By Alex Norman
Who needs an offensive coordinator anyway!
That surely must be what the folks at the UT football complex are thinking these days. As of the writing of this article, 39 days had passed since Tyson Helton resigned as Tennessee’s OC to take the head coaching job at Western Kentucky.
As a comparison, Derek Dooley memorably avoided the media for 38 days after the historic loss at Kentucky in November 2011, despite nearly his entire coaching staff resigning and multiple recruits de-committing.
Certainly the program is in better shape than it was in late 2011/early 2012, but a delay of this length is rather troubling.
By the time you read this, maybe Tennessee has an offensive coordinator. Or maybe they don’t. What is clear is that the Vols went through the early signing period without one. Pruitt addressed that important development on December 19th.
“I’d rather talk about recruiting right now,” Pruitt said at his press conference on the first day of the early signing period. “Ya know the offensive coordinator sometimes is overrated. You look, and you watch these teams out here, and there are some of these teams that it probably doesn’t matter who the offensive coordinator is – based off talent, or lack thereof. So I think the most important thing right now is recruiting.”
In Pruitt’s defense, you can make a case that a lot of positions are overrated. The head coach, the quarterback… they get too much credit when things go right and too much blame when things go wrong. But to say that one of his top two lieutenants isn’t crucial to the success of a program is shortsighted. The OC role is probably even more important for Pruitt than the defensive coordinator position since Pruitt is a defensive guy. The offensive coordinator works more independently.
At a place like Auburn, Gus Malzahn is the offensive coordinator, no matter who has the official OC title. But at Tennessee, they won’t have as much meddling from the head coach.
The Vols OC has to figure out how to best use underutilized playmakers like wide receiver Marquez Callaway and running back Ty Chandler. They need to get quarterback Jarrett Guarantano to stop holding onto the football for that extra second or two that leads to a sack. And they must get the offensive line to protect Guarantano more effectively.
It would have been nice to have an OC on the job working on these things over the past 5-6 weeks, but that’s not been the case.
All the names you have heard in this search are finding other jobs. Former Ole Miss HC Hugh Freeze is now the Liberty head coach. NC State OC Eli Drinkwitz is the head coach at Appalachian State. Auburn’s OC Chip Lindsey joined Les Miles at Kansas. Oklahoma State’s OC Mike Yurcich jumped to Ryan Day’s new staff at Ohio State.
Pruitt is doing his due diligence here. He’s not going to be rushed into a hire. Pruitt has the full support of his athletics director, Phillip Fulmer, who knows better than anyone just how important this decision will be. In 2008, Fulmer hired Richmond head coach Dave Clawson to replace David Cutcliffe, who was leaving to take the head coaching job at Duke. The Vols offense was a disaster in 2008. Despite having a lot of talent, they just never meshed with Clawson’s system. That led to Fulmer’s firing at the end of the season.
But enough is enough. National signing day is a month away. Spring practice gets underway in March. Pruitt needs to make a decision and close a deal with his new offensive coordinator.
It’s beyond time.