Accommodating coach

If you're looking for the finest coverage available on Vol football, you've found it. Sign in or subscribe now to read the plans of a new Big Orange staff member.

Inheriting an offensive line that helped Tennessee rank 16th nationally at 475.9 yards per game in 2012, first-year line coach Don Mahoney has one goal foremost in mind for 2013:

"Whatever is best for them," he said, "that's what I want to do."

With a new offensive system being installed, Tennessee's linemen inevitably must learn some new terminology and new line calls. Still, Mahoney is determined to avoid bombarding them with so much new information that their brains suffer from system overload.

"As I told them: 'Guys, I'm willing to do what's best for us.' I'll even tweak some things if that makes more sense for them," Mahoney said. "I'm not about to create confusion. I'd be foolish to do that."

That's a sound approach. The cornerstone of Mahoney's projected 2013 O-line will be three-year starters Ja'Wuan James, Zach Fulton and James Stone. All started for Harry Hiestand in 2010 and 2011, then had to learn some new wrinkles while starting for Sam Pittman in 2012. Asking them to learn everything new in 2013 could prove unsettling, so Mahoney is willing to change a little so his troops won't have to change a lot.

"Quite frankly, after so many years as a coach, you sometimes don't want to stay the same," he said. "You want to work to get better. I'm willing to tweak some things possibly. I want to do what's best for them, as far as the learning part."

That approach comes straight from first-year Vol head man Butch Jones.

Center James Stone is poised to start for his fourth straight season as a Vol, which makes Mahoney's transition that much easier.
(Danny Parker/
"Like Coach Jones always says: 'We never want our minds to tie up our feet,'" Mahoney said. "We certainly don't want to do that upfront, with how physical we want to play."

Tennessee did a lot of zone blocking in 2012 and will do even more in 2013. That's what Mahoney taught as Jones' line coach in three years at Central Michigan (2007-09) and three more at Cincinnati (2010-12).

"That's what we've done the last six years," Mahoney said, "with a few other things in there."

Asked why he chose the zone scheme, the new line coach replied: "We had a tremendous quarterback (at Central Michigan) in Dan LeFevour that could run the zone game, as well as just attacking the entire field.

"Zone's what I've enjoyed teaching the most, what I've researched the most. And, in terms of being fast, that's something that ties in to what we do."

Except for 2012 holdover Jay Graham, all of Tennessee's 2013 offensive staffers go way back. Coordinator/quarterbacks coach Mike Bajakian, tight ends coach Mark Elder and Mahoney have been together six years, covering stints at Central Michigan and Cincinnati. Receivers coach Zach Azzanni was a co-worker for three years at Central Michigan, so all of the new offensive aides except for Graham have worked together previously. They've also enjoyed success working together — four league titles in six years — which should be a positive.

"I think it's very important," Mahoney said. "Obviously, right off the bat, the impression it puts on the kids is: 'Hey, these guys have been there, they've done that. They've been in the big games. They've been in the big arenas. They've played for championships. They've not only played for championships but, in some cases, had to repeat as champions.'"

Jones' system worked at Central Michigan and worked at Cincinnati. He's certain it will work at Tennessee. So is Mahoney.

"The biggest thing is, the guys that have been on the staff with Coach Jones know what his expectations are," the new line coach said. "We've seen him work. I'll tell you this: In six years — from the weight room to Coach Jones to all of it — I've seen it work.

"It will be put in place."

Don Mahoney video interview

Fightin Gators Top Stories