UT Vols coach Jeremy Pruitt holds a press conference on Signing Day 2017.
The Vols have $905,000 dedicated in salaries to the football team’s strength coach personnel.
“The person besides the coaches that has the most contact with our student-athletes on a day-to-day basis is the strength and conditioning coach and the staff,” Vols athletic director Phillip Fulmer said in an interview with USA TODAY Network – Tennessee. “That’s huge in what we’re doing in any program.”
Who makes what?
Craig Fitzgerald, the team’s director of strength and conditioning, is making $625,000 annually. He’s working under a three-year contract.
Fitzgerald left the same position on the Houston Texans’ staff to join Pruitt’s staff. He has been the strength coach for Penn State, South Carolina and Harvard.
Fitzgerald’s salary will put him in small company. In 2017, Iowa’s Chris Doyle was the only strength coach who earned more than $600,000, according to USA TODAY’s salary database.
Fitzgerald’s four assistants — A.J. Artis, Michael Farrell, Byron Jerideau and Shaq Wilson — are each earning $70,000.
“It seems to me, right now, our investment is paying off,” Fulmer said. “That’s a long-term deal. Like I said the other day, you don’t sprinkle magic dust and all of a sudden gain 50 pounds and become the strongest guy in the conference, but over a period of time, we’ll see a great dividend from that.”
The NCAA allows football programs to have a five-person strength staff.
It’s been a whirlwind past month for Jeremy Pruitt, who was named Tennessee’s coach on Dec. 7. He juggled that job and his role as Alabama’s defensive coordinator until the Crimson Tide won the national championship.
By comparison, Butch Jones‘ final five-man crew was paid a combined figure of $650,000.
“Not only from a nutrition standpoint leading that group, from a strength and conditioning standpoint, but from a culture (standpoint), that person means a lot, and we were prepared to make an investment in that area,” said Fulmer, who became UT’s AD on Dec. 1.
Rock Gullickson, who was Jones’ director of strength and conditioning in 2017, made $375,000, and his four assistants made a combined $275,000. Unlike Fitzgerald’s assistants, who are paid the same rate, Gullickson’s assistants’ salaries ranged from $50,000 to $87,500.
The SEC accounted for six of the top 12 paid strength coaches in 2017. Gullickson’s salary ranked 12th nationally.
Changing of the guard
Tennessee has experienced heavy turnover in its top strength position.
For seniors, Fitzgerald will be their fourth strength coach in as many seasons.
Dave Lawson was Jones’ strength coach from 2013-15. He and Jones parted ways after the 2015 season, and Mike Szerszen took over the duties for 2016, although he didn’t inherit the title. Then Jones tapped Gullickson for the head strength job in 2017, with Szerszen remaining on the strength staff.
Injuries plagued the Vols in each of the past two seasons.
Lawson’s three-year stint is the longest tenure for a head strength coach since Fulmer’s days on the sideline.
During Fulmer’s 17 years as coach, he had just three head strength coaches — Bruno Pauletto, John Stuckey and Johnny Long.
Fitzgerald becomes the program’s seventh strength coach since Fulmer’s coaching career ended after the 2008 season.
“It’s been so inconsistent here for the last several years,” Fulmer said. “Our kids had a lot of catch-up to do. I think if you spend any time with them — and I have — the changes that are going on right now physically, and not just physically but from an emotional standpoint of toughness and pushing themselves and those kind of things, it’s been very good.”
UT National Signing Day celebration | 0:31
University of Tennessee celebrates National Signing Day by introducing coaching staff at the Tennessee Theatre Wednesday, Jan. 7, 2018.
1 of 16
UT Vols signing day 2018 | 3:44
The latest on Tennessee football and signing day with Blake Toppmeyer and Matthew Best
Phil Kaplan/News Sentinel
2 of 16
True or false: Jarrett Guarantano will start season opener | 10:31
The News Sentinel’s Blake Toppmeyer and John Adams discuss offseason topics for Tennessee football.
