The Tennessee Vols are still searching for a new defensive coordinator and it appears that Tampa Bay Buccaneers defensive line coach Kacy Rodgers is a major factor.
Rodgers, who played at Tennessee, served as the New York Jets’ defensive coordinator from 2015-2018. When Todd Bowles was fired as the Jets’ head coach, Rodgers followed him to Tampa Bay to serve on Bruce Arians’ staff.
It makes sense that Rodgers is a candidate. He’s a former Vol that has extensive NFL experience.
But there are a few negatives, too. Rodgers hasn’t coached at the collegiate level since 2002 (when he was the defensive line coach at Arkansas). Recruiting is a lot different now than it was nearly 20 years ago.
Offenses are different as well. Up-tempo, spread offenses are all the rage these days. On top of trying to stop those defenses, Rodgers would need to adjust to being the defensive coordinator for a team that is probably going to rank near the bottom of the SEC in time of possession. Would Rodgers be able to quickly adapt to the college game?
But why go with a maybe if you’re Tennessee?
There’s another option that would be a better fit for the Vols.
Wofford head coach Josh Conklin, who happens to be a former Tennessee assistant.
Conklin, who coached safeties at UT in 2012 under Derek Dooley, has been the head coach at Wofford since 2018. Before that, he was Pat Narduzzi’s defensive coordinator at Pittsburgh, where he helped the Panthers upset No. 3 Clemson in Death Valley in 2016.
In an interview in 2019, Conklin reflected on beating Clemson in 2016 and his quotes line up perfectly with that Vols head coach Josh Heupel should be looking for in a defensive coordinator.
“They’re going to gain yards. They’re going to move the football. They’e going to score points,” Conklin said. “What we’ve got to do is find places to get stops. Can you get a couple of turnovers? Can you get them to throw you one or fumble one away? Can you get off the field on third down? That was the thing about that night. We got some stops. We got some picks. We got some turnovers.
When Conklin was the defensive coordinator at FIU in 2014, he helped the defense finish first in the nation in fumble recoveries, second in defensive touchdowns, and fourth in turnovers.
That’s that kind of defense Tennessee will need under Heupel to be successful. The Vols are going to give up some points — it’s inevitable. But an aggressive defense that generates turnovers is what will be the difference. Tennessee’s offense is going to score a lot of points — they just need the defense to be able to get off the field quickly from time to time.
Conklin, who has focused on stopping spread offenses, would absolutely be a great fit for the Vols and Heupel. He also understands college recruiting and has Power-5 experience.
Conklin is extremely well regarded in coaching circles. And he has the right attitude to take on this job.
Rodgers would be a great story because he’s a former Vol, but Conklin is the best fit for Tennessee is trying to accomplish.
Do the Vols want to win the press conference or win on the field?
Featured image via Wofford Athletics