By Alex Norman
Tennessee will have a different look in 2017, thanks in part to some significant off season moves by Butch Jones. Four new assistants have joined the Vols coaching staff, including Brady Hoke, the former head coach at Michigan.
“Right now I love my job,” said Hoke. “I don’t think we could be as a family in a better place than Rocky Top.”
Hoke brings 33 years of coaching experience to Knoxville, including two other head coaching stints (at Ball State and San Diego State). He will oversee the Tennessee defensive line and also adds the title of associate head coach.
Some would see this as a step down for Hoke. For the first time since 2002, he won’t be a head coach or a coordinator. But Hoke says that he’s excited about being a position coach once again.
“I like my room. I like the room that our guys—that I have,” said Hoke. “That doesn’t mean I don’t like everyone else but I like my room. You get a chance to focus back on your world and what you are doing but it is exciting and look forward to it.”
Hoke added, “As a head coach I always coached something on the defensive line. At Ball State I worked with the interior guys, and at San Diego State I coached the defensive line, and at Michigan I would take the two inside or two outside guys. But I love being around those guys… my favorite time of the day when I get to be with those kids.”
Hoke spent the 2016 season as the defensive coordinator at Oregon, and things did not go well. The coaching staff was fired following a 4-8 campaign, including a 2-7 record in Pac-12 play.
“Every situation is different. We had a great staff out there with (Oregon head coach) Mark Helfrich,” said Hoke. “I have a ton of respect for him and the guys that we coached with. And there was a lot of the same things that happened here (at Tennessee) with a lot of injuries up front, especially with the inside interior defensive line. But we are just happy that we are at a great place in a great conference, and it’s exciting for us all.”
Brady Hoke will be asked to get that Tennessee defense back among the best in the Southeastern Conference. Last year they ranked 11th out of 14 teams in the SEC in total defense. He also needs to develop more talent on the defensive line to replace players like Derek Barnett, who left the Vols with 33 career sacks, a program record. Tennessee will also have to replace LaTroy Lewis (77 career tackles) and Corey Vereen (26 career tackles for loss).
While Hoke has had only a few weeks to evaluate the returning players, so far he likes what he has seen, but there is work to be done.
“Number one they better be tough,” said Hoke. “Toughness is something you have to have in this game. Mental and physical toughness. Pride and ownership and who they are and who they represent from their families and name and how they represent each other on the field. The observations on how they have been in meetings and how they approach conditioning and watch in weight room, they have a good work ethic.”