Tennessee Assistant Coaches Meet The Media

SEC Report
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Knoxville, Tenn. – Tennessee’s coaches met with the media on Wednesday. Check out the best of what they had to say.

Offensive Coordinator Mike Bajakian

(On his first week at Tennessee)
“It has been a whirlwind since we have arrived 10 days ago on Sunday. It is a great environment, obviously they are passionate about their football and we are excited about that. We love being in an environment where football is an important part of everyday activity.”

(On the current UT players)
“The few players that I have met, it was finals week when we got here so some of them had already gone, but I like what I have seen so far. I haven’t delved too deeply into the video to get a good sense of where they are athletically, but the personality, and frankly that is as important as their athletic ability, is impressive. Guys want to be successful. They have come in asking how and what to expect. They want to work hard, they want to work well and those are the types of guys you are excited about working with.”

(On the offensive system)
“We will mold the system to the strengths of our personnel that is our bottom line. We are not going to try to be something we are not. If our strength is throwing the ball, we will do that. If it is running the ball, we will do that. Schematically, if we block zone better than we block power we will do that. Or vice versa. We will find out what our guys do well and mold the system to them. The same goes to recruiting. We are going to recruit the best players and mold the system around those players. That is the approach we take.”

(On recruiting and the environment)
“It is relationships. Developing relationships with recruits, with our players, so much of what we do is based on the family environment and getting to know our players closely. We want to get to know our recruits so they know where we are coming from and the type of environment we are trying to create. The difficulty is that we are in a dead period where contact with recruits is limited so you explore all those avenues you can, reaching out to coaches. Number one we have to build those relationships with our current team, with recruits, that will help give us the foundation.”

(On his relationship with Butch Jones)
“You have heard the phrase players coach and that is definitely accurate. I’ve loved working with him, I’ve been coaching around him since 2002-03, when he was the offensive coordinator and I coached quarterbacks. At that time, he always asks for input. He wasn’t one of those guys as a coordinator that locked himself in his office. and came out hours later with the game plan and said `this is what we’re doing.’ He always wanted to know `What do you think?’ or if you came to him and said, `Coach, I want to do this,” and he’d ask you why, and as long as you had a good reason, he was all in. When he asked me to come back in 2007, to be the coordinator, I didn’t even ask questions, I just knew that I was going to enjoy that working relationship. He’s given us the opportunity to coach our positions and our side of the ball. He focuses his attention on being what he calls the `attitude coach.’ He coaches the attitude and mentality of our payers. He is the motivator, and does a great job of it. That allows us to focus on the x’s and o’s, the techniques, and the fundamentals. He has a great grasp of that and a lot of input on that, but he loves the motivational part of the game and that makes my job easier as a coordinator and as a positional coach. It makes it easier when you have a head coach that is motivating your players on a daily basis.”

(On the up-tempo offense)
“In our first stint at Central Michigan when he was the coordinator and I was the quarterbacks coach we utilized the tempo offense at that point. We moved quickly. He went on to West Virginia with Coach [Rich] Rodriguez, that is when I went to the Chicago Bears, but I had always seen the advantages of up tempo. I knew when we reunited, three years later that whatever we were doing we were going to be going as fast as we could. … I think coming into a system that has utilized a no-huddle offense is advantageous, there is a certain degree of familiarity with the communication process and procedure. That is an important part of the whole thing. Once we hit spring ball, we will spend as much time coaching tempo and effort as we will scheme or anything else for at least the first half of spring ball. Once we get them used to volume to the offense. Again it is the tempo, the effort and playing for one another that will lead to success.”



Tight Ends/Special Teams Coach Mark Elder

(On the last few weeks)
“It’s been fast, it’s been very fast. I got a call on Saturday that I was coming down and then a call on Sunday that I need to pack permanently, so I had my wife throwing as much stuff in a bag as we possibly could because had about an hour and a half to be able to get to the airport to make our flight. We came down on Sunday, did recruiting all day as far as watching film, all day Sunday until late at night and then hit the road on Monday morning. It’s been a whirlwind, but it has been great.”

