The Tennessee Vols are searching for a new offensive line coach after it was reported this week that Will Friend, who has been on UT’s staff since Jeremy Pruitt was hired in late 2017, is leaving Rocky Top for South Carolina.
Tennessee’s offensive line massively underperformed this season. The unit had plenty of five-star talent (Cade Mays, Darnell Wright, Trey Smith, and Wanya Morris), but failed to impress on a weekly basis.
With Friend moving on to South Carolina, it gives Vols head coach Jeremy Pruitt a chance to hire an offensive line coach who can get the most out of a talented group that has the potential to be among the best offensive lines in the SEC (even without Trey Smith, who will be moving on the NFL after 2020).
Here are a few options for Pruitt to consider.
Brent Key — Georgia Tech run game coordinator/offensive line coach
This would be the home run hire that Pruitt could make.
But there’s no guarantee Tennessee could actually steal Key from Georgia Tech.
Key worked with Pruitt at Alabama during the 2016-2017 seasons, so the two are familiar with each other. Key spent three seasons on Nick Saban’s staff, leaving for Georgia Tech, his alma mater, after the 2018 season.
During Key’s time at Alabama, he was regarded as a tremendous position coach and a great recruiter. His offensive lines were finalists for the Joe Moore Award (given annually to the best offensive line unit) in 2017 and 2018.
Again, it seems like a longshot that Pruitt could make this hire — especially considering the uncertainty surrounding his job status heading into 2021 — but it’s probably the best hire he could make.
Mike Devlin — Houston Texans offensive line coach
This would be an outside the box hire (and also a longshot), but it’s a move that would absolutely help Tennessee’s offensive line perform at a high level.
Devlin hasn’t coached in college since 2005 when he was at Toledo. But he’ll likely be looking for a new job this offseason after the Houston Texans hire a new coach to replace the recently ousted Bill O’Brien.
Why would Devlin want to come work for Tennessee?
Money is really the only reason. I’m not sure how motivated Tennesese will be to spend big for assistant coaches this offseason. But I tend to think spending big on an offensive line coach is worth it. Programs can’t win in the SEC without a great offensive line and it’s clear that Tennessee’s wasn’t up to par this past season.
Marcus Johnson — Missouri offensive line
Marcus Johnson is a former Ole Miss offensive lineman who played under David Cutcliffe and later joined his staff at Duke.
Johnson was Duke’s offensive line coach from 2016-17, before joining Joe Moorhead’s staff at Mississippi State. Johnson was hired at Missouri after the 2019 season.
So why should Tennessee consider Johnson?
Well, for starters he’s one of the 56 finalists this year for the Broyles Award, which is given annually to the top assistant coach in the nation.
Johnson also has a really nice pedigree. He blocked for Eli Manning in college, played five years in the NFL and has coached at multiple Power-5 programs (including three years of experience in the SEC). He’s also young, which should help on the recruiting trail.
Finding a young, successful offensive line coach with the experience of Johnson is rare. It wouldn’t be a bad move to try to bring him to Knoxville.
Mike Bloesch — North Texas offensive coordinator/offensive line coach
This might be a more realistic option for Pruitt and the Vols, though it’s not my favorite option.
Bloesch doesn’t have a direct connection to Pruitt, but that’s probably a good thing. Hiring “buddies” hasn’t worked out well so far for Pruitt. He needs some fresh voices on his staff.
And I think that’s something Bloesch, an up-and-coming assistant, could provide.
Bloesch, who joined the staff at North Texas after five seasons at Tulsa, is a nominee for the Broyles Award this year. That shouldn’t come as much of a surprise. North Texas had the No. 8 offense in the nation this season, averaging 513 yards per game.
AJ Ricker — SMU offensive coordinator/offensive line coach
Ricker, another Broyles Award finalist in 2020, is currently a co-offensive coordinator at SMU.
This is another coach without a direct connection to Pruitt, but Ricker does have SEC experience.
Ricker was Missouri’s offensive line coach in 2014 and 2015. Mizzou won the SEC East in 2014. He also has experience at Kansas and Oklahoma State.
From SMU Athletics:
In his first season, Ricker helped lead the offense to national rankings of seventh in scoring offense (41.8), ninth in total offense (489.8) and 13th in passing offense (309.0). The Mustangs’ highest ranking in those categories the previous season was 27th in passing offense, while neither scoring or total ranked inside the top 50. Overall, SMU ranked 14th in the FBS in sacks allowed (1.31), giving up only 17 on the season.
This hire probably wouldn’t generate much excitement, but Ricker is a solid coach who’s had plenty of success.
Marcus Satterfield — Carolina Panthers assistant offensive line coach
I could see this hire being push onto Pruitt.
Satterfield, who played at East Tennessee State, was a grad assistant at UT under Phillip Fulmer in 2002-03. Since then, he’s served in various offensive roles at various programs, including a brief stint at East Tennessee State as the program’s offensive coordinator under Randy Sanders. Satterfield was the tight ends coach at Baylor in 2018/2019 under Matt Rhule.
I don’t think this would be a wise hire. The only reason I even mention it is because I think it could be a possibility, depending on how Fulmer lets Pruitt shape his staff in 2021.
Featured image via Randy Sartin-USA TODAY Sports