When quarterback coach Mike Bajakian vacated Tennessee’s offensive coordinator position last month most observers figured the Vols would hire a high-profile QB guru to succeed him. Instead, head coach Butch Jones tabbed close friend Mike DeBord, a former guard who has spent most of his career molding offensive linemen.
Question: Why add an offensive line expert when you already have an offensive line coach (Don Mahoney) on staff?
Answer: Because the old cliché — Two heads are better than one — is true.
Consider: The quarterback coach essentially has to get one guy ready to play each week. Ditto for the running backs coach and the tight ends coach. The receivers coach has to get two guys ready. Conversely, the O-line coach must get five guys ready whose techniques and assignments are similar but not identical. That’s a daunting challenge.
A little research shows that most of Tennessee’s best teams the past 20 years were fielded in seasons when the staff featured multiple offensive line coaches. The 1998 national championship team, for instance, saw the O-line responsibilities divided between Mike Barry and Mark Bradley. Throw in the fact that head coach Phillip Fulmer’s greatest area of expertise was blocking, and the ’98 Vol staff essentially featured three O-line experts.
Fulmer also had multiple offensive line coaches working for him in 1997 (Bradley and Rodney Garner), 1999 and 2000 (Barry and Bradley), 2001 (Barry and Doug Marrone), 2002 (Barry and Jimmy Ray Stephens), 2003 and 2004 (Stephens and Greg Adkins), 2006 and 2007 (Adkins and Matt Luke).
It’s interesting to note that the only losing records Fulmer posted at Tennessee coincided with seasons that featured just one offensive line coach – 5-6 in 2005 (Stephens) and 5-7 in 2008 (Adkins).
Here’s another point to ponder: Tennessee’s least talented offensive line of the past 40 years was the 2009 group that featured two walk-on starters in twins Cody and Cory Sullins. Still, that Vol squad produced 4,985 yards of total offense, the seventh-highest number in program history.
That 2009 team, in case you’ve forgotten, featured three O-line coaches on staff. James Cregg, fresh from two years coaching offensive linemen for the NFL’s Oakland Raiders, carried the title but Vol offensive coordinator Jim Chaney oversaw the offensive lines for Cal State-Fullerton, Wyoming, Purdue and the NFL’s St. Louis Rams before arriving in Knoxville. In addition, the ’09 Vol staff featured a grad assistant named Mitch Browning, who had spent most of his 29 years in coaching working with offensive linemen. Though terminated as Syracuse’s offensive coordinator following the 2008 season, Browning was still drawing pay from the Orangemen in 2009, enabling him to fill a part-time but critical role with the Vol O-line that fall.
By hiring Mike DeBord, Jones’ 2015 staff now features two assistants whose greatest area of expertise is the offensive line. Historically speaking, that appears to be a very smart move.
DeBord also is among Jones’ closest friends. That bodes well, too. Phillip Fulmer hired close friend David Cutcliffe as his offensive coordinator in 1993 and that worked out pretty well for the Big Orange.
Recent O-line Coaches (record in parenthesis)
1993: Steve Marshall (10-2)
1994: Steve Marshall (8-4)
1995: Steve Marshall (11-1)
1996: Mark Bradley (10-2)
1997: Mark Bradley, Rodney Garner (11-2)
1998: Mike Barry, Mark Bradley (13-0)
1999: Mike Barry, Mark Bradley (9-3)
2000: Mike Barry, Mark Bradley (8-4)
2001: Mike Barry, Doug Marrone (11-2)
2002: Mike Barry, Jimmy Ray Stephens (8-5)
2003: Jimmy Ray Stephens, Greg Adkins (10-3)
2004: Jimmy Ray Stephens, Greg Adkins (10-3)
2005: Jimmy Ray Stephens (5-6)
2006: Greg Adkins, Matt Luke (9-4)
2007: Greg Adkins, Matt Luke (10-4)
2008: Greg Adkins (5-7)
2009: James Cregg, Mitch Browning* (7-6)
2010: Harry Hiestand (6-7)
2011: Harry Hiestand (5-7)
2012: Sam Pittman (5-7)
2013: Don Mahoney (5-7)
2014: Don Mahoney (7-6)
* graduate assistant
Butch Jones, Mike DeBord, Part I
Butch Jones, Mike DeBord, Part II