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New Coaching Hires Show Butch Jones’ Approach to 2017 Season

Photo Credit: Mason Burgin/RTI

Tennessee’s coaching staff has seen quite the shakeup this offseason, and there could still be more on the way. The Vols have promoted two coaches already on the staff and have hired four new coaches (including the strength and conditioning coach) from outside the program as well. And all these moves show how head coach Butch Jones is approaching the 2017 season.

Jones has made it clear he has different philosophies on each side of the ball when it comes to hiring personnel. When it comes to the offense, the side that Jones prefers and has his background in, Jones showed he prefers continuity and comfort with his hires. But when it comes to the defense, Jones preferred to shake things up and make less familiar hires.

For the third time in three years, the Vols had a vacancy at offensive coordinator when Mike DeBord stepped aside and accepted the same position at Indiana this offseason. Instead of hiring an outside voice or a “big name,” Butch Jones elected to promote within. Larry Scott, the Vols’ tight ends coach and special teams coordinator, was tabbed for the job.

Scott wasn’t the only promotion on offense either.

Walt Wells was promoted to offensive line coach after Tennessee parted ways with Don Mahoney. Wells was brought on Tennessee’s staff prior to the 2016 season and served in a support role for the offensive line. Once again, instead of looking outside the program for a replacement, Butch Jones looked within to fill the position.

There was one outside hire made on offense, but that hire also fits into the theme of familiarity on offense for Jones.

Mike Canales was brought in to be the Vols’ quarterbacks coach in conjunction with Larry Scott being promoted to offensive coordinator. While Canales is a new voice at Tennessee, he and Jones have a relationship and he was a coach at South Florida while Larry Scott played there. So, once again, Jones opted for someone he knew and had familiarity with on offense over shaking things up.

But Jones didn’t take that same approach on the defensive side of the ball. Instead, Butch Jones elected to make only outside hires for Tennessee’s defensive staff.

The first alteration to the defensive staff was the hiring of Charlton Warren to be the Vols’ defensive backs coach. Warren was brought in after a mutual parting of ways between Tennessee and Willie Martinez, and he comes in without any prior ties to anyone on Tennessee’s staff. It’s believed Vols’ defensive coordinator Bob Shoop played a large role in hiring Warren away from the North Carolina Tarheels.

And earlier this week, Tennessee announced the hiring of former Michigan head coach and former Oregon defensive coordinator Brady Hoke as their defensive line coach. Hoke also has no previous ties to Jones or anyone else on the Vols’ staff, and he is the second completely new addition to the defensive side of the ball.

So what does this tell us about Butch Jones’ approach to the 2017 season?

Given Jones’ hires, it appears he doesn’t think much on the offensive side of the ball needs fixing. Jones said as much when it was announced DeBord was leaving the program, stating the offense “needed enhanced, not overhauled.” Hence the promotion of Larry Scott as offensive coordinator despite him having no prior experience as a play caller. The promotion of Walt Wells and addition of Mike Canales also fit this mold.

Jones’ approach to the defensive staff, however, was the complete opposite.

Tennessee’s defense failed to live up to expectations last season. And that’s putting it lightly. The Vols were expected to have at least a top five SEC defense but ended up finishing with the 11th-ranked defense in terms of yards allowed per game. Considering Bob Shoop has a history of success at his previous stops at Vanderbilt and Penn State, it makes sense Jones elected to retain Shoop and focus instead on altering the staff around him.

The Vols finished in the top half of the SEC in every major offensive category last season but finished in the bottom half of the conference in every major defensive category. Jones clearly thinks the offense doesn’t need much tinkering other than a little fresh perspective here and there, but he does think the defense needs retooling.

Ultimately, a coaching staff is only as good as the chemistry between its members. The Vols have made a lot of changes this offseason, and these coaches will have to mesh better, especially on defense, for the Vols to have more success in 2017 than they did in 2016.

Jones has revealed how he’s approaching 2017 through his coaching staff hires. Now he and his staff have to find chemistry and develop the players on the roster in order to finally win an SEC East crown next season.

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