By Mark Nagi
The Knoxville Catholic Fighting Irish made news recently when they hired former Tennessee Vol standout Robert Ayers to be their new defensive line coach. Ayers was picked in the first round of the 2009 NFL Draft by the Denver Broncos and played nine pro seasons with the Broncos, New York Giants and Tampa Bay Buccaneers. We had the chance to catch up with Ayers to talk about the new gig, as well as to get his thoughts on the direction of his alma mater.
The Knoxville Focus: So, how did it come about that you would join the Fighting Irish coaching staff?
Robert Ayers: It has been a long process. I’ve been trying to maneuver my way into the coaching ranks for about a year. I’ve been reaching out to people and to be honest an old teammate of mine, Chris Brown, told me that Coach (Steve) Matthews at Knoxville Catholic needs a D-line coach… I looked them up, looked up who he was and asked to be introduced to him.
KF: Is coaching something you’d like to be doing for a long time?
RA: I knew this was something I wanted to be doing since my fourth or fifth year in the NFL. You have to build your relationships. It’s one thing to be a player but it’s another thing to be a coach. I’ve been trying to prove that I’m a hard worker and it is something I want to do for a long time,
KF: You were around a lot of great coaches during your Tennessee tenure. What have you learned from them as you begin your own coaching career?
RA: Coach Dan Brooks, my D-line coach, is the biggest reason why I wanted to be a coach. When I first got to college, I wasn’t the easiest player to deal with. I was hard-headed. I was stubborn. Brooks stuck with me and became a second Dad to home. All the success I had I can attribute to Coach Brooks. He mentored me and made sure that I stayed on the right path. I wanted to be what Brooks was for me to someone else. It’s my way to give back. All the blessings I have had, I want to find the next Robert Ayers, the next stubborn guy that you could have said about me in 2004, I want to help that person and help turn their life around. Coaching to me is my way of doing that. I can never thank Coach Brooks enough. He inspired me to get into coaching and I’m looking forward to it.
KF: What do you think about the job that Jeremy Pruitt is doing at Tennessee?
RA: I follow everything they are doing, and their recruiting class is going good. I have to give credit to Coach (Phillip) Fulmer (Tennessee’s athletics director). When Fulmer left my senior year (2008) we lost a lot of credibility in recruiting. I think that duo is bringing back respect in recruiting. It will pay off eventually. I know how Rocky Top can be. They want to be national champions, but Rome wasn’t built in a day. Be patient, and hopefully they can turn things around.
Mark Nagi is the author of “Decade of Dysfunction,” which takes an up-close look at all that led to Tennessee’s crazy coaching search back in 2017. The book is available on Amazon.