Potential replacements for former Vols' wide receivers coach Zach Azzanni

Potential replacements for former Vols' wide receivers coach Zach Azzanni

February 22nd, 2017 by Patrick Brown in Sports - College

Zach Azzanni

Photo by Contributed Photo /Times Free Press.

KNOXVILLE -- Tennessee will have yet another new coach in its football program for 2017.

Wide receivers Zach Azzanni, one of the original members of Butch Jones's coaching staff, is leaving the Volunteers for the same position with the NFL's Chicago Bears.

Initially also Tennessee's recruiting coordinator, Azzanni assumed the title of passing game coordinator following the 2015 season, but the Vols twice have changed offensive coordinators and this time promoted tight ends coach Larry Scott.

"We are really excited for Zach and his family," Jones said in a statement. "I have known Zach for a long time and this is a path he has wanted to pursue for some time. We can't thank him enough for his loyalty, dedication and hard work over the past four years to our football program.

"We will begin the process of filling this position immediately. It's a position we want to fill as quickly as we can, but we also want to go through the detailed process, which we will."

Azzanni had agreed to a new two-year deal following the 2016 season, but his $350,000 annual base salary was unchanged, and according to his contract he would owe 33 percent of his salary, though the buyout can be waived at Jones's discretion.

After interviewing with the Bears within the last few days, Azzanni, who passed on multiple chances to leave Tennessee during his four seasons with the Vols, accepted their offer late Tuesday night and informed his players on Wednesday morning.   

Following his playing career at Central Michigan, Azzanni began his coaching career at Bowling Green under Urban Meyer before coaching under Jones for three seasons at his alma mater.

He reunited with Meyer at Florida in 2010, spent the 2011 season as Western Kentucky's receivers coach and offensive coordinator and coached one season at Wisconsin before rejoining Jones at Tennessee.

Tennessee's wide receivers underperformed during Azzanni's first three seasons with the Vols, but Josh Malone and Jauan Jennings starred in 2017. The duo combined for 90 receptions, 1,552 yards and 18 touchdown catches. Malone's breakout season prompted his decision to enter the NFL draft early.

Azzanni was a key part of Tennessee's 2017 recruiting class, and the Vols were set to feature eight first- or second-year wideouts this upcoming season.

His replacement will be the fifth new assistant coach on Tennessee's staff, not including the promotion of Scott, a first-time coordinator.

Following offensive coordinator Mike DeBord's decision to go to Indiana instead of retiring, Jones elected to tab Scott as his new coordinator and hired long-time friend and former South Florida, Arizona and North Texas assistant Mike Canales to coach quarterbacks.

The Vols promoted quality control coach Walt Wells to offensive line coach after Don Mahoney's contract was not renewed.

On the defensive side of the ball, former Michigan coach Brady Hoke was hired as defensive line coach as Steve Stripling moved into an off-field role, and Charlton Warren came from North Carolina to replace Willie Martinez in the secondary.

The only returning coaches remaining in their same roles are defensive coordinator Bob Shoop, linebackers coach Tommy Thigpen and running backs coach Robert Gillespie.

As for potential replacements for Azzanni, former Auburn and LSU assistant Dameyune Craig is still on the market after LSU jettisoned him a few weeks ago.

T.J. Weist was Jones's receivers coach at Cincinnati and twice has been an interim head coach at Connecticut in 2013 and South Florida in 2016 -- he guided the Bulls to a Birmingham Bowl win against South Carolina after Willie Taggart took the Oregon job -- but he has minimal power-conference experience.

Kevin Beard was alongside Scott at Miami for two seasons, including as receivers coach in 2015 when Scott took over the Hurricanes on an interim basis. The former Miami star was a quality control coach at Georgia last season, but was hired by new Florida International coach Butch Davis in December.

Maryland receivers coach Chris Beatty was on James Franklin's staff at Vanderbilt in 2011, and the former star wideout at East Tennessee State also previously coached at Northern Illinois, West Virginia, Wisconsin and Virginia.

Contact Patrick Brown at pbrown@timesfreepress.com.