We answer your questions about Tennessee athletics and anything else in our weekly mailbag, Insider Mailing.
“Do you think Butch will let any more of the staff go or was the weight lifting staff the only overhaul?” – Spencer Scofield
Daniel: I do think there will be more changes. Obviously there’s still the one vacant spot on the offensive side of the ball. I think, ultimately, there will be a promotion from within and then a quarterbacks coach hired. Don Mahoney’s contract expires in February, so keep an eye on that too. Defensively, I think all three position coaches are a little bit up in the air. I’d expect some movement there, but not sure who all will be gone.
Nathanael: I think it will be worth watching to see who is “let go” and who leaves on their own accord. It wouldn’t surprise me to see all three defensive position coaches depart this offseason, but I think one of them leaves of his own accord rather than being let go. And I do think we see a quarterbacks coach brought in on offense as well. There could be a staff shakeup we don’t foresee, either. I’m not counting that out.
“When will the team announce Tyler Byrd’s official switch back to CB, and best guess at starting WRs next yr (besides Jennings and Smith in the 3-wide set)? – Matt Daniel
Daniel: Byrd could help at cornerback, no question, but I’m not sure if they feel confident enough in their receivers to make that move. They might use spring as a trial period to see which side of the ball he’s best on and/or if he’d be able to do a little bit of both. Best guess at starting WRs? Jauan Jennings, Josh Smith (moves back outside) and Byrd, if he stays on that side of the ball. If not, it’s wide open for somebody like Brandon Johnson, Marquez Callaway, Jeff George or a freshman.
Nathanael: Yeah I’m with Daniel on this one. I think they’ll test it out in the spring first before announcing anything official, but I think using him as a two-way player like Jabril Peppers at Michigan or Adoree Jackson at USC is a smart move. But I don’t think we’ll truly know till after spring and going into the fall. And if Byrd isn’t on offense full-time next season, I’m saying right now it will Brandon Johnson as the third receiver. They showed they trusted him most (aside from Byrd) among the freshmen last season, so I think he gets the first shot at proving himself as a sophomore.
“Who’s the front runner to replace Dobbs?!” – Trey Maddox
Daniel: If I had to bet money on the opening-snap starter, I’d go with Quinten Dormady. That’s mostly because Butch Jones generally favors the more experienced guy in these battles. But there are a lot of people in that building that are ecstatic about Jarrett Guarantano, so I think he’ll have a chance.
Nathanael: I get what you’re saying Daniel, and to an extent I agree with you. We saw Jones go with Worley twice even if he wasn’t the most talented just because he was the most experienced. But it has to be Guarantano. He has to be the front-runner right now based on his talent alone. I get the experience side, but Guarantano is the fan favorite and my favorite to land the starting job. Dormady will be a good option if he wins it, though. I don’t necessarily think there’s a wrong choice here. I just like Guarantano better from what we’ve seen.
“Will we ever see NFL HC Jim Bob Cooter? What team can withstand having a head coach named Jim Bob Cooter?” – @Justin_CPA
Daniel: Ha, there was an article that came out recently that said that some teams were legitimately afraid of his name, as crazy as that may sound. Isn’t that name-ism or something like that? It should be illegal.
I hope he gets a shot. Detroit’s offense ranked 21st and 20th the past two years, so he didn’t completely light it up. He might need to put together an elite unit or two before he’s a viable head coaching candidate. He’s only 32, so he has plenty of time.
Nathanael: He absolutely will be a head coach at some point in his career. Some team is going to hire him and not only be okay with his name, but advertise the heck out of that and use it to their advantage. It would have to be somewhere in the south I think, though. A team like Atlanta, New Orleans, or Carolina somewhere down the road would make sense.
“With all struggling to different extents, which coaches out of Butch, Barnes, Holly, and Serrano are still here in 2 years?” – Curtis Herd
Daniel: I think there are going to be some drastic changes coming soon. If you’re talking two full years after this one – so who will be around for the 2019-20 academic year – I think it’s possible that the answer is none. Rick Barnes might have the best chance at this point. He has such a young team right now, that I’m expecting improvement over the next two seasons, at least enough to keep him around. Butch certainly could be, but it just feels like that relationship really got strained in 2016, so one way or another, I wouldn’t be stunned to see him gone before then. It’s tough to feel great about the direction that Holly Warlick and Dave Serrano have their respective programs going. I think both can have success, but they need to turn it around quickly to be in Knoxville for the long haul.
Nathanael: The only one of those I feel comfortable saying will be here in two years is Rick Barnes because I truly think he will. He is at least on a somewhat upward trajectory with his team, and with as young as this roster currently is, he should be given time to help them grow and see where they end up over the next few years. Those other three, though? I’d be surprised if, for one reason or another, they are still here in two years.
