Tennessee Vols running backs coach David Johnson, one of UT’s key recruiters, announced on Saturday, via VolQuest, that he’s leaving Knoxville to join Mike Norvell’s staff at Florida State.

According to a report from Brett McMurphy, Johnson will serve as the Seminoles’ running backs coach and recruiting coordinator.

Johnson originally joined Tennessee’s staff in late 2017 when Jeremy Pruitt was hired to replace Butch Jones. In 2018, Johnson served as the Vols’ wide receivers coach. He moved to running backs in 2019 to make room for new wide receivers coach Tee Martin.

One of the main reasons Pruitt hired Johnson, who had no prior connection to Pruitt or UT, was because of his ability to recruit the Memphis area.

Johnson was on Norvell’s staff at Memphis in 2016/17, where he developed some key relationships with local Memphis high schools.

Those relationships have paid major dividends for the Vols during Johnson’s three recruiting cycles with the program.

In 2018, the Vols signed Memphis area recruits Greg Emerson and Jeremy Banks. In 2019, Tennessee signed Eric Gray (a future SEC star) and Melvin McBride (who had to medically retire) out of Memphis. And during the recent 2020 early signing period, the Vols signed Omari Thomas, Bryson Eason, Martavius French, Tamarion McDonald and Jabari Small all out of Memphis. Tennessee also has a 2020 commitment from Darion Williamson, who is from Brownsville, TN (about an hour outside of Memphis).

The Vols don’t typically have this type of recruiting success in the Memphis area.

But if Tennessee is going to rise to the top of the SEC, recruiting in Memphis will be key.

Opening Doors

Johnson is directly responsible for UT’s recent success in Memphis.

Sure, it’s a team effort when it comes to signing recruits. But Johnson was able to open a lot of doors in Memphis for the Vols, thanks to his time on the Tigers’ staff in 2016 and 2017.

Johnson didn’t have any previous connection to Memphis when he joined Norvell’s staff in 2016, but during his two years there he was able to craft relationships with local high school coaches. Those relationships proved to be key for the Vols during the last several recruiting cycles.

Tennessee Vols

With Johnson moving on to Florida State, it’s understandable that fans are concerned about UT’s Memphis connection. Obviously it hurts to lose Johnson (that’s why Pruitt tried so hard to keep him in Knoxville), but it doesn’t mean the Vols will cease to have success in Memphis.

Recruiting is all about building relationships. Like I mentioned before, Johnson didn’t have a previous connection to Memphis. But he was able to create connections because he was present in the city and made an effort to build relationships. When Johnson went to Tennessee, those doors to Memphis were opened to the whole Volunteer staff.

Johnson might be gone, but the Vols are already in the door. They now have a presence in Memphis they didn’t have before. The orange and white isn’t foreign to the high school players and coaches in Memphis anymore. Now that they’ve seen their friends and teammates head east to Knoxville, they view Tennessee as a viable option for them.

And it’s all because of the impact of Johnson.

Tennessee will continue to make Memphis a priority. And they should continue to have success in spite of Johnson’s departure.

But make no mistake — every recruit the Vols land from this point forward will be signed in part because Pruitt made the decision to hire David Johnson in 2017.

Featured image via 247Sports/Douglas DeFelice-USA TODAY Sports


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