You’ve probably read or seen several columns this week about how this offensive coordinator search is extremely important for Tennessee head coach Jeremy Pruitt and how he can’t afford to mess it up. While that’s very true, there’s also something else about this OC search that needs to be taken into consideration.
Can the Vols’ new offensive coordinator stick around for more than a season or two?
Tennessee hasn’t had an offensive coordinator stay on staff for longer than two seasons since Jim Chaney was the Vols’ play-caller from 2009-12, serving under both Lane Kiffin and Derek Dooley. Ever since then, Tennessee hasn’t had an OC stay in Knoxville for longer than two years.
When Butch Jones was hired as the Vols’ head coach, he brought Mike Bajakian in with him to serve as his offensive coordinator. Bajakian was only on staff in 2013 and 2014 before leaving to take the quarterbacks coach position for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in the NFL, though.
After that, Butch Jones hired Mike DeBord as his OC. DeBord stuck around just as long as Bajakian did: two seasons.
Jones then promoted tight ends coach Larry Scott to offensive coordinator, and he was dumped from the program along with Jones after the 2017 season.
Once Jeremy Pruitt was hired, many wondered who he would bring in as his main play-caller, and many thought and hoped his first offensive coordinator hire would be someone who would stay at UT for a few seasons and help establish a culture and mindset for the offense.
Well, that didn’t happen.
Pruitt hired Tyson Helton, the quarterbacks coach and passing game coordinator at USC, to be his offensive coordinator at Tennessee. But after just one year in Knoxville, Helton left to take a head coaching position at Western Kentucky, a school he previously coached at.
There’s just something about USC coaches leaving Tennessee for a school they previously coached at after only a year at UT, apparently.
Helton’s departure means the Vols have now had four straight offensive coordinators leave or be fired after two or fewer years in their role at Tennessee. The Vols have had four different play-callers in six years, and it leaves several players on UT’s roster in an unappealing situation. Players like quarterback Jarrett Guarantano will now be dealing with their fourth offensive coordinator in four seasons at Tennessee.
It’s not just Guarantano, though. Marquez Callaway is in that same boat, and several other players on Tennessee’s roster will be adjusting to their third OC in three years. That includes players like Ty Chandler, Josh Palmer, and Tim Jordan.
The coaching attrition at Tennessee has been other-worldly over the last few years. Not only has UT had five different head coaches since 2008, but they’ll have had eight different offensive coordinators since 2008 once Pruitt hires his new play-caller. Tennessee has also had seven different defensive coordinators since 2008.
And all of that doesn’t count how many different position coaches have walked in and out of UT’s doors over the last decade.
Tennessee needs stability in the worst way, and this offensive coordinator search is just a microcosm of that. Whoever ends up being the Vols’ new OC should ideally be able to stay around for longer than a couple seasons. UT’s young players need that type of stability, and Pruitt does as well. If he wants to establish his culture and his way of thinking at Tennessee, he needs help doing so. And changing coaches every year or two isn’t going to help that.
When Phillip Fulmer was head coach, he often kept around his coordinators for years and years at a time. David Cutcliffe was Tennessee’s OC from 1993-98 and had been on staff for years before that. He came back to be the offensive coordinator again in 2006 and 2007 as well. After Cutcliffe took the Ole Miss head coaching position in 1998, Fulmer promoted Randy Sanders to the position, and he served in that role till 2005.
On the defensive side of the ball, Fulmer essentially had one man for his entire head coaching career at UT. John Chavis was Fulmer’s defensive coordinator in 1995 and stayed there till Fulmer was fired in 2008.
There will be plenty of discussion about who ends up being the Vols’ new offensive coordinator and whether or not he will be the right fit. But if he is the right guy and he can be successful calling plays, Tennessee needs to hold on to him as long as they can.