Photo by Danny Parker

Help Wanted: Must score 6+ TDs per game

Tennessee's in the market for a playcaller and a quarterbacks coach. Find out what exactly Butch Jones seeks in filling the assistant job on Rocky Top.

Clapping hands, taps on the back and words of encouragement. All of the above were part of the pregame routine for Tennessee coaches — minus one person…Mike Debord.

The Vols playcaller fulfilled those duties while players stretched prior to practice on Haslam Field. On gamedays, DeBord took an early seat in the box high above the playing surface to assure himself of being completely submerged into the script come kickoff.

With DeBord now off to put a bow on his career at Indiana, his replacement at offensive coordinator doesn’t necessarily have to forge camaraderie amongst Team 121 on fall Saturdays, but he will need to orchestrate a touchdown-making attack on some of the most imposing defenses in the nation.

The need to bring on a new playcaller didn’t take Tennessee by surprise as Jones and DeBord as the assistant’s exit was something the two had “been talking about for a few weeks now.”

Mike Bajakian held the position for the 2013 and 2014 seasons before taking a job as the quarterbacks coach of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. DeBord came on to handle those duties for 2015 and 2016. The pair played a vital role in taking over a program that hadn’t been to a bowl since 2010, going 5-7 then 7-6 before back-to-back 9-4 campaigns, including three straight bowl victories.

Jones said his experience hiring a coordinator and doing so in the dead of winter should help in this process with a key being patience and finding the square peg for the square hole. It’s a “very, very critical hire.”

That man must check the boxes in managing the staff, directing the meetings, managing personalities and owning the ability to delegate.

Six FBS coaching jobs are available within the Volunteer State on “The Market” portion of the NCAA’s website. Leading Tennessee’s offense and tutoring its quarterbacks isn’t listed. The guy making the hire gave details.

“I think first of all it’s all about a fit, it’s finding the proper fit for your football program at what stage it is,” Jones said Tuesday night. “When we hired Mike DeBord he was the exact fit that we needed at that appropriate time. Now obviously it’s somebody that fits our profile, somebody that can come in and enhance our offensive system.

“I really liked the way we played football particularly towards the end of the season. I think that the stats and the points per game and everything we were able to do speak for themselves. I liked our balance, I liked the way that we pushed the ball down the field, I liked our formations, I liked our different personnel groupings, our motions. So there is a lot that went into it.

“We have a very, very good staff here at Tennessee. When you gameplan, there’s a lot of individuals (contributing), it’s a team effort, it’s a group effort. I think Mike would be the first to tell you that. So, somebody that fits that can connect with our players, obviously develop our players. Whether it’s an internal candidate or an external candidate, the No. 1 priority that we have to do is get in here a great developer of quarterbacks. Having some very talented quarterbacks in our program, the quarterback development is going to be obviously very, very important. “So, again, somebody that kind of understands our culture, our needs. I think the other thing that goes along with it is staff chemistry but also the recruiting part of it, the recruiting piece. We want an experienced recruiter that understands what it is to go out and compete at this level and in the Southeastern Conference as well.”

Zach Azzanni, Robert Gillespie and Larry Scott are all offensive coaches at Tennessee that have “coordinator” in their title. Jones knows what each brings to the table and an in-house hiring is an option.

“We have some very talented coaches on our staff already,” Jones said. “Obviously I’ll speak with them and make a decision based on is there somebody that I feel comfortable doing that. The thing is, I see these coaches everyday, I’m in every single meeting with them, I’m on the headphones with them on gameday, I’m in the gameplanning meetings. I know their strengths. I know everyone’s contributions and how valuable they are to our football program. So, I witness that on a day-to-day basis.”

The Volunteers scored the second-most points per game (36.4) in the Southeastern Conference and had the fourth most yards (5,968). Jones said he doesn’t see Tennessee “making monumental changes offensively.”

“Again, I like a lot of things we’re doing,” he said, “but I also think it’s an exciting time for us because again maybe we can bring some fresh ideas in here, some new things. I think change is good, I think it revitalizes your players coming back and also from a competitive standpoint — it gives everyone a great opportunity.”

Playcalling experience isn’t paramount because Tennessee scripts so much in the days and weeks leading up to games, however, adjustments must be made from the box to the field in between series and minds must merge during brief halftime strategy.

“Calling plays is important but that’s not the only thing,” Jones said. “I’ve been around a lot of great, great playcallers that didn’t have a lot of experience prior to getting their first-time opportunity. It’s like coach DeBord and I spoke about. The first time…he had never called a play and the first time he called plays at a high level they won a national championship and went undefeated.

“It’s really the direction of the staff, it’s the ability to communicate but also motivate that side of the ball as well. But calling plays and experience is important but there’s a lot of other things that go into determining who our next offensive coordinator will be as well.”

The head man doesn’t believe in timetables and the hire will be made “no matter what time it is.”

Photo by Danny Parker

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