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The Commercial Appeal (Memphis, Tennessee)
KNOXVILLE - The University of Tennessee football program knew there would be some eyebrows raised when it hired Ashley Smith in July as the executive assistant to coach Butch Jones.
Smith is the older sister of Trey Smith, a five-star offensive tackle from Jackson who committed to Tennessee on Tuesday.
Smith announced his commitment live on ESPNU from University School of Jackson auditorium with his sister and father flanking him.
Tennessee spokesman Ryan Robinson said Thursday that Ashley Smith, a Tennessee graduate, went through the normal university hiring process before she was hired with a salary of $50,000.
Robinson said Tennessee posted the job online, and Smith was one of three final candidates to be interviewed.
"I understand people might try to connect the dots, but I think once you see what she brings to our department they would understand why we hired her," Robinson said. "She is doing an outstanding job and I think she has a bright future in college athletics. I know she has high aspirations."
Tennessee was the second school to offer Smith a scholarship behind Ole Miss in 2014. The Vols held a lineman camp at University School of Jackson in June and hosted Smith on his official visit last weekend.
Ashley Smith received a bachelor's degree in marketing at Tennessee in 2013 and worked as a team manager for the women's basketball program for four years (2009-13) under Pat Summitt and Holly Warlick. As a senior, Smith was named the head student manager.
According to her LinkedIn account, Smith worked for the NCAA from June 2013 until she was hired by Tennessee.
Among her duties at the NCAA was assisting in the planning and managing of national championships for Division I, II and III men's and women's sports, serving as a project manager for outreach initiatives and developing a social media plan for the Division III women's volleyball championships.
"She actually applied for the director of recruiting job earlier this year and was not qualified for it," Robinson said. "But Ashley really wanted to come back to Tennessee and applied for this job. We felt like she was the best fit."
Smith replaced Keith Pantling at Tennessee. Pantling's title was the associate director of football operations. He is now the athletic director at La Salle High School in Cincinnati. Pantling made $55,000 at UT in 2015, according to a database of salaries for UT employees.
Heather Ervin held a similar position at Tennessee from 2009-14 as the assistant director of football operations, the only female in the SEC to hold that position at the time. Ervin, who is now the director of recruiting operations and player personnel for women's basketball, made $32,802 working for football in 2013, according to a public records request at the time by the News Sentinel.
"Ashley has got her hands in the daily football operations and other stuff in the program," Robinson said. "She works with a lot of our coaches on the day-to-day stuff that needs to get done."
The hiring of a recruit's family member is not unprecedented, although it's more common in college basketball.
At the University of Memphis, John Calipari hired the father of Dajuan Wagner to his staff in 2000, and Josh Pastner, now coaching at Georgia Tech, hired Keelon Lawson to his coaching staff in 2014. Lawson is now in a support role under new Memphis coach Tubby Smith and his sons remain on the team.
In May, University of Washington men's basketball coach Lorenzo Romar hired Michael Porter Sr., the father of star 2017 recruit Michael Porter Jr., as an assistant coach.
Michigan football coach Jim Harbaugh hired the mother of cornerback Wayne Lyons as his director of player development last year while Lyons was still attending Stanford. Lyons transferred to Michigan as a graduate transfer four months later.
Robinson said Tennessee received input from several administrators and coaches at UT about Smith throughout the hiring process before making the hire.
"Those are usually joint decisions," he said. "Once we bring someone in for an interview, they meet with everybody and everybody was sold on Ashley just from her impressive resume at the NCAA."
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