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Tennessee coaches have NFL connections

ATLANTA – Tennessee has assembled a star-studded coaching staff. For evidence, look at the windbreaker worn by Volunteers offensive coordinator Jim Chaney at a news conference on Tuesday; it said “NFL Vols” on the left breast.

Many members of the Volunteers’ staff have NFL experience, and although many of those coaches also have college coaching experience, they have had to adjust their expectations and mentality in dealing with college players as they prepare the Volunteers (7-5) to play Virginia Tech (9-3) in the Chick-fil-A Bowl.

Coaches said Tennessee was not as focused as they would have liked when the team arrived in Atlanta. As the week has gone on, they said the Volunteers have dialed in on the game. But perhaps the team's initial distraction in the big city is been part of the Volunteers' coaches learning experience as they re-adjust to the college game.

In addition to keeping the team focused, one of the most difficult things has been limiting the amount to install before the bowl game.

“I think we’ve done a pretty good job of putting some barometers on ourselves so we don’t get too crazy,” said Chaney, who coached at Purdue from 1997 to 2005 before coaching the St. Louis Rams from 2006 to 2008. “You do have to watch that. There’s no question you can fall victim to that with the time that you have” before a bowl game.

In contrast to Virginia Tech’s long-serving staff, many members of the staff have NFL ties, including Coach Lane Kiffin.

Kiffin was a prolific recruiter as a wide receivers coach and then the offensive coordinator at Southern California, but his most recent gig was as coach of the Oakland Raiders. Monte Kiffin, the coach’s father and the Volunteers defensive coordinator, has coached in college but is better known for his 26 years of NFL coaching experience.

During the season, it was a learning experience for the NFL-minded coaches to adjust to the time restrictions of the college game. The NCAA allows that each program can mandate 20 hours of sport-related activity during the season and eight in the off-season. Any work beyond those parameters is supposed to be up to the individual.

“You don’t have those three-hour meetings we used to have for installation,” said Chaney, the offensive coordinator. “So you’ve got to be much more efficient in your time. You’ve got to have all your meetings set up perfectly when you walk in and be ready to roll. You don’t have them that long. They’re all studying.”

Then Chaney looked at Volunteers running back Montario Hardest, who was sitting next to him on a dais, and asked, “Right, Montario?”

Hardesty flashed a wide grin and said, “Student athletes.”

By Mark Viera  |  December 31, 2009; 10:20 AM ET
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