After a year with the Oakland Raiders and two with the New York Jets, Michael appeared to be working his way toward the extravagant salary range of an NFL coordinator. Just as the money was getting pretty good, though, he chose to leave the pros and return to UT, where he served as a graduate assistant in 2004.
"There were a number of things that played into the decision," Michael said. "When I left here three years ago I told myself I'd love to be back someday. I love Knoxville, love the University of Tennessee and everything Coach (Phillip) Fulmer stands for in the program here."
Although he says he "really looked forward to that opportunity" to return, Michael concedes that leaving the Jets was no slam dunk.
"To say it was an easy decision ... it wasn't," he said. "You weigh the pros and cons and look to see which outweighs the other. In my gut and in my heart, I knew I wanted to be back here in Knoxville."
Michael is a very analytical guy, which is why he has broken down miles of film during his college and pro coaching careers. Not surprisingly, he's just as meticulous in evaluating his options as he is in evaluating opponents. That's why choosing between the Jets and the Vols required a lot of thought.
"There's positives of staying in New York and staying in the NFL and there's positives in being in Knoxville at the University of Tennessee," he said. "I knew I wanted to be here in Knoxville, and I'm very appreciative of Coach Fulmer giving me this opportunity."
Going from a grad assistant at Tennessee to a quality-control job in the NFL is a leap that even Evel Knievel might be hesitant to attempt. Even after making it, though, Michael was determined to maintain the friendships he had forged on The Hill.
"When you leave a place like Tennessee, you keep those relationships," he said. "I kept those relationships – from Coach Fulmer to Coach (Greg) Adkins to the defensive guys that are here. I stayed in touch with every one of those guys."
Obviously, Michael's hard work as a grad assistant made a very favorable impression on Fulmer. Otherwise, the Vols' head man wouldn't have brought him back as a UT staffer after just three years as a full-time coach.
"As far as what I left impression-wise, I'd hope to think hard work, the willingness to do anything that was asked of me, the willingness to do anything it took to be successful," Michael said. "I think those – tied in to the relationships with everybody here – all played into it."
Given that he has just three years of experience as a full-time coach – all at the pro level – Michael was a little taken aback when Fulmer offered him the Vol job.
"I was surprised at the opportunity to come back here so soon," Michael said. "But this is what I've worked for. This is what I've spent the last three years working to get to – whether it was working in New York or coaching at Tennessee.
"Obviously, this is the route I chose to go, and I'm very, very excited about being back here."