the players and cares about the school - not saying that Coach Jones didn't by any means - I think that's the biggest thing you look for," Wolf said.

The days since Jones was fired have already been filled with rumors and speculation about who Currie is pursuing as a replacement. The AD made it clear Sunday he is not planning to publicly comment on candidates until he is ready to introduce one as the next coach.

"So I respect your desire to ask those questions very much, but my responsibility is to conduct the process as efficiently and effectively as possible," Currie said Sunday. "And for our student-athletes who are in a time of uncertainty - both our current student-athletes and prospective student-athletes - I owe them everything I have in that regard."

He has also extended a listening ear to those who will play for the next coach.

Junior defensive Kyle Phillips told reporters he wants "somebody hungry, somebody ready to take over."

"It's my senior year next year," Phillips said. "So I'm real excited to see who we'll get and hopefully end my career on a good note."

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