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Tennessee Football: As SEC offenses scramble, the Vols are stable

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It would be hard to envision a season of more offensive change in the SEC than what the conference is currently undergoing. However, Tennessee is basically staying the same.

While there are massive offensive overhauls underway across the conference, the Vols stuck to their up-tempo guns following the 2022 season. Sure, Tennessee lost former offensive coordinator Alex Golesh, who accepted the head coaching job at South Florida, but nothing will really change when the Vols have the ball. UT head coach Josh Heupel is the offensive mastermind even though Joey Halzle has the title of offensive coordinator. Other SEC teams must be jealous of the Vols with change becoming so commonplace.

A whopping ten offenses will be led by a new coordinator in 2023. Some of those programs stand in the way of the Vols and their goal of winning an SEC and national championship. Alabama, Georgia, Kentucky Missouri, South Carolina and Texas A&M are the most noteworthy since those teams are all on Tennessee’s schedule this season.

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Start with Georgia, which recently hired Mike Bobo to replace Todd Monken, who left for the NFL. Bobo’s hire shouldn’t scare anyone in the SEC. He has had a successful career, but no one would identify him as an “innovative” offensive mind. 

Then, there’s Alabama. The Crimson Tide will turn its offensive identity over to Tommy Rees. The former Notre Dame coach is a solid hire. However, Bama head coach Nick Saban’s decision to hire Rees is a clear indication that the Crimson Tide offense is going to be more pro-style than spread and up-tempo as Bama has been for more than a decade.

The thorn in Tennessee’s side last season, South Carolina, hired Dowell Loggains to replace Marcus Satterfield, who bolted for Nebraska. If you’re unsure who Loggains is, join the club. The longtime NFL coach left Arkansas to join the Gamecocks. Again, no one in the SEC is shaking in their spurs.

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There’s no question that Texas A&M’s hiring of Bobby Petrino as its offensive coordinator is the most salacious. Petrino is known for good offenses and illicit motorcycle rides with campus coeds. Cutting edge? Nope.

Kentucky hired Liam Coen for the second time after he coached for the Los Angeles Rams in the NFL – twice. Coen’s last season in Lexington, 2021, was nothing special. The Cats were fifth in the SEC in scoring offense as they finished the season 10-3. 

Missouri hired Kirby Moore from Fresno State after Eliah Drinkwitz decided that being the head coach and offensive coordinator at the same time was just too much. Moore is the younger brother of Dallas Cowboys offensive coordinator Kellen Moore. Does that frighten anyone?

Tennessee has an advantage over all of the other teams in the SEC that have had to replace their offensive coordinators because of Heupel. Frankly, Halzle could struggle in his new role and it would be hard to determine as much from the outside. However, don’t you have to trust Heupel at this point? He’s earned that in just two years on the job.

There may come a time in which the Vols have to alter their offensive scheme, but that seems unlikely as long as Heupel is the head coach. It also seems unlikely that time will ever come. Heupel is so far ahead of the curve that it could take years for defenses to catch up. If that’s the case, then Tennessee may have some offensive coaches along for the ride. As long as they’re not dead weight, that’s fine. 

No one is expecting Halzle or Alec Abeln, Tennessee’s newest tight ends coach, to match Heupel in play design, game planning or even play calling. He seems to have that mastered. If any offensive coach at Tennessee finds himself a bit lost in a coaches’ meeting, there’s one thing they can always do: recruit. 

Recruiting is what will ultimately define any offensive coach under Heupel. The Vols landed a top ten signing class for the 2023 cycle. That’s not good enough to compete with the elite teams in the nation. So instead of dialing up plays, Tennessee’s newest coaches should be dialing up prospects whenever possible. To truly change Tennessee’s fortunes for the best in the years to come, that’s the greatest way to have an impact.

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