Call it what it is. Tennessee’s football team underachieved last year. Yes, there were injuries and a learning curve with a new defensive coordinator. That does not excuse the losses to South Carolina and Vanderbilt nor the seven turnover performance against Texas A&M that lead to a loss in College Station. Truthfully, there is no excuse for Tennessee not finishing last season three games better than their 9-4 final record.
The past is the past, however. Now it’s up to Butch Jones to find the solution to the Vols’ problems this offseason. That’s meant wholesale changes to the coaching staff. Here’s a quick breakdown of the changes Tennessee has made this offseason.
Larry Scott Replaces Mike Debord as Offensive Coordinator: Mike Debord was too conservative. There’s no other way to call it. When his hand was forced because his team was down multiple scores he showed he could be a talented play caller. His initial instinct, however, was to bring a 90’s philosophy into 21st century college football games. It lead to those deficits his team faced. With Scott, Tennessee gets a younger, albeit less proven, play-caller who is well thought of nationwide. Will this lead to more aggressive play calling? That remains to be seen. A fresh perspective for the offense probably isn’t a bad thing and Scott is respected by so many in the coaching fraternity for a reason.
Brady Hoke Replaces Steve Stripling as DL Coach: Brady Hoke comes off of a horrific year as Oregon’s defensive coordinator but isn’t asked to draw up a scheme. Hoke has been a very successful head coach at three different schools. Hoke is a motivator. Expect his unit to improve drastically with the addition of Rock Gullickson as strength and conditioning coach. The Vols have a number of physically talented players who have yet to contribute in a major way during games. It’s up to Hoke to turn potential into results.
Charlton Warren Replaces Willie Martinez as Secondary Coach: Willie Martinez’ units were a liability at times and a strength others. At Tennessee, Georgia, and Cincinnati the one thing secondaries coached by Martinez lacked was consistency. There’s one common denominator to units coached by Charlton Warren. They always finish among the nation’s best in defensive pass efficiency. After watching opposing QB’s light up the Vols back seven last year, Bob Shoop will welcome a secondary that is a strength instead of a weakness. Shoop likes to blitz. Last season his secondary couldn’t be trusted to do enough in coverage to allow for those blitzes.
Walt Wells Replaces Don Mahoney as OL Coach: We don’t really know what to expect from Wells. He was on the staff last season in a different capacity. Tennessee’s OL was among the most underachieving units in the SEC. Simply promoting Wells signals Butch Jones believes his offensive line issues were directly related to a strength and conditioning issues. He’d better be right. Tennessee’s OL has to be a strength next season with a new QB and two new running backs starting the year. The Vols return far too many starters for this unit not to be a strength next season. If it is that will solely be on the coaching staff.
Rock Gullickson is Named Strength Coach: How many times did you watch Tennessee lose the battle at the line of scrimmage on both sides of the ball last season? It’s Gullickson’s job to change that. There’s no reason 240-pound defensive linemen from mid-major schools should be dominating SEC players with 70-pounds more mass. This very well may be the most important hire for Jones this offseason. The strength coach does more than just monitor the weight room. He also sets the tone for intensity and urgency. The Vols lacked both last season.
On the surface this staff looks much better than the one Butch Jones was working with his previous four years. It will need to be. Jones finds himself in a situation where an underachieving team will need to overachieve this year if he’s to be guaranteed a job at Tennessee beyond 2017.