New Tennessee head coach Jeremy Pruitt has found the man he expects will prepare the Vols to morph into a bigger, more physical SEC program. On Friday, the Houston Chronicle reported that Craig Fitzgerald resigned from his post with the NFL franchise in order to come back to college and lead the Vols.
— Aaron Wilson (@AaronWilson_NFL) January 6, 2018
Fitzgerald replaces Rock Gullickson, another long-time, respected NFL strength coordinator who was hired by coach Butch Jones and left with the entire staff besides Robert Gillespie. Fitzgerald has that blend of being a young, energetic guy while also being a veteran with as good a resume as Tennessee could hope.
A friend of mine works in the Texans’ front office, and he had this to say of Fitzgerald:
“Super good dude. I’ve really enjoyed getting to know him. I guess I’ll just have to hope our next guy is as cool. From a football perspective, I think it would be hard to find a guy with much better of resume. I don’t know a whole lot about the options that are out there, but it’s hard to be disappointed with a guy that has experience at several power five schools (including the SEC) on top of four years with an NFL team.”
This seems like a coup on the surface for the Vols. Fitzgerald was with Bill O’Brien during a successful run at Penn State before following him to the NFL. He was also the South Carolina Gamecocks’ S&C coordinator under Steve Spurrier for three years.
Here’s a video with Fitzgerald talking about some of his methods. This Men’s Health article sheds a little more light on Fitzgerald, who is widely respected in his profession. Buddy Zach Ragan over TennTruth has some quality info on Fitzgerald, too.
This is perhaps the most important low-profile job UT can possibly fill, so it’s essential that Fitzgerald is a home run, and in scouring the Interwebs, I haven’t found one negative thing about it. Under Jones’ regime, the strength and conditioning program was in shambles, and Butch’s botching of that position arguably escalated his demise.
Jones brought Dave Lawson with him from Cincinnati, and though Lawson was unheralded, the Vols seemed to be turning a corner under him after Derek Dooley’s revolving door of S&C coordinators did UT no favors, either. When Lawson and some players and coaches butted heads, Jones removed him and gave the job to associate coordinator Michael Szerszen, which was a complete disaster.
Following Szerszen’s disastrous year, Gullickson was brought in — but you can’t fix strength issues in one year, and the Vols had their share of them. Obviously, Jones’ philosophy was flawed when it comes to the type of body molding he wanted, because Tennessee routinely got pushed around on both lines of scrimmage during the regimes of both Jones and Dooley. Also, as injuries piled up the past two seasons, it became clear there were physical issues.
Now, the Vols turn to Fitzgerald as they hope to rebuild their roster to transition to a 3-4 defense, a pro-style, man-blocking scheme on offense and, most importantly, a quality, capable team that can actually compete in the SEC.
Fitzgerald has his work cut out for him.