KNOXVILLE — When the Tennessee football coaches introduced themselves to fans at the Tennessee Theatre in downtown Knoxville last week, two of the 10 assistants received particularly loud ovations.
The most enthusiastic reception went to former Tennessee defensive back Terry Fair, who is back with the Volunteers as the cornerbacks coach.
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Then there was running backs coach Robert Gillespie, who was retained by Jeremy Pruitt after spending five years on Butch Jones’ staff.
"We love you, Robert!" one fan yelled from the audience as Gillespie took the microphone and said how fortunate he was to be getting a second opportunity to coach at Tennessee.
"Love you back," Gillespie said.
Despite all the love, Tennessee and Gillespie will part ways, a source confirmed to the Times Free Press on Tuesday.
When contract information for the assistant coaches was released last week, Gillespie was the only staff member on a one-year deal. His departure comes less than a week after the Feb. 7 signing date.
The circumstances around Gillespie’s departure mirror those in which he became part of the program.
When Jones was hired to replace Derek Dooley in 2012, Jones kept then-running backs coach Jay Graham on staff through national signing day. Graham left after signing day for Florida State, and Gillespie was hired from West Virginia.
In his five years with Tennessee, he has developed a reputation as one of the top recruiters on staff while coaching players such as Alvin Kamara, Jalen Hurd and John Kelly.
The former Florida running back known to his players as "Coach G" was set to make $510,000 this season, the same that he made last year.
During the event at the Tennessee Theatre, audience members were allowed to ask Pruitt questions.
"You’ve got somebody up there that’s meant a lot to this university the last five years, and that’s Coach G," said a man identified as Mike from Farragut. "I just wondered if you could expound upon why you chose to keep him here?"
Pruitt paced the stage as he offered a response.
"You know, when you go into a program, obviously if there’s a change, something has been happening and you haven’t had success," he said. "Recruiting against Tennessee, there’s guys you know if you follow them into a house, you kind of know what they’ve done and respect what they’ve done and you look at the way his players have played. (He’s) very well respected in the profession, and we’re excited that he’s here."
Tennessee signed running back Jeremy Banks from Cordova High School near Memphis during the December signing period and return Ty Chandler and Tim Jordan, who were freshmen last season. The Vols lost Kelly, who is forgoing his final year of eligibility to enter the NFL draft, after he led the team in rushing in 2017.
Contact David Cobb at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @DavidWCobb and on Facebook at facebook.com/volsupdate.