New offensive coordinator Mike DeBord will oversee, not overhaul, Tennessee’s offense.
If you’re a Volunteer football fan, that should send you dancing in the streets. Why? Because overhauls can be very, very painful.
First-year offensive coordinator Dave Clawson overhauled Phillip Fulmer’s attack in 2008, with horrendous results: The Vols averaged a mere 17.3 points per game (down from 32.5 the year before) and went 5-7, costing Fulmer his job. The Clawson hire proved to be a one-year disaster.
First-year defensive coordinator Sal Sunseri overhauled Derek Dooley’s stop unit in 2012, switching from a base 4-3 to a base 3-4. Again, the results were horrendous: The Vols allowed a whopping 35.7 points per game (up from 22.6 the year before). Tennessee went 5-7, costing Dooley his job. The Sunseri hire proved to be a one-year disaster.
To recap: An offensive overhaul in 2008 saw Tennessee’s scoring average drop nearly two touchdowns per game. A defensive overhaul in 2012 saw Tennessee’s opponents score nearly two more touchdowns per game.
Current Vol head man Butch Jones understands that new systems involve growing pains. When he and former offensive coordinator Mike Bajakian installed the zone-read at Tennessee in 2013 the Year 1 results were discouraging: The Vols averaged 23.8 points per game overall and a paltry 18.0 in SEC action. That’s why Jones decided to bring in a coordinator who will tweak the offense, not rebuild it from scratch.
“I wanted an individual who could come in, understand our terminology system, understand our coaching staff and look to enhance our offense, not rebuild our offense,” Jones said during DeBord’s introductory press conference on Friday. “Our offense does not need to be rebuilt; it needs to be enhanced.”
Fulmer oversaw the most stable era of Tennessee football, maintaining staffers David Cutcliffe, John Chavis, Dan Brooks, Steve Caldwell and Randy Sanders for more than a dozen years each. The one time Fulmer made a drastic change (Clawson), the move blew up in his face. Jones seems to operate on the same theory: The more stability you have on the staff, the more success you have on the field.
“A lot of people don’t understand: It takes continuity. It takes consistency to win,” Jones said, noting that installing a new system is “extremely, extremely challenging” for the players and coaches, then adding: “I didn’t want to go down that path.”
DeBord already has a firm grasp of Tennessee’s offensive system because he ran a variation of it when he was head coach at Central Michigan (2000-2003) and Jones was his offensive coordinator.
“We ran the zone schemes there, which obviously the spread here is zone,” DeBord said. “Those things didn't change so much.”
As a result, DeBord expects to assimilate Tennessee’s offense in no time flat.
“I don't feel like there will be a transition at all,” he said. “I believe in everything we are doing on offense. I believe in tempo. Butch and I worked together at Central Michigan. We were a no-huddle, fast-tempo team. I believe in all the things we are doing here…. I really don't believe there will be an adjustment that way. Football is football.”
The most noteworthy difference between the offense DeBord and Jones ran at Central Michigan and the one Jones runs at Tennessee is simply the number of runners in the backfield.
“What will change a little bit from our offense here compared to Central Michigan is that we are going to be a one-back spread offense,” DeBord explained. “There (CMU) we used two-back and one-back (formations).”
DeBord has spent most of the time since his hiring reviewing tape of Tennessee’s 2014 offense, noting which plays worked and which ones didn’t.
“We are going to take everything we have done here that they have had success with and continue to move on with that,” the coordinator said. “There will be little wrinkles that we add with my NFL experience to the throw game and maybe our run game here and there."
Although DeBord has been a head coach, a coordinator and a position coach, he makes no secret as to which responsibility he finds most rewarding.
“My true passion in coaching is to coordinate an offense,” he said. “For Butch to give me this opportunity and Tennessee to give me this opportunity, I am thrilled.”
DeBord hasn’t coached at the college level since 2007 but Jones is convinced he won’t miss a beat getting re-acclimated.
“A lot of things we do at Tennessee stem from Mike DeBord,” Jones said. “A lot of people don't realize this but our formation system and the way we call things was designed with Mike DeBord on our staff at another institution (Central Michigan). It’s really like riding a bike.”
DeBord took the bike-riding analogy a step further when asked if he feels any rust after seven years away from the college game.
“There's no rust,” he said. “It goes back to what Butch said: It's like riding a bike. You get back on, you start pedaling. Right now, I'm pedaling pretty fast."
Butch Jones, Mike DeBord, Part I
Butch Jones, Mike DeBord, Part II