KNOXVILLE—Butch Jones moved quickly in the search to replace Jay Graham, and officially found his man Friday with the hiring of Robert Gillespie. His resume is extensive for such a young coach (he’s 33 years old), and he has a track record of success at each of his coaching stops, both on the field and on the recruiting trail.
“We are very excited to welcome Robert and his family into the Tennessee family. Coach Gillespie brings a vast knowledge of the SEC, having been a part of it both as a player and as a coach. Robert is a high-energy coach who will get the most out of his players, and he also has a great reputation in the coaching profession as a relentless recruiter,” Jones said in a statement.
Vol fans may remember Gillespie from his playing days at Florida, where he carried the ball for Steve Spurrier from 1998-2001. After a brief stint playing professionally for the Redskins and Frankfurt Galaxy, he finished his degree and turned his focus to coaching.
Gillespie began his coaching career at South Carolina in 2005 as a graduate assistant, and was promoted to running backs coach in 2006. The Gamecock ground game saw a 61% increase in production in his first year at the helm. He stayed with the South Carolina through 2008 before becoming Oklahoma State’s running backs coach in 2009. In his first year on Mike Gundy’s staff, the Cowboys led the Big 12 in rushing, and their offense ranked third nationally. While at Oklahoma State, Gillespie coached two runnings backs now playing in the NFL, Kendall Hunter (San Francisco 49ers) and Keith Toston (Jacksonville Jaguars). He also signed 4-star running back Joseph Randle, who led the Big 12 in rushing in 2012 and will be taken in the early rounds of the NFL draft this April.
Cowboys offensive coordinator Dana Holgorsen was hired as the head coach at West Virginia in 2011, and Gillespie followed him to Morgantown to direct the ground game. Shortly after accepting a position with the Mountaineers, Will Muschamp tried to lure Gillespie to Gainesville. He refused, citing his commitment to Dana Holgorsen. One columnist wrote of his decision to stay at WVU, “It appears, however, that Robert Gillespie is made of stronger moral fiber than others.” During his tenure with the Mountaineers, Gillespie pulled 4-star running back Andrew Buie from Jacksonville, Florida, and Buie led WVU in rushing last season. The Mountaineers averaged 4.8 yards per carry in 2012, and rushed for 171.85 yards per game.
Simply put, Gillespie seems like a great fit for this staff. He is accustomed to coaching in spread offenses which emphasize the ground game, and is a relentless recruiter with a proven track record of signing and developing players with NFL-caliber talent. He was named Big East Recruiter of the Year in 2012 by Scout and chosen as one of the top 50 recruiters in the nation by 247Sports. Look for the Tennessee ground game to continue to improve this season under Gillespie’s guidance. We’ll have more on Gillespie when Football Time in Tennessee hits newsstands in May.