Butch Jones’ coaching and administrative staff looks much different than it did last season and, even more so, from when he was hired in 2012.
That was further punctuated when Matt Wilson decided to leave Tennessee’s recruiting office this week and continue his career at Indiana, which isn’t exactly a football mecca. Wilson was described as a “recruiting personnel ace” by 247Sports.
Wilson will join former UT offensive coordinator Mike DeBord and former Vols graduate assistant Nick Sheridan at Indiana (Sheridan is IU’s new quarterbacks coach). Suddenly, Tennessee doesn’t seem like the hot place to be, which seemed to be the case when Jones was hired.
So are the Vols better off headed into 2017 than they were in Jones’ previous four seasons? That’s debatable.
The DeBord loss solely as a coordinator wasn’t much of a loss. He was replaced by Larry Scott, who coached the Vols’ special teams and tight ends in 2016. Whoever is named UT’s offensive coordinator doesn’t really matter; Jones will run his offense no matter the coordinator.
But keeping Scott is significant even though Jones had to give him an inflated title. Scott is an excellent recruiter, especially in Florida. On the other hand, DeBord was able to help UT’s offensive line. It wasn’t perfect, but DeBord took average offensive linemen and made them look better. Former offensive line coach Don Mahoney took a talented offensive line in 2013 and made them look average.
It’s worth noting that Scott never has called plays in his career. There’s a lot on the line this season for a trial run. Don’t be surprised if Jones handles those duties.
The Vols replaced Mahoney and DeBord’s influence with Walt Wells, who was an offensive quality control assistant last year for the Vols. His résumé isn’t all that sexy. Wells’ most notable coaching stops are Eastern Kentucky, New Mexico State, USF and Western Kentucky. And Jones promoted Wells despite Wells being charged with DUI and agreeing to accept a reckless driving charge last year while employed by UT. Despite that résumé and his recent criminal history, he was Jones’ choice to oversee his offensive line.
The Vols also had to replace defensive line coach Steve Stripling, who moved to an off-field capacity. How will Stripling’s time as a coach be remembered at UT? Derek Barnett was a superstar in the making, no matter the position coach, but end Corey Vereen never reached his potential. Junior college end/tackle Jonathan Kongbo and tackle Kahlil McKenzie didn’t have the impact most expected. Tackle Shy Tuttle was great when healthy. But tackles Brian Vickers and Danny O’Brien improved significantly under Stripling.
The Vols replaced Stripling with former Michigan coach Brady Hoke. That sounds like an upgrade, and perhaps it will be. Hoke recruited well at Michigan, but was fired there, then fired again along with Oregon’s entire staff last season. Hoke was Oregon’s defensive coordinator for one season before he landed at UT.
Hoke wasn’t the only change on the defense. The Vols decided to part ways with former secondary coach Willie Martinez and replaced him with Charlton Warren. UT’s secondary often looked out of position last season under Martinez. Warren, hired away from North Carolina, can’t do any worse.
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