KNOXVILLE – While at the University of Cincinnati, coach Butch Jones and his staff knew that they had to do everything possible to reach out to fans and promote the program. They were competing with the likes of the Cincinnati Bengals and Reds and they had to find a way to promote their program in a busy city.
That’s part of where the idea of having a presence on Twitter came from. Jones, along with many on his staff, created accounts and got to work, 140 characters at a time.
Tight ends/special teams coach Mark Elder is one assistant who had an account at Cincinnati that now has a new Tennessee-related name (@UTCoachElder).
“It wasn’t quite as followed [at Cincinnati] as it is here,” Elder said on Thursday at the first time the new assistant coaches met the Knoxville media. “This has been eye-opening as to how much people are following it here.”
Elder’s follower count has grown to more than 7,000 in his short time in Knoxville. That’s not nearly as many as Jones (@UTCoachJones) has accumulated (54,000+), but still an impressive total for an assistant coach who few in Tennessee knew of before his arrival.
Elder says the coaching staff believes in social media for a variety of reasons. Mostly it’s a way to reach out to potential players and fans.
“It helps you in recruiting, it helps you in public relations and it helps you reach out to the fans and the alums,” Elder said. “That seems to be the hot thing these days, so that’s what we’re trying to do. We’re trying to reach out to the Tennessee fans, reach out to the recruits and let everybody know what’s going on. There’s no better way to do that than Twitter.”
Added defensive coordinator John Jancek (@UTCoachJancek), who has tweeted only one time since signing up, but still has more than 5,000 followers: “Twitter is a way of life now. Social media is just part of life – whether it’s Facebook or Twitter. I think it’s a great way to reach out to people, not only recruits, but fans and people that are interested in the Vol football program. We’re going to do that to keep the interest level high.”
Jones, Jancek, Elder, offensive coordinator Mike Bajakian, offensive line coach Don Mahoney, defensive line coach Steve Stripling, running backs coach Jay Graham and wide receivers coach Zach Azzanni are the assistants currently representing UT on Twitter. Defensive assistant Tommy Thigpen’s account hasn’t been updated from when he was an assistant at Auburn last season.
The coaches have used it thus far for everything from greeting fans to telling where they’ve been on the recruiting trail over the last week.
Thigpen to coach linebackers: The biography for Jancek on Tennessee’s official website says he will be the defensive coordinator and linebackers coach. It also lists Thigpen as the safeties coach. But Jancek described a different arrangment on Thursday.
“I’m going to be a walk-around coordinator and Tommy Thigpen is going to coach the linebackers,” Jancek said.
That means Willie Martinez, a former defensive coordinator at Georgia, will handle the full secondary coaching duties. Martinez is currently listed as just the safeties coach.
Graham relieved to be back: Running backs coach Jay Graham called November a nerve-racking month in the midst of the dismissal of former coach Derek Dooley. He said he didn’t know what the future held for him, but his hope all along was to stay at Tennessee.
It didn’t take him long to tell Jones that he would stay on the staff once asked.
"I just think he's personable – people like spending time with him,” Graham, the lone holdover from Dooley's staff, said of Jones. “You walk away saying, `I really like this guy.' That's how I felt when I met him. It has been good to be around him and see how he does things. What he likes, what he doesn't like – it's good to spend time with him."
Azzanni, Stripling not in town yet: Receivers coach Zach Azzanni and Steve Stripling were the only two assistant coaches who weren't at Tuesday's meeting with the media. Stripling is serving at Cincinnati's interim head coach for the Belk Bowl. Azzanni is staying on through the Rose Bowl for the Badgers.
Daniel Lewis covers Tennessee football for Nooga.com. Follow him on Twitter @Daniel_LewisCBS