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March 20, 2013Don Mahoney knew what to expect. One of his good friends in the college coaching business gave him an advance scout on working with Robert Gillespie shortly after Gillespie was hired to be the University of Tennessee's running backs coach earlier this month.
"He gets it. There's no question about it. It was a perfect fit in terms of just immediate gel and all those things and understanding how things time in," said Mahoney, the Vols' first-year offensive line coach who arrived with new coach Butch Jones on Rocky Top in December. "The offense from which he comes from. It all gets back to really what language you're speaking. He's an extremely sharp guy. I really enjoy working with him.
"A very good friend of mine was an offensive line coach with him and he said 'Hey, it's going to be a home run.' and it sure has been. I love working with him. He gets it. And he gets it fast."
Fast quickly is becoming as synonymous a four-letter word around this program as Vols. With Jones and an offensive staff led by the cerebral Mike Bajakian pressing a relentless approach and tempo, Gillespie is adjusting quickly despite having just a week to prepare for the first-ever Camp Butch.
"Big difference. Big difference. Just the attention to detail. Both offenses are high-tempo, but I haven't been a part of an offense that goes this fast," said Gillespie, a former Florida Gator who was hired to fill the void of Jay Graham's sudden departure. "Everything about us is fast and furious. So the guys are understanding that, and we have to do a great job of taking what we understand and learn in walk-through settings and in the meeting rooms and apply it when the pads and the lights come on.
"That's one thing we've got to focus on doing a little better job of."
Though Gillespie's still getting his bearings, it isn't showing on the football field. Through five practices, the coach Jones already is lauding for his recruiting credentials is transitioning smoothly into the frenetic pace of work and holding nothing back in coaching his players.
"He's preaching the same thing but he's just got a different way of getting his across," senior tailback Rajion Neal said. "From what we're doing and from coach Graham, it seems like we're right on track to continue to grow. He's giving us the little cheat codes we need to be successful out here on the field."
Just as Graham's past in the Vols' program helped him relate to players, Neal said Gillespie's SEC pedigree also is a strong ally.
"It's always easier to be coached by a guy that played your position," Neal said. "Because at the end of the day, he's seen more than what we have. And there's going to be things that pop up and he's going to be like 'Let me relay this to them.'"
When not drilling his running backs, Gillespie is emphasizing his own need to join a staff whose nucleus features several coaches with longstanding ties to one another.
"Just putting in the time. These guys have been together for a long time as a staff, and it's an honor to be a guy that they said 'Come in and we're going to trust you to be a part of it.' I'm doing the same thing that I'm asking my players to do," Gillespie explained. "Put the time in, learn the offense and then when I go into the meeting room with the guys I'm prepared. My players have to do the same thing. Watch film and when they get on the field, be accountable for the position.
"I understand these guys have won a lot of games together. For them to see something in me, to say he'll fit into us, because that's what coaching is about. You have to make sure you put guys in the room that are going to be able to be in there and grind. You're going to disagree and argue sometimes, but in the end you have to make sure that room is full of guys that are on the same plane. Have the same goal in mind."