VOL. 131 | NO. 16 | Friday, January 22, 2016
Butch Jones Builds for Championship Run With Staff Tweaks
By Dave Link
Tennessee football coach Butch Jones got serious about taking the next step with his football program not long after his team’s 45-6 victory over Northwestern in the Jan. 1 Outback Bowl.
UT football coach Butch Jones, right, welcomes the team’s new defensive coordinator, Bob Shoop. Shoop left Penn State, where he was defensive coordinator for former Vanderbilt coach James Franklin.
(Amy Smotherman Burgess/Knoxville News Sentinel via AP)
Jones fired defensive coordinator John Jancek on Jan. 6, and three days later hired his top candidate for the opening, Bob Shoop of Penn State.
This wasn’t just any firing and hiring by Jones.
This was Jones firing his defensive coordinator of the past six seasons, a coach with ties to Jones’ family – their sons are good friends and walk-ons with the Vols – and hiring a coach with no previous connection to him or UT.
Jones got UT athletic director Dave Hart to ante up $1.15 million per year over the next four years to hire Shoop away from Penn State, where he was making about $1 million a year.
It’s a statement hire meant to win SEC titles, and nobody knows it better than Shoop.
“I know what the expectations are here,” Shoop says. “We’re here to build a championship caliber defense, let me be clear on that.”
Shoop isn’t afraid to put himself in a pressure situation at UT. He’s the assistant hired to get the Vols another SEC championship. He’s the highest-paid assistant in UT history, making twice as much as Jancek, and $650,000 more than any other UT assistant.
As much as Tennessee valued Shoop, he valued UT. Shoop will pay his buyout at Penn State, more than $800,000, and he does not have a buyout in his Tennessee contract.
Shoop came to UT to prove himself as a defensive coordinator at the highest level of college football.
“To me, that was part of the appeal,” he explains. “Think about the jump I made five years ago from a 1-AA coordinator in the (Colonial Athletic Association) to the SEC. That was really kind of exciting.
“Football is football. I’m coaching the same Xs and Os I coached at William & Mary or at Yale or different (places), or very similar. The game evolves, and I have to continue to evolve with that. But certainly the SEC is the best that college football has to offer.”
Shoop has been at most levels.
The Oakmont, Pennsylvania, native played wide receiver at Yale and started his coaching career there as a graduate assistant in 1989. He also coached at Virginia (1990) and Northeastern (1991-93) before his first stint as a defensive coordinator at Yale from 1994-96.
He was also defensive coordinator at William & Mary (2007-10) before his big break when Vanderbilt University coach James Franklin hired him as defensive coordinator for the 2011 season.
For three seasons at Vanderbilt, Shoop’s squad ranked in the top 25 nationally in total defense. Shoop went to Penn State in 2014 when Franklin was hired as head coach, and his defenses were just as stout.
Penn State ranked second in the nation in total defense and seventh in scoring defense in 2014 and was 15th nationally last season in total defense.
Shoop said UT fans will see “an in-your-face style of defense that’s built on relentless pursuit and never-ending pressure.”
“Our formula for success, it’s stood the test of time whether it’s the Tennessee Titans, whether it’s the Vols, whether it’s the local high school,” Shoop adds.
“Stop the run. We’re very committed to stopping the run, eliminating any and all explosive plays and create takeaways. That’s an area we think we can do better in. We want to be disruptive. We want to get after the quarterback. We want to create tackles for loss, something we were very good at last year at Penn State.”
Shoop wasn’t a complete stranger when he met with his UT defense for the first time.
While at Vanderbilt, Shoop recruited Middle Tennessee and went head-to-head against UT.
Among the current Vols he recruited for Vanderbilt are junior linebacker Jalen Reeves-Maybin of Clarksville Northeast High, freshman defensive lineman Kyle Phillips of Nashville Hillsboro High, defensive end Derek Barnett of Brentwood Academy and sophomore defensive back Rashaan Gaulden of Independence High in Spring Hill.
“The Midstate has a great abundance of talent,” Shoop points out. “One thing I have been charged with from the head coach (Jones) and from the recruiting people is to continue establishing ties there and recruit the best players from the Midstate to this area.”
Shoop got good news for his 2016 defense a couple of days after being hired at UT and more good news about a week later.
