But the 30-year coaching veteran doesn’t anticipate having to knock off too much rust, nor does he think he’s missed out on much during his sabbatical from formal coaching and his absence from the college game since he last led Michigan to a Citrus Bowl win over Florida at the end of the 2007 season.
“I don’t think there’s any (rust), I mean I gained knowledge these last two years,” DeBord said in his first public comments in Knoxville on Friday afternoon. “My battery, as the players have seen, is fully charged. No, there’s no rust. It goes back to what Butch said, it’s like riding a bike. You get back on, you start pedaling. Right now, I’m pedaling pretty fast.”
Though many viewed his time away from the game as more of a negative in this search process, DeBord, who has notable stops on his resume as an offensive coordinator at Michigan, as the head coach at Central Michigan and as an assistant with the Seattle Seahawks and Chicago Bears, actually views it as more of a positive – seeing it as a time that he could study numerous offenses from both the college and pro levels.
So while his formal title was as an Olympic Sports Administrator at Michigan over the past couple years, he coupled that with a heavy side of football research.
He also stayed involved with the football side at Michigan. His job responsibilities shifted to include him overseeing the football program in 2014, and he took that opportunity to get on the practice field, get in meetings and soak in many of the day-to-day aspects of coaching.
“I had an iPad with basically every college game on it, every pro game on it,” DeBord said. “And so I studied the game either through that situation, or I also studied offenses, like a spread offense. I studied them really hard and what they did and how they attacked people. I continued to study the game. I also, every week, at least one time a week and sometimes twice, I would call Mike Martz and we would talk about quarterback fundamentals, we’d talk about attacking three-deep, we’d talk about attacking man, we’d talk about Cover 2, Tampa , I mean all the coverages, we went through everything.
“So I stayed in it, and also I have friends that I’ve talked with. A guy that’s in the pros as a coordinator, he and I talked a lot because they are very similar offensively to what we do here Tennessee, so I spent a lot of time with him. So, I continued to study. Football is my passion. I love it. I can’t get enough of it, and there’s so much to always learn all the time, little things that people do.”
DeBord also isn’t too concerned with transitioning into an offense that looks a bit different than what he last coached in the college game.
Though head coach Butch Jones was quick to say that he doesn’t like his offense being labeled as simply a spread because that’s vague term that can carry the connotation of being a finesse team, there clearly are some spread elements to what Tennessee runs under Jones, and DeBord, who utilized a lot of two-back looks over his career as a coordinator and head coach, said that there are enough similar elements that he won’t have much of a learning curve.
“As far as offense is concerned we were a tempo team (at Central Michigan),” DeBord said. “We put that in. Why we did that is because we looked for advantages to win. That was one of the advantages we felt like we needed to be a winning football team. So we started with that. Then we ran the zone schemes there which obviously the spread here is zone. Those things didn’t change so much.”
“A lot of people don’t realize this, but our formation system and the way we call things was designed with Mike DeBord on our staff at another institution,” Jones added. “It is really like riding a bike. For him to come in and we have gained so much ground just this past week. It is really the quality control of our offense and moving forward. We are looking to enhance that. That comfort level was big, but not just for me but our entire staff and first and foremost our players.”
Perhaps more than anything, DeBord credited his time with the Seahawks and Bears for his development as a coach. After years of calling the shots to an extent, he learned from some of the greatest in the game at a level that is the ultimate crucible for the schematic element of football.
He hopes to bring some of that to Tennessee, not to overhaul the offense, but to “enhance” it as Jones stated during Friday’s presser.
“My five years in the NFL – to me that was a clinic,” DeBord said. “That was a free clinic. We coached 20 games a year. That is almost two college seasons. I was very fortunate, as Butch said, to be with Mike Holmgren. I believe he is one of the best offensive coaches and head coach ever to coach in the NFL. I was like Mike Martz who had the Greatest Show on Turf. He was a great quarterback coach and coordinator too.
“I took that time to study how they were calling the game. You always learn from people. I continue to learn today. Football is like that and that is what I love about it. You continue to learn. I don’t see having to make adjustments with many things in calling the game. I have done it. I have experience at it. I have confidence in it. I look forward to it.”