Butch Jones' staff at Tennessee got a little smaller on Monday.
Running backs coach and former Vols running back Jay Graham has decided to leave Tennessee and take a job as an offensive assistant at Florida State. Graham's position with the Seminoles hasn't been announced.
Graham arrived at Tennessee in 2012 after spending three seasons coaching South Carolina's running backs. With Graham in control of the Vols' ground game, Tennessee greatly improved when it came to running the ball. After averaging an SEC-low 90.1 rushing yards per game in 2011, the Vols ranked eighth in the league last fall, averaging 160.3 yards per game. Running backs Rajion Neal and Marlin Lane combined for 1,420 rushing yards and seven touchdowns last season.
The loss of Graham is a big hit to Jones' staff. Not only did he do a very good job of restoring some respectability to the Vols' running game last fall but he's a top-notch recruiter. Before he even arrived at Tennessee, Graham made recruiting headlines by helping to get Marcus Lattimore to South Carolina. He then watched over Lattimore as he enjoyed a fabulous freshman campaign in 2010.
Graham was key when it came to recruiting Tennessee's most high-profile signees in the 2013 class. Most notably, he helped bring in wide receivers Marquez North, an ESPN 150 member, Paul Harris, who enrolled early, and quarterback Riley Ferguson.
Graham was the one coach Jones just couldn't afford to lose this early into his Tennessee tenure. Graham was the only coach from Derek Dooley's staff to be retained by Jones, and while he was slated to make $260,000 this year, he would have been the second-lowest paid assistant on Jones' staff. With how much Graham loved his alma mater and working with UT players, chances are that he'll see a significant raise and get more responsibility at Florida State.
Jones wrote on Twitter Monday that the process for finding a new coach was underway, but replacing someone like Graham will be tough for Jones, as he prepares for his first spring as Tennessee's head coach.