(On recruiting)
“We still have a lot of work to do and a lot of ground to make up, as far as recruiting for both 2013 and 2014. That’s been our focus thus far, is making sure that we are ahead of the game in recruiting, know who we are going after and working hard to continue to build those relationships.”

(On leaving his hometown)
“Certainly growing up in Cincinnati, that is a special place for me, but this opportunity is just tremendous. Having recruited the state, having been here the year before for the game, I knew how special Tennessee was and I am ecstatic to be here.”

(On transitioning from selling one school to another)
“It’s certainly a transition, but this is such an easy school to sell. Who wouldn’t want to come here? This is the greatest place in the country. As far as that is concerned, it is an easy transition because this is such a special place.”

(On having coached multiple positions in his career)
“It has been great. It is something that I really enjoy, having the opportunity to work with different positions. It makes you a more complete coach and I think it allows you to bring different things to the table. Having been a defensive coach for a long time, when I made the transition over to offense I brought a different perspective and a different set of eyes to things. I think that is a positive thing to give you a different perspective, whereas if you have only worked on one side of the football you can be locked in to that. I think I bring that other perspective, the flip-side of what to expect.”

Running Backs Coach Jay Graham

(On the new staff)
“It’s a change, but I’m used to it. This is a good group of guys that have come in. I’ve enjoyed being around them and I’ve enjoyed being around Coach Jones. There are no egos; they work hard, blue-collar coaches. They understand recruiting just from watching tape and understand what they’re looking for. I’ve really just been soaking in all the information.”

(On the emphasis of recruiting the state of Tennessee) 
“I think it’s a great idea. Just to make sure we cover the state as well as we possibly can. Every coach in this state should have a great relationship with the University of Tennessee and that comes from the assistant coaches.”

(On the meeting with the former letterwinners)
“It was a great meeting. You’re in a room with a lot of former players that have won a lot of games. It was great to see. We just talked about how important it was to have our players hear how important it is as far as carrying on the tradition. It’s one thing to have pictures up on the wall of these guys, but when they can see them in person and talk with them that’s an influence that they can have on the players. That’s how I understood and that’s how I started to understand what the tradition meant.”

(On Rajion Neal and Marlin Lane)
“They finished the season better than they started. We’ve got to continue to build on what we finished with. I think that’s the most important thing. Now they know me. They understand what I expect. We spent the whole spring working on what to expect from me so now we can work on other things and I think that’s going to help us.”

(On working with Coach Jones)
“I just think he’s personable. People like spending time with him. You walk away saying, `I really like this guy.’ That’s how I felt when I met him. It has been good to be around him and see how he does things. What he likes, what he doesn’t like… So it’s good to spend time with him.”


Offensive Line Coach Don Mahoney

(On coming into a good situation)
“There are guys who have played a lot of football together and they have been through a lot. It was very, very positive last week sitting down and meeting with them. They were very engaging and had good eye contact. This week I’ve been in touch with the parents. I am reaching out to the parents, calling them and introducing myself. You would be surprised what you can find out about from the parents, some things of interest about that person. I know this, we have to keep building this relationship because, as I have told them, there is something different about each one of them. I have to get the right buttons pushed to get them to play at their best. As a room full of 15 guys, there are different personalities and we all have to be on the same page. They have been through a lot together and they are willing to embrace this change. We have to develop depth. We have to have some guys step up and play at an even higher level than they did last year. That is one of the challenges that I am going to present to them. I hear positive things and I haven’t really sunk into the film yet, but let’s step the game up even more. I know that they are going to take off running with that.”

(On having a coaching staff that has had past success)
“I think it is very important because, obviously right off the bat, just the impression that it puts on the kids to say, `Hey, these guys have been there, they have done that. They have been in big games, they have been in the big arenas, they have played for championships and not just played for championships but in some cases repeat as champions.’ The biggest thing for the guys on the staff who have been with Coach Jones, we know what his expectations are and have seen him work. In six years, from the weight room to Coach Jones to all of it, I have seen it work. It will be put in place.”

