For Tennessee co-defensive coordinator Chris Rumph, it’s all about being genuine and being himself. Yes, winning on the field is important, but Rumph is more concerned about getting the best out of his players both on and off the field.
“I tell them all the time, ‘If the only thing you’ve learned from me is how to tackle, how to get a sack and all that stuff, then I failed.’ I don’t want to be a guy that’s just going to do that,” Rumph said during media availability on Thursday. “I might as well leave if I’m going to do that.
“I want to be a guy that teaches them how to be a man, how to be a father, how to be a husband, how to treat your wife, how to treat your kids, how to treat people. That’s what it is all about. If we can do that, man, our world would be great.”
The process to building men begins on the football field, where many life lessons are taught. But in order to buy into the process, players have to believe in the man behind the shirt, not just the shirt itself.
“I just try to be genuine, I try to be who I am,” Rumph said. “I’m a country boy from St. Matthews, South Carolina. I’m nothing. God has tremendously blessed me, and I appreciate that, and I honor Him every day. So, I try to treat people the way I want to be treated.
“Throughout my time growing up and playing and coaching ball, I’ve seen different types of coaching styles. I’ve seen styles that work, I’ve seen styles that didn’t work. I’ve seen guys that yell, I’ve seen guys that don’t yell. I learned all that stuff and put it in a stew pot, and mix it up, and pour it on me and it’s me. So, I just try to be genuine and let them know, ‘I love you man, and I care about you. It’s more than football. It’s life.’”
This mindset seems simple, but it’s a mindset that has been lacking from a Tennessee coaching staff for quite some time. It’s one thing to talk about being genuine, but to actually display it is another thing. As a result, Rumph is already seeing progress within the program.
“I put on the first practice from day one of spring ball, and they’re like, ‘Man, I can’t believe that. I couldn’t even line up and do this,’” Rumph said when asked about how much the team improved from the first to last practice in the spring. “And then I showed them another practice around seven, and then I went to 13, 14 and told them, ‘Guys, you see the progression that you made, so if you just stay to the plan, believe in the plan and trust the process, then after camp is over with, we’re going to be where we need to be at the end of fall camp.”
With a new coaching staff comes a new scheme. The progression the team showed throughout the spring instilled confidence in UT’s players that they can switch to a new scheme with as much ease as possible.
“It’s tremendous,” Rumph said in reference to how much the progression shown in the spring has instilled confidence into the team. “It’s almost like looking in the mirror every day and saying, ‘Man, I’m not losing any weight.’ Then all of a sudden, somebody says, ‘Hey look at you, you’ve lost a lot of weight.’ Once you see a before and after picture, you’re like, ‘Wow, I have lost a lot of weight.’ It encourages you and pushes you to keep doing it and I may even turn it up a notch.”
The progression on the field isn’t the only positive development within the program. When Jeremy Pruitt was hired to be Tennessee’s head coach, the first order of business was hiring the best strength and conditioning coach possible. It appears to that Pruitt made the right hire in prying Craig Fitzgerald away from Penn State according to Rumph’s assessment.
“Unbelievable, unbelievable,” Rumph said when asked about how Fitzgerald’s strength and conditioning program has been. “The gains that these guys have made, not only in my group, but as a team is unbelievable. Guys are changing their bodies and I tell them jokers, one time they come over to my house, I didn’t care if they took their shirt off around my wife, but now I tell them they can’t take their shirt off in front of my wife.”
Rumph’s uplifting nature and his ability to be genuine is what this team has been missing for the last decade. Last season, Tennessee went 4-8 because it didn’t believe in its leaders. With a group of coaches like Rumph, that team wins seven, maybe eight games. That reason alone is why Tennessee fans should be hopeful for the upcoming season.