Tennessee Vols head coach Jeremy Pruitt will be replacing at least one coach on his staff during the offseason.
Running backs coach David Johnson announced last weekend that he’s heading to Florida State to join his old friend Mike Norvell’s staff.
But that might not be the only coach that Pruitt ends up having to replace.
For now, however, nothing is inevitable.
WMNL’s Jimmy Hyams reported on Monday that wide receivers coach Tee Martin turned down Lane Kiffin’s offer to join the Ole Miss staff.
Tennessee assistant Tee Martin has decided to stay at UT and not accept offensive coordinator offer from Lane Kiffin at Ole Miss, per a source.
— Jimmy Hyams (@JimmyHyams) January 6, 2020
Staff changes can happen quick, so while nothing appears to be cooking at the moment, that doesn’t mean it can’t change in a moment’s notice.
In fact, I think there are a couple of moves Pruitt could make that would give Tennessee its best possible coaching staff in 2020.
Here’s what I think Pruitt’s staff should look like next season.
* denotes new hire
Offensive coordinator — Jim Chaney: No change here. Chaney didn’t have his finest first half against Indiana in UT’s Gator Bowl win, but he’s obviously had a positive influence on the Vols’ offense this season. He hasn’t had a lot to work with at the quarterback position. But that will change with Harrison Bailey’s arrival next season.
Wide receivers/passing game coordinator — Tee Martin: As noted above, Martin will return to Tennessee in 2020. I think this is a good move for both parties. Martin is a great recruiter and he can sell UT unlike anyone else on the staff (that championship ring makes an impact on recruits). Martin’s stock will only rise as long as he’s on Pruitt’s staff.
Running backs — Jay Graham*: I think Bryan McClendon would also be a solid hire here, but Graham is probably the best hire Pruitt could make. For one, it would give the Vols some nice staff continuity. Graham obviously knows Tee Martin. And he’s worked with Jim Chaney before at Tennessee (in 2012). Graham, who has a reputation for being a solid recruiter, also worked with Pruitt at Florida State in 2013.
Tight ends — Brian Niedermeyer: Tennessee can basically never let this man leave Knoxville. He’s worth every penny he earns and then some. Niedermeyer is one of the best recruiters in the country. He went from being a virtual unknown to possibly the most important person Pruitt’s staff.
Offensive line — Will Friend: There were some questions about how good of an offensive line coach Will Friend was after a lackluster 2018 season. But Tennessee’s offensive line showed immense improvement in 2019. For once, fans weren’t talking about the offensive line getting pushed around. It’s clear that Friend made a big impact on his position group. Pruitt once said that Friend and Sam Pittman are the two best offensive line coaches in the country. Well, Pittman is now the head coach at Arkansas, so I guess that leaves Friend as the best (at least in Pruitt’s eyes).
Quarterbacks — Darin Hinsaw*: I haven’t been enamored with the job that Chris Weinke’s done with Tennessee’s quarterbacks. I didn’t see much improvement from that group as a whole in 2019. Weinke doesn’t have the best reputation as a recruiter or as a developer of quarterbacks. Hinshaw, however, has plenty of experience in the SEC. He coached quarterbacks at Tennessee in 2010 and 2011, before moving to wide receivers in 2012. In 2013, he wasn’t retained by new head coach Butch Jones, so he headed to Cincinnati, where he coached quarterbacks for three seasons. Since 2016, Hinshaw has coached quarterbacks at Kentucky. He’s also Mark Stoops’ co-offensive coordinator. I’m not sure what it would take to bring Hinshaw back to Knoxville, but it could be a wise move. He’s a good recruiter and he could help replace David Johnson in the Memphis area (Hinshaw coached at Memphis from 2007-09).
Defensive coordinator/defensive backs — Derrick Ansley: I thought Ansley did a terrific job in his first season as Tennessee’s defensive coordinator. He had a rocky start to the season, but he eventually settled in nicely. It’s obvious that Pruitt trusts Ansley a lot. But Ansley is a rising star, so it’s unclear how long the Vols will be able to keep him in Knoxville. He’s a future head coach in the making.
Inside linebackers/special teams — Kevin Sherrer: The Vols didn’t have much inside linebacker depth in 2019, so it’s hard to fully evaluate the job that Sherrer did with the group. However, it’s worth pointing out that true freshman Henry To’o To’o looked like a certified stud. How much of that was Sherrer? It’s hard to say, but it certainly reflects well on him.
Outside linebackers/co defensive coordinator — Chris Rumph: Same thing here as with Sherrer. The Vols didn’t have a lot of depth with their outside linebackers. But Rumph has a great reputation as an assistant. And he has plenty of SEC experience.
Defensive line — Tosh Lupoi*: Getting Tosh Lupoi on staff would be an absolute home run for Pruitt. Lupoi, who coached at Alabama from 2014-2018, is one of the best recruiters in the nation. He spent the 2019 season as Freddie Kitchens’ defensive line coach with the Cleveland Browns. There’s obviously multiple connections between Pruitt and Lupoi, though I’m not sure how the title would have to work to bring Lupoi on the staff (he was a co-defensive coordinator when he left Tuscaloosa). But Tennessee is ready to make further strong financial commitments to assistant coaches. As for Tracy Rocker, well there are some rumblings that he might be considering retirement. His son is a pitcher at Vanderbilt and will soon be drafted by a MLB team. It’s possible that Rocker is ready to see more of his son in action, instead of chasing recruits around the country.
Featured image via Randy Sartin-USA TODAY Sports