Sam Pittman Joins Vols as Offensive Line Coach

While the Vol world was fretting about the unfilled defensive coordinator position and preparing for a men's/women's basketball doubleheader against a pair of top 25 teams in hostile environments, Tennessee quietly made a change in offensive line coaches, with Harry Hiestand, who left for Notre Dame earlier in the day, being replaced by Sam Pittman, until recently of the North Carolina Tar Heels.

Pittman has been at North Carolina since 2007 as offensive line coach and (as of 2011) associate head coach. He was named one of the nation's top 25 recruiters by ESPN.com and has landed top five linemen in each of his last two recruiting classes with the Heels. Before going to North Carolina, Pittman coached the line at Northern Illinois, where his line blocked for 1,500 yard rushers in each of his four years, capped off by Garrett Wolfe's 1,900 yards in 2006.

North Carolina improved from 113th in the nation with 3.0 yards per carry in his first year to 65th with 4.1 yards per carry in 2011, and Pittman will need to orchestrate a similar turnaround at Tennessee, as the Vols were 117th in 2011 with just 2.8 yards per carry.

Many Vol fans are glad to be rid of Harry Hiestand, who coached the offensive line at Tennessee in 2010 and 2011. In addition to a standoffish attitude that made him unpopular with players and media (and perhaps contributed to Tennessee not having a single OL commit for the 2012 recruiting class), Hiestand took a line with four starters returning from 2010 and failed to get much of anything in the way of run-blocking. So after the weeping and gnashing of teeth at the departures of Justin Wilcox, Peter Sirmon, Eric Russell, and Charlie Baggett, this was met with a sigh of relief. And because Hiestand left of his own volition (whether or not his volition was encouraged, we may never know for sure, but there have been whispers), Hiestand will pay Tennessee half his salary instead of the other way around.

Pittman didn't work miracles at UNC and never finished in the top 50 in yards per carry, but he did improve their ground game, and he'll inherit a Tennessee line with four major contributors entering their third year--the magical year in which offensive lineman have often gotten their strength and smarts up to SEC level, so there should be improvement on the field right off the bat. And being a tireless recruiter is always a plus. Whatever else news hits tonight or tomorrow, Tennessee has done well on the offensive line.

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