Former Tennessee head coach and current Athletics Director Phillip Fulmer had a famous saying during his time as UT’s football coach: “It’s about the Jimmys and Joes, not the X’s and O’s.” What Fulmer meant by that was that a team’s success isn’t dependent on play-calling as much as it is on the players who make up the roster.
Vol fans grew increasingly frustrated during the Butch Jones era at Tennessee because it seemed as though Jones valued his scheme over the players on the roster. It often looked like Jones would try to force his players into his offense rather than molding the offense around the strengths of his players.
That’s why new Tennessee offensive coordinator Tyson Helton’s comments on Thursday should be a breath of fresh air to Vol fans.
Helton spoke to the media on Thursday as the Vols got ready for the start of fall camp, and he was asked what makes up a “Tyson Helton offense.” And his answer echoed what Fulmer used to say all those years ago.
“At the end of the day, it’s not about the offense, it’s about the players,” Helton stated. “The players are the ones who go and win games. It’s not the plays, it’s the players.”
Become a member of member of RTI Premium today for premium recruiting and practice coverage from the RTI team! Sign up here!
Helton understands that an offense is only as successful as the players on the field. Play-calling can only do so much. Tennessee’s players on offense can fit in a variety of styles of play, and that’s one reason why Helton plans on not sticking to just one type of offensive scheme this season.
“The biggest thing is we do whatever it takes to win,” Helton explained. “I don’t think in today’s game you can do just one particular thing. I think defenses are going to dictate what you do offensively. You have to be able to put yourselves in positions to win games. You’re going to see multiple defenses, so you have to attack what you’re seeing. One thing I like about our offense is we’re very multiple. We can get under center and run the ball, we can spread you out, we can get in the (shotgun) and throw the ball.”
Tennessee’s offense last season got stagnant and easy to predict by opposing defenses. And that was part of the reason the Vols finished dead last in the SEC in yards per game and points scored per game. But even when the Vols’ offense was at its most potent under Jones, they still derailed themselves because of sloppy play. And Helton wants to make sure Tennessee takes care of the ball under his watch.
“The No. 1 thing is turnovers. Turnovers can lose a game,” Helton said. “I went back and looked at a lot of stats this past year, and there’s a lot of great offensive performances, but at the end of the day, they turned the ball over and put themselves in bad situations. So we have to take care of the football.”
In 2016, the Vols amassed 684 yards and ran a school-record 99 plays against Texas A&M. But Tennessee ultimately lost that game because they turned the ball over a staggering seven times, including an interception thrown by Josh Dobbs in the second overtime that sealed the victory for the Aggies.
According to Helton, he’ll make sure another game like that doesn’t happen at Tennessee while he’s calling the plays. And he also plans on making sure the players, not the play-calling, is what is emphasized at Tennessee.