With an important season coming up in 2017 for the Tennessee football team, this offseason the team has focused on building an elite coaching staff.
In total, the Vols have made six coaching changes this offseason.
On Tuesday, March 7, the three newest additions, Kevin Beard, Brady Hoke and Walt Wells, talked about their new positions on the coaching staff and how they are adapting.
Walt Wells: Out of the three new coaches, Walt Wells is the most familiar with Tennessee; for the past year he has been an offensive quality control assistant. On Feb. 27, Wells was promoted to offensive line coach.
Wells said his past experience at UT gives him a leg up in recruiting compared to the rest of the incoming coaching staff.
“That (having been here before) gives me a chance to do more recruiting to be quite honest with you,” Wells said on Tuesday. “Because I understand the terminology — we were in the room all last year and had a great room, and we still do. So, with the new stuff we’re doing, it’s good to learn that quickly but then move on to some of the other things I’ve got to do.”
Wells comes in with over 21 years of coaching experience as an offensive line coach and coordinator. Before UT, Wells was at Eastern Kentucky (1997-2002, 2015), New Mexico State (2014), South Florida (2013) and Western Kentucky (2003-2012).
Wells will be replacing Don Mahoney, who joined UT when head coach Butch Jones started in 2013.
As spring practice approaches, Wells will be working with an offensive line that lost just one starter from last year and has a lot of depth. With all of that depth at his disposal, Wells will be looking at some position battles in the spring.
“I think the biggest thing that we need to do up front is all of the above, strength, continuity is a big thing and become one,” Wells said. “We need to settle in on some positions, but we’ve got tons of competition so it’s going to be hard to do that in the spring.”
Along with the returning players, Wells will also benefit from the arrival of freshman Trey Smith. Smith, rated the number one prospect by ESPN, was an early enrollee, meaning that he will be available to participate in spring practice — giving him a head start over the other incoming freshmen.
Wells is excited to coach a player like Smith.
“He will start off at left tackle, and then we’ll see where he goes as the spring goes on. There’s a lot of pressure on Trey, but he is a young man that is willing to take that. He’s mature, and he’s come in and worked well. I am looking forward to seeing him compete,” Wells said.
Brady Hoke: With much of the UT football staff coming in with little coaching experience at big time schools, adding Brady Hoke to the staff was a huge get. Hoke comes in with defensive line coaching experience, which is his new position at UT, and 12 years of head coaching experience, including four years as head coach of Michigan.
Hoke’s 12 years of head coaching experience at Michigan (2011-2014), San Diego State (2009-2010) and Ball State (2003-2008) is something that gives him an obvious advantage and which greatly benefits the UT staff.
However, despite having been a head coach before, Hoke is excited to be back as a defensive line coach.
“It’s fun being with those kids,” Hoke said on Tuesday. “That’s why as a head coach I always coached something on the defensive line… I love being around those guys. My wife gets mad because 2:25 is my favorite time of day because I get to be with those kids.”
Through his 33 years of coaching experience, Hoke has already gotten to know Butch Jones, even trying to get Jones to join his coaching staff while he was head coach at Ball State.
“He (Butch) was a heck of a coach with Mike Debord at Central Michigan at the time. You would see him at clinics, and recruiting, all those kinds of things. It’s probably been 16 years of knowing each other,” Hoke said.
Hoke will be the coach of the defensive line and the associate head coach. He will be replacing Steve Stripling, who will be the director of football program development for the Vols. Hoke will have his hands full — the Vols defense ranked 11th out of 14th in the SEC last year.
Hoke said he looks forward to improving that statistic with some of the returning staff and the new defensive coaches.
“It’s just not going to be me (trying to help them improve), believe me,” Hoke said. “Another year of the kids with Bob Shoop and his defense and with Thig (Tommy Thigpen) being a guy who has been here. I can’t say enough about Thig or Charlton as the secondary coach.”
Kevin Beard: While Hoke and Wells come in with many years of college coaching, Kevin Beard is the novice of the bunch. Beard enters with just three years of coaching experience, with only one of them being as a wide receivers coach, the spot he will be in charge of at UT.
Beard, despite only three years of coaching experience, has spent time at some elite schools such as Miami (2014-2015) and Georgia (2016). He had just taken the wide receivers coaching job at Florida International on Dec. 5 before deciding to take the Tennessee job just a week ago.
While at Miami, Beard connected with now offensive coordinator Larry Scott, who at the time was the interim head coach at Miami for the last six games of the 2015 season. Now, Beard said he is excited to reconnect.
“It’s definitely a great opportunity,” Beard said on Tuesday. “Working with him back at Miami, he was always a pro. He’s a professional. I’m excited for what he is about to do.”
Beard will be bringing some personal knowledge thanks to his playing days, as well. He was a wide receiver at Miami from 2001-2003, where, in 2001, he won a national championship.
While at Miami as a coach, Beard played a large part in recruiting and even recruited some players who are now at UT, including sophomore wide receivers Brandon Johnson, Tyler Byrd and Latrell Williams and offensive lineman Marcus Tatum.
Beard said the recruiting aspect is something that he loves about his job.
“In this process and in this profession — recruiting — some people like it, some people don’t. And I love it,” Beard said. “The reason why I love it is because you build relationships with young men and families. I don’t recruit players just to come to my school. I recruit players to educate them on the process.”
Now, as spring practice inches closer, Beard said he has one goal on his mind.
“At the end of the day, we want to get better fundamentally,” Beard said. “We’ll be able to look at the film on day one and see the things that we struggle with… That’s the things we’re looking to get out of spring ball — that we want to have fundamental integrity.”
Spring practice for the Vols begins on March 21 and will conclude with the Orange and White game on April 22.