The negativity and anger spread quickly yesterday around Twitter and message boards after the announcement of Jay Graham’s departure from Tennessee.
The outrage was understandable.
Jay Graham was a fan favorite at Tennessee. When Butch Jones was initially hired one of the first questions asked by many was “will Jay Graham be retained?”
It’s understandable why Graham was so popular at Tennessee. He was a standout running back during his time at Tennessee, ranking 6th on the all time rushing list at Tennessee. He began his coaching career as a graduate assistant at Tennessee in 2005. He would go on to serve as the running backs coach at South Carolina, under Steve Spurrier, for three seasons. While at South Carolina he was considered integral in the recruitment of star running back Marcus Lattimore. In 2012 Graham returned to his alma mater, to serve as the running backs coach, much to the fans’ delight. The team’s running game improved considerably during his one season with the Vols. Graham was also noted as an excellent recruiter, he was named a top 50 recruiter by 247Sports earlier this year.
The announcement of Graham leaving for Florida State definitely came as a shock to Volunteer fans. With only a couple of weeks before spring practice begins, it brings back memories of Lane Kiffin’s infamous departure from Rocky Top. Graham likely won’t be looked at with the same disdain that Kiffin is, but their situations are remarkably similar. Kiffin left for his “dream job” after one season, Graham left his alma mater for a lateral move after one season. Some may argue that Graham’s decision is slightly more offensive to Vol fans. I’ll let you be the judge of that.
Now back to Jay Graham’s departure and it’s effect on Tennessee football.
There are 124 teams in the FBS. I can only think of a handful of head coaches whose departure would cripple a program, and even that is debatable, as we’ve seen some very high profile coaches leave programs in recent years. I can’t think of a single position coach that would have a crippling effect on a program if they left (although Sal Sunseri crippled the Vol’s defense by simply coming to Knoxville). I consider myself quite the college football fan, and I can’t even name most of the position coaches in the SEC, so even having the thought that one would be so incredibly important to a team baffles me. Of course you’ve got to a have a good support staff, but that isn’t made up of one person.
The other issue that undoubtedly has Tennessee fans angered is the fact that Jay Graham was a former Vol. A Vol for life (VFL) supposedly, a term that has been thrown around with ease lately. Having former Vols on staff has been very important to Vol fans, but is it realistic? Yes there’s a handful of position coaches and coordinators in the SEC that are coaching at their alma mater, but this typically isn’t the case. I also doubt any position coach that is at their alma mater consider’s that their destination job. It’s nice when it happens, but it’s also rare, and should have little bearing on who is hired. I’d much rather have a coach that meshed well with the whole staff, shared the same philosophies and work ethic.
Another thing you have to remember is that Jay Graham has spent only 6 of his 37 years in Knoxville. Maybe Tennessee doesn’t mean as much to him as you’d expect, or maybe it does, it’s not for us to decide. There are factors in his life as to what makes him happy, and his family, and again those aren’t for us to judge. All we know is that Jay Graham won’t be on the field this fall wearing Tennessee orange, but we’ll still be there supporting Tennessee, so we’ve got to accept Graham’s decision and move forward.
Besides, it’s more important what’s put on the field. It doesn’t matter where a coach went to school, where they’re from, or any of those things. As fans we tend to worry about things out of our control, and that’s to be expected. I believe the SEC has the most passionate fans in the world, too passionate sometimes. A running back coach like Jay Graham, while likable, doesn’t define Tennessee football. Butch Jones doesn’t define Tennessee football. Tennessee football is defined by General Robert Neyland, Johnny Majors, Condredge Holloway, Peyton Manning, Phillip Fulmer, and 102,000 fans dressed in orange and white on Saturdays. It’s everything that’s went into building Tennessee into what it is today, and yes Butch Jones will have a part in that legacy, but we as fans have to trust that he’ll do everything in his power to return Tennessee to prominence. Until he gives me a reason not to, I trust Butch Jones and I trust his decisions as the head football coach of Tennessee.