Tennessee football: Eight assistants reject pay cuts; Two best take them

Tennessee tight end coach Brian Niedermeyer speaks with Tennessee tight end Andrew Craig (86) during Tennessee fall football practice at Haslam Field in Knoxville, Tennessee on Tuesday, October 9, 2018.Kns Volspractice1010
Tennessee tight end coach Brian Niedermeyer speaks with Tennessee tight end Andrew Craig (86) during Tennessee fall football practice at Haslam Field in Knoxville, Tennessee on Tuesday, October 9, 2018.Kns Volspractice1010 /

Tee Martin and Jay Graham are the only Tennessee football Volunteers assistants to take pay cuts.

Meritocracy is dead in the world of Tennessee football. The only two Vols assistant coaches who have actually done their job with their respective units will now be the only ones accepting pay cuts from the university.

Blake Toppmeyer of the Knoxville News Sentinel reported that Jim Chaney, Derrick Ansley, Chris Weinke, Brian Niedermeyer, Will Friend, Shelton Felton, Joe Osovet and A.J. Artis all declined proposed pay cuts by the university to offset losses amidst this pandemic. However, UT alums Tee Martin and Jay Graham accepted them.

Jeremy Pruitt did not take a pay cut this year, but it was already reported he had delayed a pay raise that was to come with his contract extension. So, amidst this 2-4 record and a pandemic, the only people to actually have their pay reduced are the ones who have ever done anything for Tennessee football.

Graham and Martin were high-level producers for the Vols in the mid-1990s, with Graham setting the single-season rushing record in 1995, later broken by Travis Stephens, and Martin quarterbacking Rocky Top to a national title in 1998. Meanwhile, this year, they have actually done their job at their positions.

Martin was tasked with replacing Jauan Jennings and Marquez Callaway. He has helped Josh Palmer emerge and has turned Jalin Hyatt into a deep threat. The problems with the offense have come via mistakes at quarterback and poor play-calls, not what Martin has done with his group.

Graham, meanwhile, is turning Eric Gray into a superstar. Gray has 628 yards from scrimmage and four touchdowns on the year already, Ty Chandler has another 319 yards from scrimmage and two touchdowns and Jabari Small, a three-star freshman, has 80 yards from scrimmage. So the running backs are producing like they should.

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Simply put, none of Tennessee football’s offensive issues are due to running back or receiver. Every single offensive play that has cost them this year was due to either a missed block, a poor decision by Jarrett Guarantano or a predictable play-call. That would fall on the coaching of Friend, Weinke or Chaney. None of them took pay cuts.

You could maybe say that Martin bears some responsibility given the fact that he’s the passing game coordinator, but Weinke hasn’t developed Guarantano, Chaney hasn’t made adjustments and Friend’s line keeps making mistakes. What can Martin do?

On defense, Pruitt tried to make defensive line coach Jimmy Brumbaugh the scapegoat, but nothing’s changed since he was let go. Ansley has been a disaster coaching the secondary, as the Vols’ pass defense is awful. His failures coaching defensive backs is why he is struggling overall as defensive coordinators.

Niedermemer has done a good job coaching inside linebackers to stop the run, but he’s done a horrendous job developing them in coverage. Felton has probably done the best of the group with the edge rushers in Deandre Johnson and Kivon Bennett, but they haven’t replaced the production Darrell Taylor brought last year.

When you look at that, how is it that Martin and Graham were the only ones to accept pay cuts? I’m not going to blame assistants for rejecting them, but Martin and Graham should have been the last to do such things. They are the only coaches performing right now.

Both coaches have been proven commodities at other places when it comes to developing players at their respective positions. They are assets anywhere else. In a workaround way, though, this is another way to scapegoat assistants who don’t deserve it.

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Nobody on the coaching staff has done more for Tennessee football altogether than Martin and Graham. Somehow, though, they have to be the ones to take the salary hit due to the pandemic. That’s embarrassing, but it shows that they still are the only ones prioritizing the university.