First, Reeves-Maybin announced Jan. 12 – the morning of Shoop’s introductory press conference – he would return for his senior season instead of declaring for the NFL Draft, and standout cornerback Cameron Sutton made the same announcement last Friday (Jan. 15).
Shoop had an idea Reeves-Maybin would return before he announced it.
During the Jan. 11 national championship game between Alabama and Clemson, Shoop and Reeves-Maybin were exchanging text messages almost constantly.
“I felt like we were watching the game together,” Shoop says. “(Reeves-Maybin) and Elliot Berry were together and we were going back and forth, talking about old times and talking about how excited we are to be together.”
If Tennessee wins an SEC title with Shoop on board, don’t be surprised if his next stop will be as a head coach.
His move to Knoxville will have paid off for him and UT. It was too good for both parties to pass up.
“Tennessee is one of those jobs that you always have in the back of your mind,” Shoop explains.
“After living in the Midstate for three years and having competed against Tennessee for three years, I’ve watched Tennessee football in Neyland Stadium, and there’s only a handful of places I’ve ever been in as a coach where I’ve walked in and got chills.
“You can put on a Vol Walk before the bowl game against Northwestern and say, ‘That’s amazing.’ The fan base is rabid, this is as big time as big time gets to me.
“When Coach Jones reached out to me it was all about making sure that it was the right fit with the coaching staff and it was what coach Jones and the staff wanted.”
3 THINGS MOVING FORWARD
Larry Scott’s hiring
Tennessee got a big hire Jan. 4, bringing tight ends coach Larry Scott on board, and it certainly won’t hurt the Vols’ stretch run to the Feb. 3 National Signing Day.
In fact, Scott’s hire started paying off when offensive tackle Marcus Tatum of Mainland High in Daytona Beach (Florida) committed to the Vols on Jan. 11. Tatum chose the Vols over Alabama and Florida.
Scott recruited Florida while serving as tight ends coach at the University of Miami and during his interim stint as head coach there after Al Golden was fired seven games into the 2015 season. As interim head coach, Scott led the Hurricanes to a 4-2 record and berth in the Sun Bowl. Before Miami, Scott coached at his alma mater, South Florida, from 2005-12.
Scott replaced Mark Elder, who was hired as Eastern Kentucky’s head coach in December. Elder was the lowest-paid coach on the Vols staff at $245,000 per year. Terms of Scott’s contract were not released by Tennessee.
Vols’ recruiting push
Tatum was Tennessee’s 17th commitment (as of Monday, Jan. 18) and its third offensive lineman for the Class of 2016.
The Vols likely will sign 22 to 23 players and with a strong finish could make a climb from its No. 21 ranking by Rivals.
Tatum is a standout, but only rated with three stars by Rivals. At 6-foot-5, 250 pounds, Tatum needs to develop before he’s ready to be an SEC tackle, so he’s a redshirt candidate. Plus, the Vols have ample experience at tackle returning in Brett Kendrick, Chance Hall, and Drew Richmond.
Among the targets during UT’s final recruiting push are defensive end Jonathan Kongbo of Arizona Western College/Holy Cross High, British Columbia; cornerback/wide receiver Marquez Callaway of Warner Robbins (Georgia) High; safety Nigel Warrior of Peachtree Ridge (Georgia) High; and defensive end Jordan Woods of North Marion High in Citra, Florida.
Kongbo, rated the nation’s top junior college prospect, de-committed from Tennessee on Jan. 6 but still has the Vols among his top eight schools. His final eight are UT, Ole Miss, Alabama, Oregon, Florida State, Oklahoma, USC, and Washington. He plans to commit on National Signing Day.
Receivers in spring
When Marquez North didn’t enroll in classes for the spring semester, UT’s needs at wide receiver became even more glaring and spring practices even more crucial for a passing game that under-performed in 2015.
North, of Mallard Creek High in Charlotte, North Carolina, didn’t come close to expectations for his junior season at UT after being a full-time starter his first two years. He played in seven games with five starts, caught six passes for 58 yards, and was a game-time decision not to play several times. North might declare for the NFL Draft.
Tennessee has one wide receiver commitment in the 2016 class, three-star Brandon Johnson of American Heritage High/Plantation, Florida, and has a January enrollee at wide out, Jeff George of Dodge City (Kansas) Community College.
One of UT’s top receiver recruits for 2016, Binjimen Victor of Coconut Creek High in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, committed to Ohio State on Monday.
Dave Link is a freelance journalist living in Knoxville.