Angela Gosnell/News Sentinel
3 of 16
Blake Toppmeyer, John Adams & Mike Wilson on Pruitt’s press conference | 5:28
Blake Toppmeyer, John Adams and Mike Wilson on Pruitt’s press conference on Wednesday, January 10, 2018.
4 of 16
The hardest part of juggling two jobs? The guilt, Jeremy Pruitt says | 0:54
Alabama defensive coordinator Jeremy Pruitt, hired as Tennessee’s coach in December, discusses the challenge of juggling two jobs.
Blake Toppmeyer/News Sentinel
5 of 16
Early signing day: Breaking down Tennessee’s current class | 5:43
Tennessee reporters Blake Toppmeyer and Mike Wilson discuss the Vols’ recruiting class heading into the early signing period
Blake Toppmeyer and Mike Wilson/News Sentinel
6 of 16
Alontae Taylor signs with Tennessee football | 0:54
Coffee County senior Alontae Taylor signed with Tennessee on the last day of the early signing period.
7 of 16
VIDEO: Ollie Lane: I can’t wait to be a part of Tennessee football | 0:50
Gibbs’ Ollie Lane signed with the Vols on Early Signing Day Dec. 20, 2017
Diana Nearhos/News Sentinel
8 of 16
Tanner Antonutti is ready to join the Vols | 0:29
Ensworth’s Tanner Antonutti talks about why he signed with Tennessee.
Tom Kreager / USA Today Network – Tennessee
9 of 16
Brant Lawless signs with Tennessee | 0:37
See why Nashville Christian’s Brant Lawless is signing with Tennessee.
10 of 16
Keaton Jones visits UT | 1:57
Keaton Jones, whose bullying video has gone viral, visited with UT Athletics Director Phil Fulmer and members of the Vols football team on Tuesday, Dec. 12, 2017.
Submitted/ University of Tennessee.
11 of 16
Jeremy Pruitt introduced at Vols basketball game | 1:14
Tennessee football coach Jeremy Pruitt was introduced during a timeout at the Vols basketball game on Saturday
Mike Wilson/News Sentinel
12 of 16
Watch a time lapse of The Rock being painted to welcome UT Vols new coach Jeremy Pruitt | 2:17
Watch a time lapse of University of Tennessee sophomore Kate Luffman painting The Rock to welcome UT Vols new coach Jeremy Pruitt.
Brianna Paciorka/News Sentinel
13 of 16
A timeline of Tennessee’s coaching search | 1:51
The Tennessee coaching search has gone through a tumultuous week.
Angela Gosnell/News Sentinel
14 of 16
Phil Fulmer named Vols athletics director | 0:56
Tennessee has named former head football coach Phil Fulmer as the athletics director.
15 of 16
John Currie out as Tennessee athletic director | 0:43
John Currie is out as the Tennessee athletic director after eight months on the job and one chaotic week of a football coaching search, according to media reports.
Angela Gosnell/News Sentinel
16 of 16
UT National Signing Day celebration
UT Vols signing day 2018
True or false: Jarrett Guarantano will start season opener
Blake Toppmeyer, John Adams & Mike Wilson on Pruitt’s press conference
The hardest part of juggling two jobs? The guilt, Jeremy Pruitt says
Early signing day: Breaking down Tennessee’s current class
Alontae Taylor signs with Tennessee football
VIDEO: Ollie Lane: I can’t wait to be a part of Tennessee football
Tanner Antonutti is ready to join the Vols
Brant Lawless signs with Tennessee
Keaton Jones visits UT
Jeremy Pruitt introduced at Vols basketball game
Watch a time lapse of The Rock being painted to welcome UT Vols new coach Jeremy Pruitt
A timeline of Tennessee’s coaching search
Phil Fulmer named Vols athletics director
John Currie out as Tennessee athletic director