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Jones: Finding QB Developer Is “No. 1 Priority”

Tennessee head coach Butch Jones needs an offensive coordinator after the departure of Mike DeBord, who is heading out to take the same position at Indiana.

Jones said he’ll explore all options – NFL coaches, college coaches and internal candidates – when he spoke to the media on Tuesday evening via conference call. He said it’ll be a challenge to even respond to all the text messages he’s received since news came out from DeBord’s departure earlier on Tuesday.

He did put one strong prerequisite on the hire, however: The new offensive coordinator needs to specialize in developing the most important position on the field.

“Somebody that fits, that’s can connect with our players, obviously can develop our players and whether it’s an internal candidate or an external candidate – the No. 1 priority that we have to do is get in here a great developer of quarterbacks,” Jones said as he discussed his third coordinator search in the past three years. “Having some very talented quarterbacks in our program – the quarterback development is obviously going to be very, very important.”

Quarterback coaching was one glaring hole on the resume for DeBord.

While officially functioning as the offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach, DeBord hadn’t formally carried the QB coach title at another program since 1986 when he was at Fort Hays State. DeBord, at least in the portions of practice open to the media, regularly functioned as a co-offensive line coach, while staffer Nick Sheridan put the quarterbacks through drills.

Jones’ comments about quarterback development would seem to point the search in the direction of former Oregon head coach Mark Helfrich, one of the top potential candidates. Helfrich, who was fired by the Ducks following the 2016 season, has a lengthy history working with signal callers including a stretch from 2001-2012 where he was a quarterbacks coach at the Power 5 level before taking on the head duties at Oregon in 2013.

Whoever is hired will, as Jones mentioned, have a talented young stable of options at the position as the Vols look to replace departing senior Joshua Dobbs, who had career-best passing numbers (225-of-357 for 2,946 yards, 27 touchdowns and 12 interceptions) in 2016.

Redshirt freshman Jarrett Guarantano and junior Quinten Dormady are the expected front-runners for the job, though redshirt sophomore Sheriron Jones and incoming freshman Will McBride will also be in the conversation.

Jones, just as he did when commenting on the previous offensive coordinator search in 2015, said the key will be finding the right person to “enhance” the system, not necessarily somebody who will overhaul it. Finding the right man to develop the talented, though inexperienced, bunch of quarterbacks, will be a big step in that process.

He also said he’ll take his time. Facing what could be a win-or-else type of situation in 2017, Jones wants to be exhaustive in finding the right choice.

“The big you want to do is, you can’t rush,” he said. “We’re going to be very, very patient. We’re going to take our time. When we find the right individual, we find the right individual. This obviously is a very, very critical hire. So, again, you have to make sure you get in front of that person and you really get to know them. Obviously, the University of Tennessee is a place that people want to be. It’s a destination place.”

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