Tennessee offensive coordinator Mike DeBord's return to college coaching has helped him realize what he missed the most.
DeBord is helping coach a college team in spring practice for the first time since finishing his second stint as Michigan's offensive coordinator in 2007. He spent the next five years as an NFL assistant and worked in sports administration at Michigan in 2013-14.
"In the pros, it's all football, whereas in college you're working with them in every facet of their life," DeBord said. "I actually missed that. I missed working with those kids like that."
DeBord's arrival doesn't signify any major schematic changes for Tennessee, and he's worked with many members of this staff before. The Volunteers plan to run the same type of fast-paced attack they've operated in the first two years of coach Butch Jones' tenure.
The Vols need DeBord to assist in the development of quarterback Joshua Dobbs, who led the Vols to a 4-1 record in his five starts last season.
Jones says DeBord already has made an impact, bringing "a mentality in an offense, the fine details of what it takes it play winning football, definitely a mentality and a presence."
Jones has such faith in Dobbs that the quarterback sat in on DeBord's interview when the Vols sought a replacement for former offensive coordinator Mike Bajakian, who left to become the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' quarterbacks coach. The relationship between Dobbs and DeBord has developed from there.
"Our relationship's continued to grow," Dobbs said. "We're seeing similar things on the field. It's always nice to have a great relationship with your offensive coordinator. You have to have it to be successful."
Even before spring practice, DeBord started building similar relationships with other players.
"He would ask us questions to just kind of find out how we grew up and things like that to kind of get to know us on a personal level," center Mack Crowder said. "Because he did that, we're able to build that trust with him and take his coaching a little bit more."
Jones was on DeBord's staff at Central Michigan from 2000-03 and spent the last three of those seasons as offensive coordinator. Tennessee defensive coordinator John Jancek and defensive backs coach Willie Martinez worked with Jones on DeBord's Central Michigan staff. DeBord and Tennessee defensive line coach Steve Stripling worked together as assistants at Michigan from 2005-07.
That familiarity has allowed Tennessee to maintain continuity even with a new coordinator.
"There's not a whole lot of difference schematically," tight end Ethan Wolf said. "He's doing pretty much the same stuff. The terminology's pretty much the same. He's just kind of trying to bring his own style."
Even while spending the last two years away from football, DeBord said he stayed close to the game by attending Michigan team meetings and practices.
He jumped at the opportunity to reunite with Jones and return to a more active role.
"When that's your passion, it's hard sometimes going to practice, watching and not being able to get involved in actually teaching and coaching," DeBord said. "Now I've got that opportunity and I'm going to take advantage of it."
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