With two new staff changes, Tennessee football only has one coach in the same role he was in Jeremy Pruitt’s first year with the Volunteers.
It’s hard to know what to make of all the new staff changes. Last year, Tennessee football brought on three new guys and switched the roles of three other assistants, including all three coordinator spots. However, outside of defensive coordinator, which was an unproven hire, it was clear that the Vols had accomplished a major upgrade in all those roles.
This year, things started out in similar fashion. UT lost running backs coach David Johnson to the Florida State Seminoles. All Jeremy Pruitt did was bring back Jay Graham. Again, the Vols got at least a neutralized hire and likely a clear upgrade.
However, on Monday, things changed dramatically. Tracy Rocker and Chris Rumph left for the South Carolina Gamecocks and Houston Texans respectively. In the process, Tennessee football brought on two less proven guys.
Jimmy Brumbaugh, who was the co-defensive coordinator and defensive line coach for the Colorado Buffaloes this past year, will take over Rocker’s role on the defensive line. Like Rocker, he has been at lots of places, including the Maryland Terrapins, Kentucky Wildcats under Mark Stoops for four years, Syracuse Orange and LSU Tigers. So he’s at best a wash.
Shelton Felton, meanwhile, who was a quality control coach for the Vols in 2018 and then coached outside linebackers and defensive ends for the the Akron Zips this past year, returns to take over Rumph’s duties with outside linebackers. With only one year of experience in his role, on paper at least, he’s a downgrade from Rumph at this moment.
But upgrades and downgrades are a bit irrelevant. We don’t know what to think of these guys yet. The real story is all the staff changing that has happened since Pruitt took over in 2018. Fresh off just his second season on the job, offensive lineman Will Friend is the only assistant coach who has maintained his role with Rocky Top since Pruitt arrived.
There is some value in that. The Vols had clear upgrades across the board on the offensive line from Year One to Year Two, and it has now gone from the biggest weakness in Pruitt’s first year to the perceived biggest strength heading into 2020. That’s a big deal, and you have to think stability had something to do with it.
Friend, Chris Weinke and Brian Niedermeyer are the only ones who have had on-field positions the whole time, but Weinke moved from running backs to quarterback in 2019, and Niedermeyer just moved from tight ends to inside linebackers. So those guys are semi-holdovers.
Meanwhile, new tight ends coach Joe Osovet was promoted from an off-field position to tight ends coach. He joins Weinke, Niedermeyer and Friend as guys who have been with Pruitt from the start, but this is his first on-field role. Felton can get some credit too since he worked under Pruitt in 2018, albeit off the field.
Still, that means that of the Vols’ 10 assistant positions, nine are led by coaches who did not lead those roles whe Pruitt first arrived. Seven are led by coaches who have not had on-field roles the whole time with Pruitt. Six have not been with the university the whole time under Pruitt, and five are completely different people. This is all before his third year at the helm.
Given how much Phillip Fulmer valued stability when he was head coach of the program, it’s hard to believe this is what he envisioned when he hired Pruitt. But he can take solace in the fact that the one constant among the assistants is an offensive line coach, a position he obviously valued.
We’ll see if it all works out, as Pruitt is still the most important guy. And last year, the staff changes became clear upgrades. But Tennessee football has had lots of turmoil over the past three years. If Pruitt starts winning more, it will come at an even higher rate. So UT may never get stability with its staff.