The Tennessee Vols’ search for a new defensive coordinator is starting to mirror its recent search for a head coach.
Josh Heupel, who was hired last month to replace Jeremy Pruitt as UT’s head coach, has reached out to several sitting defensive coordinators about taking the job on Rocky Top.
But so far, the interest hasn’t been reciprocated.
The Athletic’s Bruce Feldman reported on Thursday that Tennessee has reached out to Louisville defensive coordinator Bryan Brown and USC defensive coordinator Todd Orlando about the defensive coordinator vacancy.
So where do the Vols turn now?
It seems unlikely that Kevin Steele is going to be retained by Josh Heupel. I’m not sure either party views the situation as a good fit. Steele is still on staff, but that’s because he isn’t going to just walk away from the contract that he signed with Tennessee. And the Vols aren’t going to relieve him of his duties (and pay him his full contract) until their hand is forced.
Another great option for Tennessee is Mississippi State defensive coordinator Zach Arnett. I think Arnett would be a perfect fit for Heupel’s offense, thanks to his experience with Mike Leach (who runs a similar offense as Heupel).
However, a source to A to Z Sports this week that it’s unlikely Arnett leaves Mississippi State for Tennessee.
Another name that I mentioned recently is Green Bay Packers defensive line coach Jerry Montgomery, who worked with Heupel at Oklahoma. Montgomery has never been a defensive coordinator at the NFL or Power-5 level (though he was promoted to co-defensive coordinator at OU, before leaving for the NFL). I’m not sure if Heupel would look in Montgomery’s direction or not, but it’s a name worth watching.
If the Vols want to make a safe hire — and not take a gamble on an unproven defensive coordinator — they should look to their past.
One of the biggest mistakes Butch Jones made during his time at Tennessee was parting ways with John Jancek after the 2015 season.
The Vols’ defense wasn’t perfect in 2015, but it was the best defense we’ve seen at Tennessee over the last decade. In 2015, Tennessee had the No. 17 scoring defense in the nation. If Jancek is the defensive coordinator in 2016 (instead of Bob Shoop), the Vols probably win the SEC East.
Jancek is currently working at Georgia as a defensive quality control coach (he helps break down opposing defenses for Georgia’s offense).
The style of defense that Jancek coaches would be a good fit under Heupel, who wants an aggressive defense that creates turnovers and gets offenses off-schedule (remember the “Orange Swarm” during Jancek’s time at UT).
Jancek likes a defense that plays fast. He is also known for simplifying the defense and letting players’ natural talent take over.
“He’s (Jancek) come in and he’s shown us that he has a simpler set of defensive rules and a simpler set of defensive words that we can go by so everybody along the defense understands what he’s talking about and what he’s doing, so you can be comfortable playing your position,” said former Vols defensive lineman Corey Miller in 2013.
The Vols could do a lot worse than Jancek. And at the rate this search is going, they probably will do a lot worse if they opt to go in a different direction.
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