Cignetti may be next coordinator

The guy who molded high-scoring attacks at Fresno State earlier this decade is the latest name to emerge in Tennessee's search for a new offensive coordinator.

Now that Kippy Brown appears to be staying with the Detroit Lions, Frank Cignetti may be the leading candidate to succeed David Cutcliffe, who recently left the Vol staff to become head man at Duke.

Cignetti, who just completed his first year as quarterbacks coach with the San Francisco 49ers, is scheduled to meet with UT head coach Phillip Fulmer this week, if he hasn't already.

Cignetti, 42, sprang to national prominence during his four-year stint (2002-2005) as Pat Hill's offensive coordinator at Fresno State. His '04 offense scored 65 touchdowns in 12 games, averaged 52.8 points over the final six contests and finished No. 5 nationally in scoring. His '05 offense hung 42 points on top-ranked Southern Cal and finished No. 7 nationally in scoring.

After spending the 2006 season as John Bunting's offensive coordinator at North Carolina, Cignetti joined the 49ers as quarterbacks coach for 2007. All of his luck this season was bad, however. His top quarterback, former No. 1 draft pick Alex Smith, suffered a Game 4 injury and never regained his early season form. He finished with a mere 48.7 completion percentage, 914 passing yards, 2 touchdowns and 4 interceptions.

Journeyman Trent Dilfer took over following Smith's injury but completed just 51.6 percent of his passes for 1,166 yards, with 7 touchdowns and 12 interceptions.

Dilfer was injured in December, so third-stringer Shaun Hill was forced into action. He promptly guided the 49ers to two wins in two starts, completing 68.4 percent of his passes for 501 yards, with 5 TDs and just 1 interception.

Just as Hill began providing a spark, however, he suffered back spasms that forced No. 4 QB Chris Weinke to start the season finale vs. Cleveland. Weinke completed 13 of 22 passes for 104 yards and a touchdown but was sacked five times in a 20-7 loss.

For the season, the 49ers allowed a whopping 55 sacks in 16 games en route to a 5-11 record. (By comparison, UT allowed just 4 sacks in 14 games.) The stats for Cignetti's quarterbacks included 274 completions in 513 attempts (53.4 percent) for 2,320 yards with 15 TDs and 17 interceptions.

Cignetti comes from a football family. His dad, Frank Sr., spent four years as head coach at West Virginia and 20 as head man at Indiana University of Pennsylvania. His brother, Curt, was tight ends coach at North Carolina State in 2006 and is currently receivers coach/recruiting coordinator at Alabama. Coincidentally, Tennessee is looking for aides to coach receivers and tight ends now that Trooper Taylor has left for Oklahoma State and Matt Luke has followed Cutcliffe to Duke.

Frank Jr., played defensive back for his father at IUP, then spent the 1989 season as a graduate assistant for Mike Gottfried at Pittsburgh. The son then joined his dad's staff at IUP, where he served as receivers coach (1990-92), secondary coach (1993-94), quarterbacks coach (1995-98) and offensive coordinator (1997-98). IUP advanced to the NCAA Div. II playoff semifinals four times during this span, twice reaching the national title game.

Young Cignetti left the small college ranks to become an offensive assistant/quality control coach with the NFL's Kansas City Chiefs in 1999. He then coached New Orleans Saints quarterbacks under Jim Haslett in 2000-2001, helping the club win an NFC West title in '00.

After four years as offensive coordinator at Fresno and one at North Carolina, Cignetti returned to the pro ranks with the 49ers last March.


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