As the Tennessee offensive coordinator search reaches its third day, the cry for a named hire is loud and clear.
Some fans have been down right celebratory in the news that Mike DeBord will no longer be running the Big Orange offense. The fact that the Vols scored 36.4 points per game — the highest total since 1993 — means little as Team 120 failing to win the Southeastern Conference Eastern Division seemingly has to be owed by all. The criticisms that have flooded message boards like ours at InsideTennessee for DeBord lies in slow starts, too many turnovers and a failure to get it done "when it matters."
There is no doubt that the some of those mentioned criticisms directed at DeBord are valid. The Vols did start extremely slow in most games. Tennessee did commit seven turnovers at Texas A&M and laid a serious egg at South Carolina. However, the reality check that some of these Vol fans need to understand is there are no perfect offensive coordinators when it comes to game-after-game success.
One would be hard pressed to find a Big Orange fan that doesn't think David Cutcliffe set the bar for all Tennessee offensive coordinators. When looking at the "glory days" under his leadership it is clear that his offenses were not immune to days of struggle. In 1996, Cutcliffe was in charge in the most embarrassing loss in Vols history, falling 21-17 at Memphis. He also put together a gameplan that 21 minutes into the showdown with Florida saw the Vols trailing 35-0 — with Peyton Manning at signal-caller. Late in that season the Vols could only muster up 14 points versus a 2-9 Vanderbilt team.
The 1997 offense was arguably the best in history. However, even that offense had days of struggle. Manning and company could not get it done against Florida, scored only 17 points against another bad Vanderbilt team and was completely outclassed in a 42-17 bowl loss to Nebraska.
The struggles aren't mentioned to disparage the career of a great offensive mind in Cutcliffe but mentioned to show that all great offenses hit speed bumps.
Butch Jones often mentions that his team must play complimentary football in order to succeed. The 1996 and 1997 Vanderbilt games show just that happened for the Vols as they won those games 14-7 and 17-10, respectfully.
This season DeBord did not receive the same benefit of complimentary football as Cutcliffe. In the past few days some fans have pointed to the Vanderbilt loss this season as a damning moment for Debord. On that day his offense scored 34 points and had 516 yards of total offense. That loss clearly was due to a lack of the defense playing complimentary football.
Tennessee set a program-record for touchdowns in a season with 63. On the schedule were the likes of Alabama (No. 1), Florida (5), Georgia (16) and Nebraska (30), who all had defenses that ranked in the top 30 in the nation.
Many fans have expressed their excitement in the possibility of former Oregon head coach Mark Helfrich replacing DeBord. When looking at his résumé closely it is clear he isn't immune to question marks as well. As offensive coordinator under former head coach Chip Kelly, he was not the playcaller. In Kelly's last year as head coach the Oregon offense averaged an astounding 49.6 points per game. In all four years since his departure the point per game stat has declined steadily and averaged over 14 points less this season than just 5 years prior. The Oregon offense has also long been considered to be a style that struggles against physical defenses as well as putting a great deal of stress on its complimenting defense with its fast pace. With the physical nature of defenses in the SEC and the questions with the Volunteer defense for next season, Helfrich appears to be a risky pick.
As the search for an offensive coordinator continues fans need to understand that the future of Tennessee football does not solely rest in the success of this hire. If Jones and the Big Orange are going to win the SEC East in the coming years it will not be because he hires a perfect offensive coordinator. That is because in reality there is no such a thing as a perfect offensive coordinator if the measuring stick used lies in every single game being an offensive explosion.