Butch Jones completes first Vols staff with Badgers assistant

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Thursday, Butch Jones officially announced every member of his nine-man Tennessee staff but the wide receivers coach.

Three days later, the lone coaching “but” was removed from the Rocky Top equation.

In a release Sunday, the Vols confirmed that Zach Azzanni has been hired as Jones’ receivers coach.  The announcement officially completes Jones’ nine-man coaching staff.

Azzanni spent last year at Wisconsin, becoming the latest part of the mass exodus from UW’s staff after Bret Bielema left for Arkansas.

“We are extremely excited to welcome Coach Azzanni and his family into the Tennessee Football family and to what is historically known as Wide Receiver U,” said Jones. “He brings a wealth of knowledge and a proven track record of developing receivers into reaching their full potential on and off the field.

“As a recruiter, his relentless approach and diligence will pay dividends for us as we work to attract the highest caliber of student-athlete here to the University of Tennessee.”

Azzanni served as Jones’ receivers coach at Central Michigan from 2007-09.  He spent 2010 as part of Urban Meyer‘s staff at Florida.

(Photo credit: Wisconsin athletics)

Rutgers offensive line went curling and it was no Miracurl on Ice

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The Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang are almost over but one of the best moments to happen over in South Korea came early Saturday morning stateside as Team USA completed an improbable run toward a gold medal in curling. John Shuster and company wound up capturing America’s first ever Olympic curling gold medal and fittingly won by beating the No. 1 ranked team in the world from Sweden in what is now being dubbed the Miracurl on Ice.

It’s no stretch to say that curling is not just enjoying its quadrennial moment in the spotlight but is genuinely seeing interest in the sport peak in places from coast-to-coast. That even includes the bustling winter sports capital of… Piscataway.

Rutgers offensive line apparently tried their hands at curling for the first time earlier this week and The Players’ Tribune sent along a camera to see how they did against a local club.

Let’s just say that the Scarlet Knights should stick to football. That said, a Big Ten curling tournament should definitely be in the works ASAP.

Either way, congrats to Team USA on the gold medal and let’s hope their victory tour includes teaching offensive lines far and wide how to bring the, ahem, hammer.

Pitt hires WMU’s Cory Sanders as safeties coach, promotes Charlie Partridge

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It’s taken a little longer than he would have liked but Pat Narduzzi finally has a complete coaching staff.

Pitt announced on Saturday morning that Cory Sanders was joining the program as the Panthers 10th assistant and will be coaching the safeties. The veteran was most recently at Western Michigan in 2017 and also has head coaching experience at the Division II level.

“Cory Sanders really impressed us during the interview process,” Narduzzi said in a statement. “We will be adding a young, up-and-coming coach who has outstanding football knowledge and really excels at teaching the fundamentals. Cory is also a relentless recruiter with a great eye for evaluation. He is a great addition to our staff and now gives us two coaches—along with Archie Collins—who will focus on the secondary.”

Collins, who was hired late last month, is set to focus on coaching the cornerbacks and also heads to the Steel City from a directional school in Michigan (Central, in this case). The pair will essentially split the job that former assistant Renoldo Hill handled before he left to join the Miami Dolphins staff.

The school also announced that defensive line coach Charlie Partridge was being promoted to assistant head coach after his name surfaced in connection to several openings this offseason. Paris Johnson, a former graduate assistant for Narduzzi back at Michigan State, was named assistant director of player personnel as well.

Purdue QB David Blough cleared for spring practice

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In a stark change from most offseason news in the sport, Purdue has something positive personnel-wise to hang its hat on moving forward.

By way of the Indianapolis Star, head coach Jeff Brohm revealed Friday that David Blough is “way ahead of schedule” and has been cleared to participate in spring practice, which kicks off this coming Monday, for the Boilermakers.  Just how much of a participant the quarterback will be remains to be seen, though.

“He’s doing a great job and he will be out there at spring practice and will be participating,” Brohm said according to the Star. ‘Whether it will be fully that remains to be seen. He will be out there Day 1 and doing some portions of practice.

“We’ve got to make sure we protect him, especially in 11-on-11 settings. We’ll see how the first week goes if we can progress on that.”

Blough suffered a dislocated ankle in a November win over Illinois and missed the remainder of the 2017 season.  At the time of the injury, it was thought that it and the subsequent recovery process would keep the junior out of spring practice.

Blough had started the two games leading up to his season-ending injury, with Brohm confirming that the rising senior will be the starter as this offseason kicks off in earnest.  Elijah Sindelar, who reclaimed the starting job after Blough’s injury, will miss spring practice as he continues to recover from a torn ACL on which he played for the last month of the regular season plus the Boilermakers’ bowl game.

Illinois adds longtime NFL assistant; DC Hardy Nickerson given beefed-up title

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There was some movement on the coaching staff front for Lovie Smith Friday.

Illinois announced earlier today that Gill Byrd has been hired by Smith as the Fighting Illini’s safeties coach.  Byrd will also hold the title of passing-game coordinator.

“I’m very pleased to have Gill Byrd join the Illini coaching staff,” said Smith in a statement. “We’ve spent several seasons together in the NFL and I envision Gill bringing a great combination of knowledge and enthusiasm to our program. He will be a terrific influence on the young men he coaches, and, as good a coach as he is, he is probably an even better person.”

Byrd, who played his college football at San Jose State, has spent the past 19 seasons at the NFL level, coaching defensive backs during stops with the St. Louis Rams, Chicago Bears, Tampa Bay Buccaneers and, most recently, with the Buffalo Bills last season.  This will mark Byrd’s first-ever job at any level of college football.

In addition to the hiring of Byrd, the football program also confirmed that Hardy Nickerson has been given the additional title of assistant head coach.  Nickerson has served as the Illini’s defensive coordinator and linebackers coach for each of the past two seasons.