The personal touch

One of Tennessee's new football assistants apparently made a very positive impression on his players this spring. Sign in or subscribe now for all of the details.

Like predecessor Harry Hiestand, new Tennessee offensive line coach Sam Pittman stands nearly a foot shorter than most of the Vol blockers he mentors. That may be their only similarity.

Whereas Hiestand barked orders and kept his troops on the practice field long after the other position groups were showered and dressed, Pittman generally kept both his tongue and his workouts in check during the just-ended spring practice. His approach seems to be more popular with the players.

"He relates to us," rising junior Ja'Wuan James said earlier this spring. "He's an overall great coach and great guy. He talks to us and he's going to get us to where we need to be. Based on these past couple of months, he's a good guy who cares about getting us better. He wants to get this O-line to its full potential."

Rising sophomore Antonio Richardson hinted that Pittman may have more advanced people skills than his sharp-tongued predecessor.

"Coach Pittman is really a player's coach," Richardson said. "He takes the time to really get to know his players, and that's what makes a big difference."

Although he noted that Pittman can be "fiery" in his own right, Richardson added that the new O-line boss is an exceptional communicator.

Left tackle Antonio Richardson likes Pittman's people skills as a coach.
(Danny Parker/

"You don't coach every player the same," Richardson said. "When you get to know your players that's what really makes the difference. It's not that he hollers, cusses you out or whatever. That doesn't make a difference because you know he has your best interest at heart."

Like James, rising senior Dallas Thomas started both years that Hiestand coached the Vol offensive line. But, like James, Thomas seems a bit more comfortable with Pittman than his predecessor.

"He is not as (verbally) aggressive," Thomas said of the new coach. "He still gets his point across when he has to. He is going to talk to you and coach you, but at the same time he is going to let you know what you did wrong and how to correct it."

Hiestand got much of the credit when a freshman-dominated offensive line surpassed expectations in 2010 but got much of the blame when a line with four returning starters underachieved in 2011. His departure for Notre Dame and Tennessee's subsequent hiring of Pittman could prove to be a blessing for all parties involved. Certainly, the new aide seems pleased to be a part of the Volunteer tradition.

"You have the most wins of any football program since 1926," Pittman said earlier this spring. "You have a stadium of 103,000 people, and you have an offensive coordinator (Jim Chaney) and head coach (Derek Dooley) that I believe in. It is Tennessee. I wanted to come here bad. I wanted to be a part of the University of Tennessee."

For what it's worth, the Vols seem really glad to have Pittman on board.

"We learned a lot from coach Hiestand, and it has really just carried over to Coach Pittman," Thomas said. "Coach Pittman has a different style of teaching. We have just accepted Coach Pittman and we are learning from him, too."

One thing Vol blockers are learning from Pittman is that they no longer have to continue practicing for 30 minutes after their teammates finish. Asked how he felt about getting to leave the practice field when the other players did this spring, James laughed.

"It was different," he said. "But we still get the work in, no matter what."

Richardson agreed, noting that the blockers may not work as long as before but they work just as hard as before.

"I'm so accustomed to it (staying late) that, if we were to stay out, it wouldn't really matter," he said. "I'm accustomed to what we do: We're still the hardest-working unit out there, and that's how it's going to stay."

To get a listen to what redshirt freshman Kyler Kerbyson had to say in his first media availability as a Vol, click play on the video below:

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