Kodi Burns’ Lone Year Was Vital to Tennessee’s Early Success

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    Arizona Cardinals QB Kyler Murray

    Up until Monday, the Tennessee Football off-season had been about as quiet as they could have been. Unlike the previous off-season, which saw countless players and staff members exiting the program, the last month-and-a-half has proven to be a fairly-silent stretch.

    However, with the news on Monday regarding the departure of Tennessee wide receivers coach Kodi Burns, that narrative starts to switch.

    Originally, Tennessee had been the only SEC team to retain their entire coaching staff moving into next season. While the Vols didn’t have to find entirely new staff or face controversies around their head coach (see: Bryan Harsin), they will now be tasked with replacing one of the most important pieces on the assistant staff.

    In his lone year with the Tennessee program, Burns was vital to Tennessee’s early success, the development of current players, and in the recruitment of talented prospects.

    Under the combined direction of Tennessee head coach Josh Heupel and Kodi Burns, the Vols’ receivers helped lead Tennessee to the sixth-most efficient team passing offense in the 2021 season. Additionally, Burns led Vol wideout Cedric Tillman to the 29th best year among collegiate receivers, landing fifth among all candidates from the SEC.

    SEC Individual Receiving – 2021

    1. Jameson Williams – Alabama – Jr. – 79 receptions, 1572 yards, 15 touchdowns
    2. Wan’Dale Robinson – Kentucky – Jr. – 104 receptions, 1334 yards, 7 touchdowns
    3. John Metchie – Alabama – Jr. – 96 receptions, 1142 yards, 8 touchdowns
    4. Treylon Burks – Arkansas – Jr. – 66 receptions, 1104 yards, 11 touchdowns
    5. Cedric Tillman – Tennessee – Jr. – 64 receptions, 1081 yards, 12 touchdowns

    During his tenure in Knoxville, Burns had a fair amount of pieces to fit together in order to put his position group in their most successful position. Heading into the year, Tennessee was working through a new coaching staff in the midst of a four-man quarterback competition. Not only that but a quarterback situation that would eventually change a handful of games into the season.

    Then, in just the wide receiver room alone, Burns had the task of getting his players caught up to speed with the new offense. Luckily, though, one of the advantages that Burns had during the year was that everyone was starting over with a new blank slate. At that point, it didn’t matter what Cedric Tillman had done throughout his career, what Velus Jones Jr had done in his first year in Knoxville, or where JaVonta Payton was transferring in from. Instead, Burns just knew that he had a significant amount of talent in the room, and his job was to prepare them to the best of their abilities.

    Burns turned his receiving room into a playmaking room in his first season on Rocky Top.

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    By the end of the season, Tennessee’s offense was humming. The Vols’ offense finished the year ranked seventh in scoring offense, averaging 39.3 points per contest. Additionally, the Vols were ranked ninth in the country in total offense with 474.9 yards per game.

    Burns’ impact on the wide receivers helped Tennessee create one of the most efficient and effective passing attacks in the nation. And under the direction of head coach Josh Heupel, Burns and his players were able to reach that mark in year one.

    Off the field, though, Burns was just as important to Tennessee as he was on the field. Burns had a key role in recruiting some of Tennessee’s top 2022 talent such as Kaleb Webb, Marquarius “Squirrel” White, and Chas Nimrod.

    Tennessee Recruiting: National Signing Day Recap: Tennessee Vols Football

    With Burns moving on to the National Football League, Tennessee won’t have to worry about recruiting/playing against Burns in the near future. In fact, while joining the New Orleans Saints, Burns will now even have the opportunity to coach former Tennessee greats Marquez Callaway and Alvin Kamara.

    Losing Burns is a big blow to the Tennessee staff, mainly because of the impact he had on and off the field in his first season. Burns was a tremendous representative of the University and always carried himself in an approachable and respectful manner during interviews.

    Kodi Burns was able to build the Tennessee receiving room into a threat moving forward, something that worked in tandem with the way Heupel and offensive coordinator Alex Golesh wanted to run the offense. It could be tricky for Tennessee to find a guy to replace Burns, but the Vols do have an opportunity ahead to make a big splash in the assistant coaching realm.

    Ric Butler is a Knoxville based sports media personality who has covered University of Tennessee athletics since 2017. Most recently, he served as the lead writer for the website of a local radio station. Ric also helped create and host a daily radio show called “The Blitz." Ric’s passion for sports, smooth vocal, and infectious personality have made him popular with both his peers and Vol Nation. Originally from Dallas, Ric didn’t grow up riding horses to school. But he did dream of the big city lights. When not chasing down the latest Tennessee story, Ric can be found watching the WWE, often attempting their moves in an embarrassing fashion.