(On installing a new system)
“I met with Tiny Richardson a little bit and we talked through some things. That is probably going to be the [biggest] adjustment the kids are going to have to make because, at any time, the calls, the actual terminology is going to be different. Understand this as well, I know that they have now been through three line coaches and from my experience in going through this with Coach Jones from Central [Michigan] to start out with to Cincinnati to here, I’m willing to do what’s best for us. If I even can tweak some things that helps it make more sense for them. I’m not about to create confusion and I told them that. That would be foolish to do that. Quite frankly, after so many years, sometimes as a coach you don’t want to keep staying the same. You always have to work to get better, so I’m willing to tweak some things a little bit. I want to make what is best for them as far as the learning part. Like Coach Jones always says, `We never want our minds to tie up our feet.’ We certainly don’t want to do that up front with as physical as we want to play. Whatever is best for them.”

(On why he has worked with Coach Jones for so long)
“I think it is about how well we get along. It is a matter of the person that Coach Jones is, the father he is, the husband he is, the values off the field are what I want to surround myself with. When I go to work every day and I see guys like Mike Bajakianand Mark Elder and even Steve Stripling, I’ve worked with Willie Martinez before, they are all guys that have the same values for what we stand for and believe in. When you have that for as long the hours that we put in, the work we put in and the demands, that makes coming in to work a heck of a lot easier. And at a place as special as this… That’s why. I know this, I have been with Coach Jones as long as I have because, again, I’ve seen it work, I know it works and I know big things happen. It’s a matter of time that has to be sooner than later, but it makes that easier too. The other thing is that our families have grown to know each other. Having our families as friends, because they are really important as staff for each other because of the time when we are away. That is huge to me being a family man as well.”






Defensive Coordinator John Jancek

(On his transition to Tennessee)
“It was pretty clean for me. When coach Jones called me and said he was going to bring me on as a coordinator, there was no real decision on whether I should coach the bowl, recruiting in these conferences are a major priority, it is our lifeline to our success and there was no way we could miss a week of recruiting for me to be the defensive coordinator in the bowl. I said that I had to go, get on board at Tennessee and start recruiting for the Vols.”

(On his role in the coaching staff)
“I am going to be a walk-around coach. Tommy Thigpen is going to coach the linebackers and I am going to walk-around coordinator and pick and choose different positions to work with. A lot of times during the special teams periods I will grab a couple guys and drill them and do those things.”

(On the defensive scheme)
“We are going to base out of the four-man front and get back to that. Obviously that affects our recruiting so we have to make sure that we are identifying those guys right now so we can target them for the home stretch in recruiting.”

(On the current athletes)
“I can’t really say to be honest with you. I haven’t watched a lot of film, just a couple games. We have some work to do. It is going to be a great challenge. Certainly an opportunity for myself and the defensive coaching staff. It is exciting. We are at a great place. We have great people around us and all the support that we need so we are going to roll up our sleeves and get to work.”

(On gathering a defensive staff with SEC experience)
“That was by design. We have guys that know the league and understand the intensity and level of recruiting and have played in these venues before. They know what to expect when you walk into a place like Tennessee. We identify this as a great home field advantage and when we go on the road our opponents will have an electric atmosphere so that was part of it. It was by design.”

(On his defensive style)
“If I could have my perfect style. I would want to describe it as a defense that plays with great effort. That plays with great intensity, that doesn’t beat itself. Players are in position to make plays and be an exciting group to watch. Part of that style is tackling. To be great tacklers and be physical and when people play Tennessee, they know that they are in for a long game. That is my ideal style. Are we at that point right now, I can’t answer that, I haven’t worked with the guys yet. That is the model and the philosophy that we will constantly be working towards.”

(On the coaching staff already being familiar with one another)
“Continuity is huge in a coaching staff. You don’t want to bring new guys in every year. You want to have continuity, and you want to be familiar with each other and know the day-to-day operations. There is a level of comfort. I think that comfort level around the coaches transcends to the players. So when you have a consistent coaching staff, it can only be a positive thing for the football program.”



