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Tennessee Volunteers Football Hires Robert Gillespie To Coach Running Backs

Less than a week after Tennessee alum Jay Graham bolted Knoxville for Florida State, coach Butch Jones announced the hiring of Robert Gillespie from West Virginia.

Frank Victores-US PRESSWIRE

When Jay Graham stunned the Tennessee Volunteers by leaving his alma mater to join the staff at Florida State, Vols coach Butch Jones knew he had to react quickly.

On Friday night, Jones' work week-long search ended with the announcement on Twitter that he has hired West Virginia running backs coach and former Florida Gators tailback Robert Gillespie to take Graham's spot on UT's staff.

"I want to welcome Robert Gillespie & his family to the Tennessee Football Family! Coach Gillespie will be joining our staff as the RB coach!"

The hiring was immediately lauded by CBS Sports' Bruce Feldman, who noted that Gillespie's departure was a "tough loss for WVU 8 days before spring ball." Gillespie has coached for Dana Holgerson ever since he has been the head coach in Morgantown. Before that, Gillespie was the running backs coach at Oklahoma State and coached for Steve Spurrier at South Carolina earlier.

This was a move that immediately was viewed as a successful one, and -- though losing Graham stings -- with Gillespie being part of wide-open offenses as a player at Florida and as an assistant under Mike Gundy and Holgerson, he seems to be a better philosophical fit on paper than Graham under this new coaching regime at UT.

Feldman also tweeted this:

Good get for Vols> Gillespie was really well respected inside WVU staff. Tenn, A&M & OU each have hired WVU Off. assts past 2 months.

The Vols' search has been extensive this week and has included interviews with former Chicago Bears running backs coach Tim Spencer, N.C. State coach Des Kitchings, Georgia running backs coach Tony Ball and others. Ultimately, Gillespie's extensive resume for a 33-year-old and his nice recruiting record made him a prominent choice for the Vols.

Though contract numbers haven't yet been made available, Gillespie was considered West Virginia's top recruiter and was making $300,000/year. He will at least be making that and likely more in Knoxville, which will put his salary at more than Graham's $260K. It has been reported that Jones offered Graham more money to keep him, but the former UT running back decided to join Randy Sanders in Tallahassee.

As far as recruiting, that was a top priority for Jones in this search, as was hiring another minority. With Graham leaving, UT only had Tommy Thigpen and Willie Martinez as minority assistants, and Jones sought more diversity with this hire. Because of his recruiting record, Gillespie was a no-brainer.

According to 247's JC Shurburtt, who broke the news that Gillespie had been offered the job earlier in the day, Gillespie facilitated the Miramar, Fla., pipeline to WVU. Gillespie has key ties all over South Florida -- obviously THE hotbed for talent in the nation -- and he also has had experience recruiting the JUCOs in his home state of Mississippi as well as in Kansas.

The three recruiting jewels that credits him with with signing over his career are West Virginia leading rusher last year Andrew Buie, Oklahoma State rising senior cornerback Justin Gilbert -- a sure-fire NFL defensive back -- and Cowboys leading rusher Joseph Randle, who will be one of the top running backs taken in this year's NFL draft.

A quick glance at his recruiting profile turns up these tidbits on Gillespie:

  • He pulled Isaac McDonald this year from Hialeah this past year. This is a LB who had solid offers from Notre Dame, Ole Miss, Nebraska, North Carolina, South Carolina, Stanford, etc. He also signed Dreamius Smith, a big JUCO back who chose West Virginia over Oklahoma State. Jeremy Tyler is a three-star DB with solid offers that he pulled from Atlanta as well.
  • He was West Virginia's primary recruiter in 2012, pulling 10 three-stars -- all 10 from South Florida, Miami area. Travares Copeland and especially DE Eric Kinsey and Devonte Mathis -- who had solid offers from Ohio State, UCLA and Ole Miss, among others -- were the jewels of that class.
  • The big get for him in 2011 was four-star RB Andrew Buie who led the Mountaineers in rushing this year. He's from Jacksonville.
  • Going back even farther, he signed two four-star athletes for Oklahoma State in 2010, including elite runner Joseph Randle, who'll be one of the top four or five running backs taken in this year's draft. Justin Gilbert was expected to be a top few rounds cornerback, but he elected to stay for his senior season in Stillwater next year.
  • At South Carolina, he was the lead recruiter for Akeem Auguste and Kenny Miles. His resume is dotted with signing players a lot of great teams wanted.

It was even more impressive that the Vols were able to secure him since UF coach Will Muschamp offered him the opportunity to go back home to Florida and coach the Gators in 2011, but Gillespie refused and elected to stay with Holgerson, to whom he felt loyal. This is akin to Tee Martin telling UT thanks but no thanks this offseason.

Gillespie's coaching resume [which is really a bit more important than recruiting ... but I'm more of a recruiting guy who knows that UT needed an upgrade there] is just as impressive. Here's his resume, but one thing that we've not mentioned is he coached and mentored former Oklahoma State standout and current San Francisco 49ers running back Kendall Hunter while in Stillwater.

So, the Vols have a full staff again, and it appears they've added a man who is not only a well-respected running backs coach but also an incredibly good recruiter. It would sound like sour grapes for me to make any comparisons between Gillespie and Graham -- who failed to bring the Vols a highly-rated running back recruit though he did an excellent job coaching in his one season -- but let's just say that I'm totally happy with this hire. We'll leave it at that.

Welcome to Big Orange Country, coach!