By Mark Nagi
Gerald Riggs Jr. played for the Tennessee Volunteers from 2002-2005, rushing for 1893 yards and scoring ten touchdowns. His best season was in 2004, when he gained 1107 yards on the ground.
Recently he moved into the high school football coaching side of the sport when he was hired to coach running backs at North Jackson High School in Stevenson, Alabama. Recently I had the opportunity to speak with him about the new gig, as well as his thoughts on the direction of his alma mater.
Mark Nagi: First of all, how did this opportunity at North Jackson come about?
Gerald Riggs Jr.: I worked with (North Jackson HS head coach) Chandler Tygard when he was at Notre Dame and I was there basically as the strength and conditioning coach and helping out where I could. He was the defensive coordinator at Notre Dame, and we struck up a relationship there. He got the North Jackson job and wanted to make changes on his staff. It was a good situation and I like what he’s doing with the program. There are some good kids there that are really hungry and want to play. It was good timing.
MN: Is this something that you could see yourself doing for a while?
GR: I’ve always wanted to coach football and be involved in some capacity. Everything is about fit and this was a perfect fit for me. It was an opportunity I couldn’t pass up. Football never really leaves you. Any chance to get back out there and compete you take it.
MN: I spoke to (former Vol) Kevin Burnett who is also now a HS football coach, and he mentioned how learning from Tennessee coaches helped him. Do you feel that experience was beneficial as well?
GR: They were some of the best at what they were doing. The lessons we learned from them, how they run their program, you’d be a fool not to take things from that and use for yourself. They definitely had an impact on how I go about coaching. Guys like (former Tennessee strength and conditioning coach) Johnny Long and his staff, they had a tremendous impact on how I go about my business now.
MN: Obviously this is an odd time during COVID-19. How are you able to connect with your new players?
GR: Before this happened, I was going down to North Jackson and meeting the kids and I was able to strike up a relationship with a few of them. I haven’t met all of them but with technology and Zoom I was able to reach out to the kids and have some communication so when we come back, we aren’t meeting each other for the first time.
MN: You seem to have a strong connection with your fellow Tennessee alums…
GR: I can’t speak for other universities but at Tennessee we are very much connected with each other. A lot of us are doing the same thing. A handful of us are in coaching… and we all bounce things off each other. It’s a brotherhood and we all can help each other. We were all tight in school and now getting older we definitely keep each other on the straight and narrow.
MN: Do you feel that Tennessee’s football program is heading in the right direction with Jeremy Pruitt as coach and Phillip Fulmer as the AD?
GR: I absolutely do. Coach Fulmer coming along was one of the best things that happened to us when you look at how things were. I was a little skeptical about it at first, but he has done a great job and stabilized the program. The big thing was having everyone speaking the same language and having one goal. And Coach Pruitt has come in and done what he was hired to do… to recruit well, teach the game of football and what it means to represent the University of Tennessee. I think they are doing a very good job. I’m fairly confident we are gonna be one of those teams that people are gonna have to look out for.