On Thursday evening, multiple reports surfaced stating that Tennessee’s head strength and conditioning coach, Craig Fitzgerald, would likely leave his position with the Vols in order to accept a position with the New York Giants. Fitzgerald would go on to confirm the news in a statement via Twitter, stating, “I want to thank Head Coach Jeremy Pruitt, Director of Athletics Phillip Fulmer, Senior Associate Athletic Director Tyler Johnson, our strength staff, and the many student athletes who have represented our program since the spring of 2018. Tennessee is a first-class program and will continue to rise under Coach Pruitt’s and Coach Fulmer’s leadership. We will forever be grateful for our time in Knoxville. I will be returning to the NFL and joining the New York Giants. Thank you for everything and Go Vols!”
Thank you Vol Nation! pic.twitter.com/2bzuvkbfh8
— Craig Fitzgerald (@UTCoachFitz) March 19, 2020
Fitzgerald’s decision to jump back into the NFL came as a shock to many, as he had turned down Maryland, his alma mater, the season before and Alabama just a few weeks prior. The possibility of him returning to the NFL seemed very unlikely considering he left his position with the Houston Texans in order to join Jeremy Pruitt’s staff in Knoxville. However, nevertheless, Fitzgerald ended up leaving Knoxville before his three year contract expired, putting Tennessee head coach Jeremy Pruitt in between a rock and a hard place in terms of finding a replacement.
Hiring a strength and conditioning coach this late in the offseason will be a very tough challenge, leading many to believe that Pruitt would simply promote one of Fitzgerald’s assistants to take over the program. There are many benefits to promoting from within given these circumstances, consistency is a very important aspect of strength and conditioning, hiring someone who has already been in that department and who the student athletes are familiar with could serve as a massive boost.
Artis has been with the Vols since the hiring of Tennessee head coach Jeremy Pruitt in 2018. He played football at Campbell from 2011 to 2014 and is the only member of the strength and conditioning staff that did not undergo Craig Fitzgerald’s program as a player. Before joining Jeremy Pruitt’s staff at Tennessee, he was an assistant at Duke under head strength and conditioning coach Noel Durfey.
Additionally, former Tennessee wide receiver turned radio host Jayson Swain tweeted that he was told Artis was “the most qualified and had the most responsibility” of any coach in the strength and conditioning department outside of Fitzgerald, which has led many to believe that if Pruitt decides to promote from within his choice will be Artis.
Which #Vols assistant has the best chance to replace Craig Fitzgerald?
“He is most qualified and had the most responsibility outside of Fitz”
-Source, on Assistant strength coach, AJ Artis.
— Jayson Swain (@SwainEvent) March 20, 2020
Jerideau is a top pick for the job among Vol Fans. The young coach has served as an assistant strength and conditioning coach at Tennessee since the hiring of Tennessee head coach Jeremy Pruitt in 2018 and learned under Craig Fitzgerald in his time as a player at the University of South Carolina. The former defensive tackle started all 13 games as a Gamecock his senior year and finished the season with 40 tackles.
Jerideau is known for his energy, pushing the players to give it their all every time they step foot into the weight room. While AJ Artis is a more likely option, it wouldn’t surprise anyone to see Jerideau get the nod.
Potential Candidates Outside Of The Program
Aaron Feld (Oregon)
Feld is currently the strength and conditioning coach at the University of Oregon under head coach Mario Cristobal and has been with the Ducks since January of 2018. Prior to moving to Eugene, Feld was an assistant strength and conditioning coach at Georgia, providing him with experience in the SEC. He is a graduate of Mississippi State, and his first opportunity as a coach came at UAB, where he was the head strength and conditioning coach for both the football and women’s basketball programs.
The timetable for a potential hiring remains unknown, but knowing Jeremy Pruitt’s mindset, and track record of past hirings, he will likely attempt to get someone in place sooner rather than later.