While Big Orange County always has and always will want to see former Volunteers' names become synonymous with coaching vacancies, there are some lettermen that fit and some that don't.
With an urgent desire to kickstart one of the worst seasons in modern school history running the football, Tennessee coach Derek Dooley put a smiley face on the fan base, got someone to teach the intricacies of being a Southeastern Conference running back and picked up an already-respected recruiter with the hiring Tuesday of Jay Graham away from South Carolina.
Graham exits stage left from Capital One Bowl preparations with the Gamecocks after helping lead them to a 10-2 record.
South Carolina released a statement from its head coach Steve Spurrier today on Graham's leaving: "Graham did an excellent job here for the past three years. He told me that coaching at his alma mater is something he wanted to do. He's a very good coach and an outstanding person. We wish him the best in his coaching career."
While he committed to Georgia earlier today, Keith Marshall, who is Scout.com's No. 1 running back in the country, let it be known that he was previously considering South Carolina and the primary reason for doing so was Jay Graham.
|Tailback Marlin Lane could benefit more than anyone from the hiring of Jay Graham as running backs coach.|
"I really like coach Graham," Marshall told Scout.com national analyst Chad Simmons. "He is one of the main reasons I am looking at South Carolina. We have talked at least every week or two since they offered me during my junior year. I like the way he teaches, I like his personality, and he really reminds me of my dad. He knows how to be serious, but he knows how to have fun too. I could see myself playing for him."
In light of the parting of ways with long-time commitment Imani Cross, the Tennessee staff appears to be hot on the trail of some of the better running backs in the country with a potential starting job Day 1 as a selling point and now Graham as a coach as another perk.
Currently the Vols have two ball carriers on the commit list. Providing a verbal pledge on Nov. 28 was Quenshaun Watson of Athens, Ga. Alden Hill of Alliance, Ohio, registered for 18 hours' worth of classes last week and is set to enroll on Jan. 10.
Hill didn't know much about Graham at the time of the hiring but appears to be quite pleased with the move.
"Coach Graham seems like he has a great coaching record and has obviously got some great knowledge of football at a high level," Hill said. "I always like to see guys return to their alma mater because it just brings a sense of loyalty to the program. I'm excited to hear from coach Graham and I'm looking forward to meeting him. We welcome him back to Rocky Top."
Other backs likely to see the 865 area code pop up on their phone with Graham's voice on the other end include but not limited to Marshall, Beniquez Brown, Mike Davis, Greg Garmon and possibly I'tavius Mathers. Garmon told InsideTennessee that, as of early Tuesday evening, he had not heard from Graham.
Where Graham will be assigned to recruit state-wise isn't set in stone yet, but he is likely to be placed in charge of specific backs, parts of the Carolinas and anyone with which he has a previous relationship.
A Class of 2013 target of Tennessee's is Brentwood Academy defensive back Jalen Ramsey, who plans to make a push to be the Volunteer State's top player next fall.
"I know him because he recruited my brother at Miami (Ohio), and he was great," Ramsey said. "He was the main reason my brother committed to Miami (Ohio) at first before he left for USC. He told me when I was younger that I'll be a great player and stuff like that."
Among the top beneficiaries to be immediately impacted by Graham are Vol rising sophomores Marlin Lane, Tom Smith and Jaron Toney, who will have the benefit of spring practice to earn the No. 1 spot in the UT backfield.
In order for Tennessee to start regaining respect as a power in the SEC, it must be much more productive running the football. With Graham's teachings and recruiting, that possibility took a quantum leap forward on this December day.