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Ute assistant heads to NFL

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Utah's football team picked up some good receivers on Wednesday, NCAA letter-of-intent day, but on Thursday morning, it lost its receivers coach and assistant head coach.

Fred Graves, who has been at Utah for 19 years, accepted the receivers coach position with the NFL's Buffalo Bills Thursday morning, just one week after his friend, Gregg Williams, was hired as Bills head coach.

"It came on real quick," said Graves, who coached Williams at Northeast Missouri State some 25 years ago.

The Bills' new offensive coordinator is former New Mexico coach Mike Sheppard.

Graves leaves for Buffalo on Sunday to get ready for NFL combines and then the draft.

"I did it as a player (two years with the Chicago Bears), but I never coached in the NFL," Graves said of realizing a longtime dream. He was up for the Tennessee Titans position two years ago on the recommendation of former Ute Kevin Dyson, who often talks of how well Graves prepared him for pro ball.

"It's tough after being here 19 years to jump up and move. I'm having a hard time leaving Cliff Russell and those guys," Graves said, "but they understand."

Graves already has called some Ute recruits and plans to talk to others that he helped come to Utah in the 2001 class. He thinks they will understand him taking an opportunity in the NFL more so than if he were going to another university.

Graves said he and Williams talked before Christmas about Williams trying to interview for some NFL jobs, but Graves expected Marv Levy or someone else to get the Buffalo job. "Then (Williams) gets the job and calls me up and asks if I wanted the job, so it just kind of worked out, and things are moving kind of fast," Graves said.

He marvels that in all his travels as a player and coach, he's never been to the state of New York.

Graves, who was a Ute halfback and split end from 1968-1971, began coaching at California's Verbum Dei High School in 1974 and went to Northeast Missouri to work with tight ends and receivers in 1975-76. He moved on to Western Illinois and New Mexico State before joining the Ute staff as receivers coach in 1982.

Graves is married to former Ute softballer Michelle Townsend. They have a son, Marcus.

E-MAIL: lham@desnews.com