Zach Azzanni: Wide receivers
Bio: Azzanni played wide receiver at Central Michigan from 1994-98. Tennessee coach Butch Jones was an assistant on staff with the Chippewas during Azzanni’s senior season.
Azzanni began his coaching career the year after graduating. He coached wide receivers at Valparaiso from 1999-2000. He then moved on to be a graduate assistant at Bowling Green from 2001-2002 before being promoted to wide receivers coach there in 2003. He left that job in 2007 to join Jones as the assistant head coach/wide receivers coach at Central Michigan.
He left to join Urban Meyer’s staff at Florida as the wide receivers coach/passing game coordinator in 2010. He had previously worked with Meyer at Bowling Green in 2001.
Azzanni was hired as the offensive coordinator/wide receivers coach at Western Kentucky in 2011. After a one-year stay there, he joined Bret Bielema’s staff at Wisconsin as the receivers coach. Bielema left for Arkansas after the season and Azzanni opted to reunite with Jones instead of waiting to see if he would be retained at Wisconsin. He will help coach the Badgers in the Rose Bowl but will split time working for both schools up until Wisconsin plays Stanford on Jan 2.
He will serve as the wide receivers coach and the recruiting coordinator for the Vols.
What he has to work with: He’ll be charged with rebuilding a unit that will definitely be without Justin Hunter, who has declared early entry into the NFL Draft, and will also probably be without Cordarrelle Patterson, who is expected to follow Hunter to the NFL. He already knew he would be without departing senior Zach Rogers.
That could be 151 receptions, 2,353 yards and 21 touchdowns he’ll be forced to replace.
Vincent Dallas (nine catches, 146 yards), Pig Howard (13 catches, 54 yards) and Jacob Carter (eight catches, 126 yards) are the only returning receivers who recorded stats in 2012. They’ll be joined by redshirt freshman Drae Bowles and sophomore Cody Blanc. Redshirt freshman Jason Croom was recruited as a receiver, but the 6-foot-5, 232-pounder could play tight end next season or some form of a hybrid tight end/receiver in 2013.
The Vols have commitments from three-star Josh Smith of Knoxville and four-star Paul Harris of Upper Marlboro, Md. They’ll continue to pursue the position in recruiting. Marquez North, a 6-4 wide receiver from Charlotte, N.C., is the top target on the board. He’s the No. 2 prep receiver in the nation, according to Rivals.com.
What they’ve said:
. “He brings a wealth of knowledge and a proven track record of developing receivers into reaching their full potential on and off the field. 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 after hiring Azzanni on Dec. 16.
. Azzannihelped coach six conference championship teams. The Rose Bowl will be the seventh bowl game in which he’s coached.
. Athlon Sports ranked his receivers at Central Michigan in 2009 as the ninth-best unit in the nation. He also received the honor of Wide Receivers Coach of the Year that season from FootballScoop.com.
Assessing the hire: Azzanni was the last hire made by Jones, but it was a good one. Some will undoubtedly want to compare him to Tee Martin, the former UT quarterback who is now the receivers coach at Southern California and was courted by Jones before hiring Azzanni.
But Martin’s decision to stay at USC shouldn’t be a reason for UT fans to be down on Azzanni. The 14-year coaching veteran is a good fit for Jones’ staff. He is familiar with Jones, has experience in the SEC, is a proven position coach who has also been a coordinator and is a strong recruiter.
He worked in the state of Florida for a year and also helped recruit the state, especially the Miami area, at several of his other stops. Those ties should pay off for UT.
Daniel Lewis covers Tennessee football for Nooga.com. Follow him on Twitter @Daniel_LewisCBS