“Who’s winning a fist fight a football team or hockey team?” – Blake McLaughlin
Daniel: Pound for pound, it’s hockey all day. But if you throw a 6-foot-6, 320-pound offensive tackle in there against a 5-11, 190-pound hockey forward, the force and the reach of the tackle is just going to be too much. Hockey players are ridiculously tough, though. I was watching the Predators on Thursday and a defender took a skate to the face in the closing seconds and stayed on the ice playing. Most athletes would’ve been carted off.
Nathanael: Easy answer. It’s hockey, no doubt. I’d take almost any hockey player over almost any football player any day. There are exceptions, of course, but overall it’s easily hockey.
“Is Rey more likely a Skywalker or a Kenobi?” – Josh Hazlewood
Nathanael: I’m saying neither on this one, John. I know I’m in the minority on this one, but I don’t think she’s either from quotes I’ve seen from J.J. Abrams and others. I don’t think they want to go in either of those directions. I think her parents will be important, but they won’t be a Skywalker or Kenobi. I don’t want her to be either.
“Who do you think will replace Reeves-Maybin? I would like to see Dillon Bates get a chance. He was a big time recruit in 14.” – @RockyTopBrickSquad
Daniel: Quart’e Sapp is the name to watch. I heard a lot of good things about him before he got injured. Cortez McDowell is the safest/most experienced bet, and I think you’ll see Bates, and maybe Colton Jumper, factor into the conversation as well. There are options, but one really needs to step up.
Nathanael: It will be either Sapp or McDowell. Sorry, Rocky Top Brick Squad, but Bates won’t even be in the two-deep at either linebacker spot next season. Barring some sort of strong spring and fall from him, of course.
“Who steps in in DB’s place on the d-line?” – Robert Grissom
Daniel: Those are huge shoes to fill. I wouldn’t expect somebody to hop right in and get double-digit sacks, but Jonathan Kongbo and Kyle Phillips – who I expect them to use more as true defensive ends next year – both have a ton of talent. Darrell Taylor, Austin Smith and Denadre Johnson are some less-proven guys to keep an eye on.
Nathanael: Yeah, I’d be shocked if anyone stepped in and got double-digit sacks at either end position next year. And if the defense does what it’s supposed to, they won’t have to. The Vols will hopefully have a good rotation and better play from the outside linebackers to relieve the pressure off the starting ends. But I agree with Daniel it will likely be Kongbo and Phillips getting the starts at the ends. Darrell Taylor and Austin Smith are two really talented players who I expect to make some noise if they stay healthy.
“No AD, no chancellor, Butch is in his office thinking of new cliches. I want to know what you have that’s funny.” – Jake Wallman
“I got nothing left. We’re stuck with Captain Cliché in ’17. He’s not changing. YOU guys give me some good news LOL.” – Mike Jehle
Daniel: A lot of Tennessee fans seem to be struggling with the real news right now, so in the spirit of the current political news cycle, I’ve decided to write a fake news story to entertain and appease those people.
Blackburn Makes Huge Promises In Opening Presser
July 19, 2017
KNOXVILLE, Tenn. – New Tennessee Vice Chancellor and Director of Athletics David Blackburn immediately embraced fans’ championship expectations during his first press conference on Wednesday.
The Tennessee native and former Chattanooga AD immediately put out an ultimatum for Butch Jones and the football program, stating that Jones must win a title in 2017 or face dismissal.
“Five years is enough time to build a program,” Blackburn said. “We need a real championship this year or we’re making a change.”
Blackburn said that he’s already in the process of rallying boosters and raising funds for the potential coaching search. Noting that the head football coach is the most important position at the University, he guaranteed that finances would not be an issue.
“We’re prepared to go in the $10-15 million range,” he said. “We expect to only interview coaches with Power 5 conference championships, national titles or Super Bowl rings. Nobody else is worthy of coaching at Tennessee.”
Overseeing the football program from an administrative standpoint will be former coach Phillip Fulmer, who Blackburn introduced as a new Associate AD and football liaison. Fulmer, who was also made available to the media, said he has finalized a 10-year deal with Peyton Manning to join the staff as the offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach.
“The reason it took so long for Butch to hire an OC/QBs coach is because I told him I could get Peyton in the fall,” Fulmer said. “He’s energized, refreshed and has been working like heck studying film the past few weeks. We’ve had three five-star quarterbacks commit to us in the last 30 minutes, in fact.”
Manning, who is expected to work for free out of his love for Tennessee, must be retained on staff if there is a coaching staff change after 2017, Blackburn confirmed.
Blackburn said he has similar expectations for the rest of the sports at Tennessee.
“The softball team is the only program even close to my standards right now, but I’d really like to see them win it all,” he said, while also confirming that the Lady Vols name will return for all female sports immediately.
“I’ve informed Rick Barnes that there should be two five-star players, minimum, in each class,” Blackburn said. “There will be no more settling at the University of Tennessee.”