Secondary Coach Willie Martinez

(On his knowledge of Tennessee Football)
“A lot because I am from the south. I know people don’t want to say Florida is the south but growing up in south Florida, when I was a kid there wasn’t really Miami, Florida, or Florida State, the powers of college football at that time. But it was the Southeastern Conference. I am very familiar with it because I grew up in the south. I am very familiar with the Southeastern Conference. I know the tradition. It goes back to Coach Majors and what he did when he was here. That is the first recollection I got. First hand notice of that was when we played them in the sugar bowl when I was at Miami. It wasn’t good for us. I just got a good feel for the fans, how passionate they were. It goes back.”

(On recruits’ reaction to Coach Jones)
“Instant respect for the accomplishments of what he has done in his last two stops as far as being a head football coach. Being in the MAAC early in my career, it is a really good conference, there is a lot of good coaching that is involved in that conference. To be able to win to MAAC championships. That is what the talk about, you can see the success. How was it when you got there? How was it when you left? That is how you measure a lot of things. He has done a great job and is well respected.”

(On why he came here)
“Coach Jones and Tennessee, enough said. Tennessee is a great university, great tradition. I think the world of coach. Those two things, that is real easy.”

(On the players struggle with having multiple coaches in multiple years)
“It is not easy. I went through that in my career, it is one of the toughest things. I can relate to that because it happened to me when I was a player, junior to senior year. The way I faced it is, `Look, these guys coming in are good coaches. We have to step it up as players.’ We have to try and instill that in them. Try to get a team that is a player driven team and not a coach driven team. We are always going to be coaching, that is what we love to do. But teaching them that and trying to get the right chemistry will be very important.”


Linebackers Coach Tommy Thigpen


(On the difference of coaching in the SEC) 
“Coaching is coaching. It is the same thing with all of them, you have to get players. They understand that, Butch understands that.

(On Jay Graham
“Jay has been valuable, especially with a lot of the relationships with some of the kids we already have here. He had a lot of contact with the guys so it was easy for him to pass the phone around. Then when you say the name Jay Graham, he played here, a lot of guys know him, know of him. It was a really good transition for him to be part of our staff.”

(On playing in the SEC)
“Every single week, it is the game of the week. Even now with Vanderbilt up, you are playing the Vanderbilt’s, you are playing the South Carolina’s, you are playing the Florida’s, you are playing the Georgia’s, there is no down game. So every week you have to put your `A’ game on. You got out to practice with your construction hat on and be ready to go. There are no let downs in this conference, any week, anyone can beat you. That is what Butch understands. Everywhere he has gone he has kept the intensity high and understands you have to play like it is the national championship.”

(On goals for this program)
“I don’t think there is such a thing as a quick fix in this conference. Our goal is to get better and to see the improvement every single week. We aren’t looking to jump from whatever we were ranked last year to number one or number two but what we need to make sure that happens is that there is a steady improvement every single week and every day they come to work.”



Director of Strength and Conditioning Dave Lawson

(On head coach Butch Jones)
“He’s consistent. I think he has a certain level of expectations that he wants from us as coaches, which trickles down to the athletes. So there is consistency within the whole program.”

(On if being in the SEC changes things)
“Speed is very important – regardless of where you’re playing. Speed is vital in this game – you’ve got to be able to run. The agility, the quickness, the changing direction and then strength is the basis of it. We’ve got to be working on strength.

“They’ve got to be strong and that’s another thing that builds the mental toughness. The stronger you are the more physical you’re going to be. It’s the most competitive conference in the United States. The intensity of the series has got to be at a very high level all of the time.”

(On the willingness of the players to get in the weight room)
“We’ve had guys coming in. It’s been very good. I haven’t met a lot of the guys – more local – because obviously school is out. But guys have been coming in; they’re very interested and want to get busy. I’m the same way… I want to get this stuff done and get to my job.”

(On the new facility)
“It’s very nice. Whoever designed it and put it in did a great job with it.”

Courtesy UT Media Relations

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