By Mark Nagi
The Tennessee offense was tough to watch in 2020.
It’s new head coach Josh Heupel’s job to fix it.
It took a while, but Heupel’s offensive coaching staff is now complete. Alex Golesh is UT’s offensive coordinator and tight ends coach, Kodi Burns is coaching wide receivers, Glen Elarbee is with the offensive linemen, Joey Halzle has the quarterbacks and Jerry Mack is the running backs coach.
It was not a surprise that Heupel brought a lot of his staff from Central Florida with him to Knoxville. If the results from 2020 come along for the ride, the Jumbotron at Neyland Stadium will be busy this Fall.
Heupel, with Golesh, Halzle and Elarbee’s help, had UCF second in the FBS in total offense with 568.1 yards per game. They were also fourth in passing offense with 357.4 yards per game, seventh in total passing yards with 3,574 and eighth in the nation in scoring offense with 42.2 points per game in 2020.
“Guys that are energetic, passionate, they’re great teachers of the game – more importantly, they’re going to invest in our young people off the field,” said Heupel. “I really do believe that if you take that perspective, you’re going to win-win. You’re going to win on the field and you’re going to win off the field, as well. (This is) a group of guys that some of them, I’ve been with for the last couple of years and some of them that are new to what we’re doing offensively but bring in a great background, both on the recruiting side of it and the development of players as well.”
Harrison Bailey and the rest of the Tennessee quarterbacks should be happy. This offense sounds like a signal caller’s dream.
“We are going to let you rip it,” said Halzle. “We are going to let you rip it all over the field. We are going to put a lot on you. To me, I would say that is quarterback friendly because we are not going to hold your hand. We are going to teach you. We are going to mold you into the best that you can be, and we are going to turn you loose, to go play ball on Saturdays. We don’t make guys play scared. We don’t make them afraid to make mistakes. Go out there and cut it loose.”
You do have to wonder how long it will take this group of offensive players to learn the system. Back in 2008, the Vols never figured out how to play for offensive coordinator Dave Clawson, and it cost Phillip Fulmer his job.
But there doesn’t seem to be much concern from Tennessee’s new offensive coordinator that the change in approach will be an issue.
“Until you get out there and do it day one of spring ball, day one of March or mid-March, until you get out there and physically see it, control it, run it, I think it’s hard to simulate how fast we want to play,” said Golesh. “You’re teaching it, explaining it, and walking through it. But I think until there is wood on the fire and you’re out there with no coaches around, I think it’s really hard. My hope is by practice four, five or six of spring we are hitting at a high tempo. But like any scheme, it doesn’t matter because it’s repetition over everything. The more reps these guys get, the better we are going to be and it’s just force-feeding their program and letting these kids make mistakes and correcting them off the film. The hope is by the middle of spring that we’re operating at a high level. We’re just going to continue coaching and it’s a process-based deal in terms of building the offense. By the time we get to August and September, we’ll be hitting on all cylinders.”