Tennessee may not have made any big headlines by pulling away any high profile recruits from other schools or signing a big-time recruit they weren’t favored to, but they did get some very big news on Wednesday morning.
It looked like strength and conditioning coordinator Craig Fitzgerald was bound for Maryland heading into the beginning of the early signing period. Fitzgerald was being contacted by new Maryland head coach Mike Locksley to come back to his alma mater to head up the strength and conditioning program there, and there was major appeal for Fitzgerald.
But it was reported this morning that Fitzgerald was, instead, going to stay at Tennessee. And he explained why to ESPN’s Chris Low.
Low broke the news this morning with his report, and he was able to catch up with Fitzgerald and asked him why he elected to stay at Tennessee rather than return “home” to Maryland. According to Fitzgerald, it was about finishing what he started at UT.
“One year as a strength coach isn’t enough because you’re in charge of developing these players,” Fitzgerald told Low. “It’s hard to say, ‘I’m here for you for the long haul’ if you’re out in a year.”
For Tennessee, retaining Fitzgerald comes as a big sigh of relief. Losing him to Maryland would’ve meant the Vols would’ve been searching for their fifth different strength and conditioning coordinator over the last four seasons.
Prior to the 2016 season, former Tennessee head coach Butch Jones elected to part ways with strength coach Dave Lawson. He replaced him with Mike Szerszen, a coach who was already on staff under Lawson at Tennessee. After the 2016 season, Szerszen wasn’t retained, and Jones hired Rock Gullickson to be the new strength and conditioning coordinator.
When Jones was fired and Jeremy Pruitt was hired as UT’s new head coach, he decided not to retain Gullickson and hired Fitzgerald instead.
According to USA Today’s salary database, Craig Fitzgerald is making the second-most money of any strength and conditioning coordinator in college football. Fitzgerald’s annual salary of $625,000 is second only to Iowa’s Chris Doyle who is making $725,000 a year. Alabama’s Scott Cochran is making $585,000 annually.
For Pruitt, retaining Fitzgerald was the best possible way he could’ve started his morning.
“It’s no secret, Craig probably had a couple opportunities,” Pruitt told Low in an interview this afternoon. “I woke up this morning, he was in my office ready to go. He said, ‘I’m here to stay.’ So that started the day off perfect for us.”
So far this offseason, the only change on Tennessee’s coaching staff has been at the offensive coordinator position. Tyson Helton left after one year as the Vols’ OC to take the head coaching job at Western Kentucky. Tennessee has yet to hire his replacement, though.