Butch Jones said Monday he takes other programs' inquiries into potentially hiring members of his coaching staff away as a compliment to the direction Tennessee is headed. If that's the case, Jones was paid a heavy compliment Tuesday when Eastern Kentucky University announced it has hired Vols tight ends coach and special teams coordinator Mark Elder as its 14th head coach in school history.
"I'm excited, blessed and honored for the opportunity to lead one of the most tradition rich programs in college football," Elder said in a press release. "It didn't take me long to realize that this is a special place. (My wife) Lindsey and I look forward to becoming a part of the Richmond community."
Elder came to Tennessee with head coach Butch Jones from Cincinnati in 2013 and has been with Jones since he was hired as head coach at Central Michigan in 2007.
"Eastern Kentucky has not only hired an outstanding football coach, but an even better person, teacher, mentor and motivator in Mark Elder," Jones said in the release. "I would like to congratulate and also thank Mark for nine great years. I am very excited for the opportunity he, his wife Lindsey and son Owen are about to take on and I wish them all the best at Eastern Kentucky."
During his time in Knoxville, the third-year Tennessee coach oversaw one of the best special teams units in the country. Tennessee finished the 2015 regular season ranked first in the country in average kickoff return yards with 33.41 per return and No. 2 in punt return yard average at 18.26 yards per clip. Kick returner Evan Berry finished fifth in the NCAA in returns of more than 30 yards and the punting unit averaged 45.07 yards per kick — good for fifth in the FBS.
"It is humbling to have the opportunity to lead the same program that legendary coach Roy Kidd built into a national powerhouse," said Elder. "It's important to me that we maintain the standards, both on and off the field, that coach Kidd established during his Hall of Fame career."
Along with his on-field duties, Elder served as a tenacious recruiter who helped sign players from North Carolina, South Carolina and the Memphis area, along with tight ends and specialists across the country.
The departure leaves Tennessee with an opening at both tight ends coach and special teams coordinator. Elder could not be reached for comment.