When asked about his comfort level between last season and now, Tennessee co-defensive coordinator Chris Rumph likened the experience to buying a new house.
After Rumph was hired away from Florida by then-first-year head coach Jeremy Pruitt, he had to learn to adapt again — adapt to new team, a new coaching staff and a new town.
“It’s like buying a house,” Rumph said. “I bought my house last year, I turned the lights off and I’m touching, trying to find where this is and bumping into this wall. Now I can turn the lights off and walk all through my house. I know where everything is. I’m comfortable.
“It’s the same thing with this team. I know what to expect. I can coach and teach ball instead of just doing the little things.”
That comfortability with his surroundings, having now been in Knoxville for over a year, hasn’t just helped Rumph and his family adjust, it’s helped Rumph in his coaching duties for Tennessee’s improving defense.
“It’s a comfort level, man,” Rumph said. “You can say something and the players know what you’re talking about. Last year, everyday was a new day. You didn’t know what to expect from practice. This time last year, the players were nervous. Now those guys have gone through every phase of the program. Now they get it; now they see the big picture.”
While Pruitt took over the bulk of the play-calling duties on defense, he named Rumph his co-defensive coordinator and outside linebacker coach ahead of the 2018 season. The Tennessee defense was one of the most improved in college football in Rumph’s first season, jumping up 74 spots from 2017 in run defense and 45 spots in third down defense.
For Rumph, it wasn’t just about building and improving relationships with his own players but with Pruitt as well. Heading into their second season together, Rumph has noticed a difference in how Pruitt has built a relationship with his staff and players that goes beyond the Xs and Os.
“Coming in as a head coach, you’re trying to build your program,” Rumph said. “You’re trying to create the culture. A lot of times when you do that, you don’t get the chance to really know your players. Now, this year I think he’s really gotten to know his players, so now they know his expectations.
“Now when you come at somebody, they know where it’s coming from. I tell my guys all the time, you got to know that I care about you. I think that’s where we’re at right now as a staff.”
The players agree, especially senior linebacker Daniel Bituli, who has bonded with Rumph over the past year outside of practice and team-related activities.
“Our relationship has been great,” Bituli said. “Coach Rumph is a great man. You know, I see him at church all of the time, so we laugh it up over there. I’m really glad to have him as our coach.”
As Rumph gets set to embark on his second season on the Vols defensive staff, he is cherishing the relationships he’s built in his short time here, both on and off the field.
“I’ve been on some really good staffs,” Rumph said. “But I really enjoy these guys. I enjoy coming to work. I enjoy being able to work here. I work with some great men. Besides being football coaches, they’re great people. I enjoy being around them.”