Hoke: 'This thing is going in the right direction'

Brady Hoke has his work cut out for him with what he inherits with Tennessee's defensive front. Can the award-winning coach mold the Volunteers into a steel curtain this fall?

It's hard not to call Butch Jones tabbing Brady Hoke to replace Steve Stripling as Tennessee's associate head coach and defensive line coach as anything but a home-run hire.

Accumulating knowledge for the staff meeting room from coaches that understand Power 5 conference football and have excelled is key to engineering a roster that yields victories on fall Saturdays. 

Hoke brings that for Tennessee, having worked his way up the ladder, piling up hardware along the way. He's earned honors such as 2011 Maxwell Football Club Collegiate Coach of the Year, 2010 Mountain West Conference Coach of the Year and 2008 Mid-American Conference Coach of the Year.

"Hopefully I bring a little bit different perspective at times," said Hoke, who has known Jones for 15-18 years. "Coach and I talked about that during the hiring process. So I think it helps because of the different situations and the different things that you go through. I think Butch is pretty grounded. Really what I know of him and what I see of him on a daily basis, this thing is going in the right direction."

Although he's been on Rocky Top less than 3 weeks, the Ball State (1982) graduate says he loves the staff chemistry, including having "a lot of respect" for second-year Tennessee defensive coordinator Bob Shoop. He has an even greater respect for such things after taking the 2015 season off. While visiting campuses across the nation, he even stopped in Knoxville for a spring practice.

"I took some time to go to different places to see how guys do things either good or bad or whatever," Hoke said. "But, no never envisioned being back here."

Anxious to teach. Anxious to mold talent. Anxious to engineer athletes into defensive weaponry.

"It's my favorite time of day when I get to be with those kids," Hoke said.

While head coach at Michigan, Hoke and his staff identified, recruited and signed former Scout four-star defensive line prospects like Taco Charlton — from Ohio State's back yard — and Chris Wormley. — also from the Buckeye State. Both finished their careers with the Wolverines as first-team All-Big Ten. Without the defenders that Hoke and his coaches brought to Ann Arbor, Hoke's replacement Jim Harbaugh likely looks like the biggest waste of $9 million in coaching history.

It remains to be seen if Hoke can equal success on the recruiting trail in the Southeastern Conference, but he at least knows "what good looks like" and has proven he can develop talent on the D-line.

That coaching ability is going to come in handy as the Volunteers work to rebuild their defensive front.

Derek Barnett declared. Corey Vereen graduated. LaTroy Lewis graduated. Andrew Butcher retired. Charles Mosley is off the roster. Dimarya Mixon is gone. Jay Blakely, Alexis Johnson, Mykelle McDaniel, Kahlil McKenzie, Austin Smith and Shy Tuttle all suffered injuries in 2016 that resulted in each one of them being in street clothes on the sideline at some point.

A phrase commonly used by Jones and some of his coaches is "work in progress." That will undoubtedly hold true for Hoke's bunch up front throughout the entire spring as walk-ons will get extended reps due to a lack of healthy bodies.

Hoke has to start somewhere. If there's a bright spot for a guy who loves to see student-athletes learn, grow and prospect, it's that Miami product Deandre Johnson from the 2017 class is on campus already and ready to get to work this spring.

To hear much more from Hoke, watch the video above.


Photo by Danny Parker

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