The Tennessee Vols lost a key staff member on Thursday when strength coach Craig Fitzgerald accepted the same position with the NFL’s New York Giants.

Continuity in the strength program is extremely important for a college football team. And with Fitzgerald on staff, it felt like Tennessee had some longterm stability.

Especially after Fitzgerald turned down Maryland (his alma mater) last year and Alabama (which Vols head coach Jeremy Pruitt alluded to last week) this offseason.

After Fitzgerald said no to those two programs, I figured he’d be around Knoxville for years to come. I didn’t even consider that he might leave Tennessee for the NFL.

That’s because Fitzgerald readily left the Houston Texans after the 2017 season to join Pruitt’s staff. He had a taste of the NFL and willingly made the move back to college.

Going back to the NFL that quickly after leaving didn’t seem to be in the cards for Fitzgerald.

The only reason this move makes any sense at all is because Fitzgerald’s wife is from New York. But even then, it’s still a surprise to see a well paid established strength coach who has turned down Nick Saban agree to a deal with a rookie NFL head coach (Joe Judge will be a first time head coach with the Giants in 2020).

But I guess it was probably surprising to see Fitzgerald leave an established NFL franchise to work for a rookie college head coach a few years ago, too.

One thing to consider in all this: it’s certainly possible that Nick Saban helped facilitate this move. We know from Pruitt’s comments last week that Alabama was interested in Fitzgerald, who elected to stay at UT.

Saban obviously viewed Fitzgerald as not only someone who could help Alabama, but someone who was helping Tennessee’s program improve.

Judge, Fitzgerald’s new boss, is a former assistant under Saban (Alabama special teams coach from 2009-11), so I’m sure the two still have a relationship. It wouldn’t surprise me if Saban tipped Judge off to Fitzgerald.

Tennessee might not be a major threat to Alabama at the moment. But it’s clear the Vols are on the rise. And anything that weakens another SEC program is a win for Saban.

Do we know for sure this is what happened?

Of course not. But knowing Saban, it certainly wouldn’t be shocking.

Featured image via Kyle Zedaker/Tennessee Athletics

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