In interviews leading up to the hiring of new offensive coordinator Mike DeBord, Tennessee head coach Butch Jones made one thing abundantly clear: Whoever was to be hired as the new OC wasn’t coming in to overhaul the offense, but rather to sustain it and then to take it another step forward.
Jones reiterated that concept while introducing DeBord on Friday morning.
“I wanted an individual who could come in, understand our terminology system, understand our coaching staff, and look to enhance our offense, not rebuild our offense,” Jones said. “Our offense does not need to be rebuilt. It needs to be enhanced. I think a lot of people don’t understand – it takes continuity, it takes consistency to win.
“For us, being in year three of our football program, to bring in an entire new offensive system. Not only is it new for the coaches and how they’re teaching it, it’s new for your players. So at this time of the year it’s all about skill development and working on being a fundamentalist and improving the fine details of your game. Now all of a sudden you’re installing a new offense and that’s extremely, extremely challenging. I didn’t want to go down that path.”
Jones hopes thinks he’s found the right fit in DeBord. As Jones’ former boss and head coach at Central Michigan, DeBord installed a lot of the foundations of what Jones now uses in his offense at Tennessee. Things like formations, play calling, directional concepts, the no-huddle and zone-block concepts were all elements that Jones learned, in large part, from DeBord at CMU.
So he hopes there’s little learning curve for DeBord as he comes in and picks up for former offensive coordinator Mike Bajakian, who left for a position as the quarterbacks coach with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on Jan. 22 after spending the previous eight years as the only offensive coordinator Jones has ever had.
“I think all those things went hand in hand, but having that familiarity and having worked for and with Mike [DeBord] was paramount for me,” Jones said. “I understand what he is all about and a lot of things we do at Tennessee stem from Mike DeBord.”
Jones also is looking for that enhancement of the offense from DeBord. On the surface, it doesn’t look like a lot needs to improve after the Vols finished 4-1 down the stretch and put up 45 points and 461 yards against Iowa to conclude the season in a 45-28 win in the TaxSlayer Bowl.
But while things got significantly better with Joshua Dobbs at quarterback, there certainly are some memories from the 2014 season that Jones won’t soon forget. The Vols netted a total of 28 combined yards rushing against Florida and Ole Miss, were dead last in the SEC in sacks allowed (43) and, in several instances, couldn’t pick up short-yardage situations due to the lack of a consistent power running game.
The Vols finished 10th in the SEC in scoring offense, 11th in total offense, 13th in rushing offense and eighth in passing offense, so while Dobbs and the end of the season helped the Vols feel better, the offense still had some fundamental issues when the whole season is taken into account.
“I wanted an individual who could walk into the room and fix the problems of the entire offense, know what they’re looking for,” Jones said. “That knowledge and experience was a big factor in this hiring.”
And DeBord is already at work in that area in his first week on the job. The former Michigan OC, CMU head coach and NFL assistant, at least Jones hopes, brings a different level of knowledge and expertise, particularly in the areas of the offensive line and the run game – where the Vols really want to make some enhancements.
“Now what I am doing, we are going through and we are breaking down every play,” DeBord said. “This is kind of funny in some ways, the first day, we took two hours, we were looking at inside zone and we actually took two hours to look at five plays. That is how slow we went, talking about steps, talking about hand placement, talking about shoulder leverage, everything, we went through. That is the detail we are going through right now.”
That’s the level of details Jones was looking for. The Vols will hit the practice field for spring practice in a month to see if those perceived enhancements become a reality.