Team 121 is officially on the ground running, literally, with the players currently going through strength and conditioning drills under new strength coach Rock Gullickson as spring practice is set to begin in just over a week.
Along with Gullickson, the Vols have made six other staff adjustments heading into 2017. Among the new coaches, few have garnered more attention than new defensive line coach Brady Hoke who replaces Steve Stripling.
Among all the new hires, Hoke brings the most extensive resume.
He was a standout linebacker at Ball State from 1977-1980. While at Ball State, he was named a team captain and All-MAC selection in his senior year. After graduation, he became a defensive assistant with schools such as Toledo and Oregon State before eventually landing at Michigan in 1995 as the defensive line coach under head coach Gary Moeller.
While at Michigan, Hoke was able to win the national championship in 1997 with a dynamic defensive line that is considered one of the top lines in Big Ten history. The Wolverines also won three league titles (1997, 1998, 2000) with Hoke on staff. In 2002, Hoke was promoted as associate head coach under Lloyd Carr.
In 2002, Hoke was hired as the head coach for Ball State. He slowly progressed the program and in 2008, he led the Cardinals to the most wins in a season with a 12-0 record. Hoke then left to become a successful head coach at San Diego State in 2009.
After his successful stint at San Diego State, Hoke accepted the head coaching position at Michigan in 2011 where he was able to defeat Ohio State for the first time since 2003 and win a BCS bowl game. Three years later, however, Michigan fired Hoke after posting an overall 31-20 record in Ann Arbor.
Last year, Hoke was named the defensive coordinator at Oregon. Things didn’t go as planned as the Ducks finished the year ranked 116th out of 127 in total defense and Hoke was not retained under Willie Taggart.
On February 7, Hoke was named the new defensive line coach at Tennessee heading into year five of Butch Jones. On paper, this hire receives a high grade simply because of Hoke’s success as a defensive line coach, which is important for a defensive line filled with questions and voids.
Along the line, the Vols lose the school’s sack leader in Derek Barnett. They also lost a productive end in Corey Vereen due to graduation. Recently, the defensive line took some more attrition hits as Andrew Butcher, Dimarya Mixon and Charles Mosley left the team. There are also injury questions with some returning players such as Shy Tuttle, Kahlil McKenzie and Kyle Phillips.
For Hoke, this could be a challenging year for reasons above. Also, he’s stepping into a new position with a new staff in a conference he’s never coached in.
However, Hoke provides this young group with experience. Among the staff, no one has a greater diversity of coaching experience than Hoke as he has served as a head coach for three teams, including a Power 5 team in Michigan. He’s been a part of big wins including a national championship and an Orange Bowl victory. Nothing stands out more, though, than the players he’s been able to recruit and develop.
As the 2017 NFL draft looms, 14 players (that’s right) from Michigan were invited to the combine, all of whom were recruited and partly coached by Hoke. Some of those players include Chris Wormley, Ryan Glascow, and potential first rounder Jabrill Peppers.
Glascow is one of the former players who has been quite complimentary of Hoke.
“He’s the coach who recruited with you and the coach who was with you for two or three years,” he said. “So yeah, there’s a soft spot for him.”
Hoke has a proven track record in coaching defensive lines. He is also respected as a solid recruiter and developer. For a team and defensive unit filled with questions heading into 2017, Hoke brings much needed experience to Knoxville.