It’s not everyday you bring on as a graduate assistant a former NFL starter who played for your school. Tennessee football did just that, though, by naming Robert Ayers Jr. to their staff.
Ayers played defensive end for the Vols from 2004 to 2008 and then enjoyed a 10-year career with the pros, most notably with the Denver Broncos fro 2009 to 2013. He has spent the past two years as a defensive coordinator at two high schools in the area.
Moving up to the college ranks as a graduate assistant suggests Ayers’ plan is to eventually move into an on-field staff role. That may be sooner rather than later. After all, a former NFL player wouldn’t take this role otherwise.
Given his role on the staff and the position he played, it’s safe to say his first on-field role, whenever it comes, is likely to be defensive line coach. As a result, this move suggests he’s in line to succeed Rodney Garner for Tennessee football.
Garner is 56 years old. His first stint with the Vols lasted just two years. You wonder how long he wants to stay in the business if no coordinator or head coaching prospects are on the horizon.
As a result, perhaps Ayers is a guy he could groom into that role. Beyond just learning the ins and outs of coaching defensive line, working with Garner could help Ayers build some recruiting connections too.
There’s no doubt that Garner is among the best recruiters in the SEC. He has proven that during his time with the Vols, the Georgia Bulldogs and the Auburn Tigers.
Ayers has the NFL resume that can help him recruit, and he is now tied to East Tennessee high schools, but the South Carolina native needs connections elsewhere. That’s where Garner can come into play.
Of course, there’s also the chance that Garner isn’t going anywhere and just wants to focus more of his efforts on recruiting, which can allow Ayers to do more analyst work with the line. Either way, this is a valuable hire.
Joining Ayers as a new Tennessee football hire is Andrew Goodman, who will take over as director of football operations. Goodman comes from the UConn Huskies, where he held that same role last year.
A former receiver for the Penn State Nittany Lions, Goodman also held that role with the Brown Bears from 2019 to 2021. He replaces Andrew Warsaw, who followed Alex Golesh to the South Florida Bulls.