FEATURE: Azzanni & Stripling Sprint To Work

Jan. 10, 2013

By Brian Rice

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. -- Steve Stripling expects to like his new hometown, he just hasn't seen it in the daylight yet.

Stripling, along with wide receivers coach and recruiting coordinator Zach Azzanni took a break from their torrid pace to meet the Tennessee media for the first time on Thursday morning at the Neyland-Thompson Sports Complex.

Stripling, Tennessee's defensive line coach and assistant head coach was named to the Volunteer staff of Butch Jones in December. But began his duties earlier this month after leading Jones' former squad at Cincinnati to a victory over Duke in the Belk Bowl while serving as the Bearcats' interim head coach.

Stripling didn't just hit the ground running, he described his time so far as a sprint, one that has him still wondering exactly how his new hometown looks.

"I've actually been here less than a week, so I haven't even seen Knoxville in the daylight," he said. "It's dark when I come in and it's dark when I head out. The key was to get in here and get acquainted with the staff. They players came back and started classes, so now my focus is getting to know the players and spending time with them."

As a 30-year veteran of coaching in the Big Ten, Big East and other stops, Stripling was familiar with the national profile of the University of Tennessee, but the experience of being a part of it from the inside has blown him away in the short time he has been on campus.

"Growing up, you always hear about Tennessee and what we term the `Power T,'" Stripling said. "I was excited to get here. I didn't really know what to expect, but it is fantastic. I can't tell you how much. Every day I am learning more and more. We are going through it with our team, we are talking about the traditions of Tennessee, so it has been a great experience, not only for the team but for the coaches. We are learning a lot."

Azzanni, who joined the staff this month after staying with Wisconsin through the Badgers' appearance in the Rose Bowl, echoed Stripling's emphasis on learning the history and traditions of the program. As the leader of the Vol receiving corps, Azzanni said the storied tradition of the position at UT was an important lesson he wants to pass on to the current Vols.

"I was like a little kid when I got to meet Joey Kent the other day (at a Vol alumni function hosted by jones in Nashville)," Azzanni said. "I said please come back, sit in receivers' meetings, help me with these guys, they need to know what they're sitting in. They need to know who played here before them, I want them to feel a little uneasy, that's why we have to go play and practice really hard, so you can be the next Joey Kent."

The accomplishments that Tennessee is known for, along with the "Wide Receiver U" moniker that the school picked up for the many NFL players at the position made the job all the more appealing to Azzanni, whose experience at the Division I level ranges from serving as a receivers coach at a pair of BCS conference schools to a season as offensive coordinator at Western Kentucky in 2011.

"This place is special," Azzanni said. "For me to have an opportunity to coach at a place that is nicknamed after my position, I am a receiver guy by heart, I am a wideout coach, that is my passion. We understand the tradition of playing here, we understand the tradition of playing that position here. It is a big deal. It was very appealing."

Once National Signing passes and the schedule slows down for the latest additions to the Volunteer staff, Stripling said he looks forward to seeing the full extent of what Tennessee has to offer.

"There are a lot of doors that I haven't even been in yet," he said. "It is an exciting time."





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