KNOXVILLE – Tennessee confirmed the hiring of wide receivers coach Zach Azzanni on Sunday evening.
Azzanni joins Tennessee after serving in the same role at Wisconsin in 2012. The Badgers are currently searching for a head coach after former coach Bret Bielema left for Arkansas earlier this month.
Azzanni, known for his recruiting connections in the Miami area, will also serve as the recruiting coordinator for head coach Butch Jones.
“As a recruiter, his relentless approach and diligence will pay dividends for us as we work to attract the highest caliber of student-athlete here to the University of Tennessee,” Jones said of Azzanni via a release on Sunday evening.
Azzanni also had notable stops as the offensive coordinator at Western Kentucky (2011), as the passing game coordinator and wide receivers coach at Florida (2010) and as the assistant head coach and wide receivers coach at Central Michigan (2007-09) under Jones.
Azzanni played wide receiver for the Chippewas from 1994-98. Jones was an assistant coach at CMU during Azzanni’s senior season. His recruiting prowess, his familiarity with Jones and his experience in the SEC makes him one of the more impressive hires made by Jones in assembling his first staff at UT.
He helped lead Florida to the Outback Bowl in 2010 and was part of the Wisconsin staff this season that got the Badgers to the Rose Bowl.
The 14-year veteran coach might have one of his biggest challenges in rebuilding a Tennessee wide receivers unit that might be decimated by early entries to the NFL. Juniors Justin Hunter and Cordarrelle Patterson, two of the most talented receivers in the SEC, haven’t made an official announcement, but both are projected to leave for the NFL early.
The team’s third-leading receiver, Zach Rogers, is a departing senior. That could leave him with the likes of Vincent Dallas, Pig Howard, Jacob Carter and Drae Bowles – a relatively unproven bunch. If that is the case, Jones has confidence that Azzanni can develop whatever he has to work with.
“He brings a wealth of knowledge and a proven track record of developing receivers into reaching their full potential on and off the field,” Jones said.
Vols land first commitment: The first commitment of the Butch Jones era at Tennessee is athlete/defensive back Lemond Johnson, who switched his commitment from Auburn to Tennessee on Sunday, according to multiple recruiting websites.
The 6-foot-1, 190-pounder from Cooper City, Fla., made the decision after visiting Knoxville over the weekend. He had a previous relationship with safeties coach Willie Martinez and cornerbacks coach Tommy Thigpen, both of whom were on Auburn’s staff this past year.
Johnson plays receiver, running back, quarterback and defensive back for his high school, but is expected to play in the secondary for Tennessee.
“Flashes good acceleration and top-end speed for his size in the open field, but it is not explosive or sudden speed,” ESPN.com wrote in a scouting report of Johnson.
Former assistants landing jobs: Former offensive coordinator Jim Chaney, former offensive line coach Sam Pittman and former wide receivers coach/recruiting coordinator Darin Hinshaw are among the ex-Tennessee assistants who found jobs recently.
Pittman was hired to the same position at Arkansas. Hinshaw has reportedly been named the passing game coordinator and quarterbacks coach at Cincinnati and Chaney is the new offensive coordinator at Arkansas.
“Jim Chaney’s approach will blend well with my ideas as we work to put together a plan for the team we have and over time develop our specific philosophy,” Bielema said.
. Monday is the beginning of the NCAA-mandated dead period in recruiting that will last from Dec. 17-Jan. 3. Coaches are not permitted to host recruits, visit recruits or make phone calls during dead periods.
. Thigpen was in attendance at the Alabama-Mississippi High School All-Star Game on Saturday recruiting multiple Tennessee targets.
. Several former Tennessee players graduated over the weekend including offensive lineman Dallas Thomas, receiver Zach Rogers and cornerback Prentiss Waggner. Former wide receiver David Martin, who went on to play tight end for the Green Bay Packers in the NFL, has also finished his degree and graduated from UT.
Daniel Lewis covers Tennessee football for Nooga.com. Follow him on Twitter @Daniel_LewisCBS