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Who will replace David Johnson? Tennessee has options

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We’ve got a coaching search! Kinda.

Air Force v Tennessee Photo by Stephen Dunn/Getty Images

Tennessee is officially in the market for a running backs coach. David Johnson was announced by Florida State as the running backs coach and recruiting coordinator on Sunday.

Welcome to college football. You’re going to see staff movement like this almost every single year as new coaches fill out their staffs. Tennessee went through it last year, so they’re no strangers to this situation.

On Sunday night, Jeremy Pruitt gave a little information on what he’ll be looking for out of his new staffer.

“Well, we’ll be looking for a guy that, number one, is a good person,” Pruitt said during his radio interview, “that the players come first, that he wants to help them grow and develop as student-athletes on and off the field. Guy that’s a good recruiter, good staff guy, that can coach his position, bring something in special teams and wants to be at the University of Tennessee.” (Via The Sports Animal in Knoxville)

So who are the names to watch with this opening? These positional spots are a little tougher to nail down, but a few names have emerged in the rumor mill.

Former Tennessee running back Jay Graham was the first guy everyone pointed to. The current Texas A&M running backs coach played at Tennessee in the mid 90s, and coached briefly in Knoxville before moving on to Florida State. Could he return home? Graham was elevated to co-offensive coordinator last offseason by Jimbo Fisher. As we’ve seen, money is no issue for Tennessee when it comes to the football staff, but Graham would likely have to give up that title if he came back to Knoxville.

If Pruitt opts to stay in house, Joe Osovet makes sense. The RPO offense specialist has been a support staffer at Tennessee for two seasons and could be ready to move to an on the field role. Osovet made a lot of noise at the JUCO level as a head coach — he could be an asset on the sideline for Jim Chaney next fall.

How about another potential homecoming? Montario Hardesty already has experience on staff with Pruitt at Tennessee, spending 2018 as a quality control coach. He then moved on to Charlotte, where he was named receivers coach. The former Volunteer running back makes sense from a continuity standpoint, and now has a season of on-field coaching experience under his belt.

Des Kitchings is another name to watch that has been connected to Pruitt in the past. He was recently let go by N.C. State after serving as co-offensive coordinator last season for the Wolfpack. Kitchings was a solid recruiter, but perhaps wasn’t ready for the play-calling duties that landed on his plate last fall.

Of course, you could always see a restructure. Brian Niedermeyer is a guy that Pruitt has said can coach any position in the past. Chris Weinke coached running backs before Jim Chaney arrived. If Weinke moved back to running backs, Pruitt could then hire a new quarterbacks coach.