Bob Welton’s resume doesn’t read exactly like a typical director of player personnel at a major university. However, it may actually be perfect.
Welton was a high school coach for seven years and was a scout for the Cleveland Browns for nearly a decade. Then he was hired to join Tennessee’s staff and head up its recruiting efforts. His first day came during the Orange and White game in 2013, when dozens of prospects and family members typically visit campus. It was a whirlwind.
“That was my first day on the job,” Welton told SEC Country. “I didn’t have a darn ‘T’ (Tennessee) shirt to wear. I remember standing in this indoor (practice facility) and thinking there’s this mass of people and what did I get myself into? I went from spending half of my life by myself to being surrounded by people.”
Welton had one choice to make.
“You either sink or swim,” he said.
Welton swam. The Vols have recruited well since he’s been on campus.
Welton’s previous life was very different before he came to Tennessee. As an NFL scout, he was mostly a team of one. He’d offer his opinions before the draft, but when the season began, he was a loner off to find the next undervalued player. However, he never felt unappreciated even as the Browns were undergoing repeated changes in coaching and management.
“It was a great job, loved it, loved the Browns,” Welton said. “It was the NFL.”
At some point, the travel got harder. Welton had two young kids and was on the road 200-plus nights a year. He’d entertained other inquiries about joining the college ranks. However, he knew who to call when he was serious about making the move to college. Welton always remembered this one persistent recruiter from Ferris State College. He had always stayed in touch with Butch Jones, who was now the head coach at Tennessee.
“He recruited my school,” Welton said. “We joke that when I first met him, I had to buy lunch. He didn’t have any money, but we always stayed in contact. We weren’t talking every day, but we were talking enough to stay acquainted. I always respected him. A lot of coaches came through that high school, but something always stood out about him.”
Jones stood out for a number of reasons. He stopped by even in years when Welton didn’t have a player worth a scholarship offer. Also, he knew the school as if he were an alum.
“I would say his details,” Welton said of what impressed him about Jones. “Organization was big. He knew, not only the players he was recruiting, but he knew the names of assistant coaches. He knew things about the school. He did his research so when he came in the school he was just a familiar guy.”
Welton’s jump to the NFL from high school was admittedly rare. Yet he was determined to be focused on football more than a high school coach could be.
“I was like a lot of people; I wanted a change,” Welton said. “The teaching part became harder and harder and I wanted to do football.”
There was no spring football practice in Coloma (Mich.) High School, so Welton did what he could to coach. He even helped out in track and softball just to be active in coaching. Scouting in the NFL wasn’t perfect either. He was rarely around his team because he was always on the road.
“I watched more games in restaurants than in person,” Welton said of his time with the Browns. “That was just part of the job, but that was the downside. Here I love it because I’m connected to the team, especially when you recruit the kids, you get to know them. You get to know their parents. That’s really what drives me everyday.”
When Welton was ready to make a move to college, he knew who to call.
“The timing was perfect,” Welton said of connecting with Jones at Tennessee. “I remember coming on the interview and he said, ‘Just come down and let’s talk about this job.’ So I flew in and my wife looks at me as I’m leaving and says, ‘You’re going to take the job aren’t you? You love that guy. You can’t say ‘no’ to him.’”
Welton had one major question: Was Jones the same person he had met years ago?
“Once I got here, it was just like old times,” Welton said. “He was the same guy and it was pretty much a no brainer…I think there was an instant friendship. We just connected. There was something I liked about him right away.”