Tennessee coach Josh Heupel may soon find that his toughest competition in keeping the Vols at an elite level is lurking in the NFL, ready to raid his staff.
It seems the Vols are close to losing one of their assistant coaches to the NFL, based on a Friday report by Football Scoop.
Any potential move by a college assistant coach to the NFL is understandable. The transfer portal and early signing period has made college coaches nationwide consider a move to the pros.
While no one wants to lose an assistant that has been at Tennessee as long as Heupel has, there’s reason to believe that the Vols could actually upgrade their staff if running backs coach Jerry Mack does indeed leave for the Jacksonville Jaguars. There are a couple of reasons why.
First, coaching running backs is not considered nearly as challenging as other positions. In fact, the position is most often times held for an elite recruiter. Mack, who isn’t that, deserves some credit for Tennessee’s run of recent tailbacks, including Jaylen Wright and Jabari Small, who have both announced they were done with college football. However, running the football is more about instinct than coaching. There were surely times in which Mack was just in attendance for an electric run. Pass blocking is something different all together.
Despite his elite running ability, Dylan Sampson hasn’t perfected pass blocking and he’s headed into his third season. That has to be somewhat of an indictment of the coaching he has received. And, to be clear, no one wants Sampson blowing a block and allowing quarterback Nico Iamaleava to get shellacked by an opposing defender.
So what should the Vols do if the “lose” Mack? Simple, call an old friend. Former Tennessee tailback Montario Hardesty has coached three seasons at South Carolina, which gives him SEC experience. He’s also from North Carolina, which is a key recruiting area for the Vols. The resume is solid. His character? Even more so.
Hardesty was one of the toughest players in the 2000’s when he led the Vols out of the backfield, most often hobbled with knee pain. I recalling asking Hardesty how his knee was doing one time and he asked which one. That’s the kind of toughness Sampson could learn from. It also shows how much Hardesty loves Tennessee.
The Vols have flirted with other former players to join their coaching staff, namely former UT quarterback Tee Martin, but the Vols have rarely reached into the past to fill a coaching vacancy. Well, now seems like a great time to fill a coaching position of need, upgrade what Tennessee has gotten from that position and bring home a former Vol. That seems like the easiest hire ever.
There’s no question that Hardesty would answer the phone if Tennessee called. In fact, there’s every reason he should make the move back home. South Carolina head coach Shane Beamer isn’t on nearly as solid footing after the Gamecocks went 5-7 and 3-5 in the SEC last season. The timing seems perfect and, as far as fit, Hardesty seems perfect to replace Mack as well.