The coaching carousel gives and takes for a full 365 days of the year. One day you think your team’s staff is safe and confident in their current position. The next day, you wonder if it’s a sign of impending doom that they’ve taken another job somewhere else.
Tennessee has now lost four coaches from its 2019 staff in less than two months. David Johnson went to Florida State, Kevin Sherrer went to the New York Giants, and now two coaches in the defensive front have departed. Defensive line coach Tracy Rocker is joining up with Will Muschamp at South Carolina, while outside linebackers coach Chris Rumph will head to the Houston Texans. Both moves happened within a day of each other.
Interestingly enough, so did the moves to replace them. Jeremy Pruitt was quick to work, hiring Colorado defensive line coach Jimmy Brumbaugh and Akron outside linebackers coach Shelton Felton to fill the open spots. Some would say he even...planned it!
Now it’s a question of whether those replacements will be an upgrade, downgrade, or neither.
Jimmy Brumbaugh (DL Coach)
Tennessee’s defensive line should not miss a beat with Brumbaugh replacing Rocker. Brumbaugh is respected among SEC staffs, thanks to his work at Kentucky from 2013 to 2016. Brumbaugh isn’t necessarily the best recruiter—in fact, that’s the main area where he’s neither an upgrade nor a downgrade—but his ability to develop talent is one reason Kentucky rose from the gutters. I wouldn’t argue that anyone necessarily became a “star” thanks to his coaching, mainly because you only do that if you have talent. Kentucky’s best linemen from the era all had very high ceilings before they entered the program.
Instead, I’d argue that Brumbaugh’s coaching benefitted the group as a whole and got them to a respectable level. The Wildcats hit their stride in 2018 thanks to a veteran defense whose experience in the backend finally caught up to the front end. Their defensive line was never a question mark under Brumbaugh and Mark Stoops. The two combined to bring in enough talent and coach up that talent for a successful rebuild.
The same thing appears to have happened at Colorado. Buffalo fans are disappointed Brumbaugh is departing, as he helped flipped Colorado’s defensive line in a single year. Mel Tucker was largely responsible for recruiting the players, while Brumbaugh is partially responsible for getting a group of younger players up to speed.
Overall this is a good hire for Tennessee. Not amazing, not bad. Previous coach Tracy Rocker is a very good coach and succeeds pretty much anywhere he goes. It’s never fun to lose those type of guys.
Shelton Felton (OLB Coach)
Felton‘s main influence will be on the recruiting trail. Felton is fairly young (in coaching terms, at least) and made his coaching mark in Georgia, where Jeremy Pruitt and his staff have been able to grab a bevy of talented players in the first three cycles of his tenure (nine of their Georgia signees were in the top-350). You might remember the 2018 cycle, when Felton was an assistant on Pruitt‘s first staff. After some coaching changes were made, Shelton was sent on the recruiting trail to try and close out the class. It showed a lot of trust in the young assistant to put him in that situation. Before long, Felton was hired away in an on field roll at Akron.
Since he has had only one year as a position coach at the FBS level, the Felton hire is a bit of a risk in the coaching regard. Whatever reservations you had about Chris Rumph, most agreed that his coaching was at a respectable level. Where he seems to lag behind was the recruiting—which was a knock against him at previous stops as well.
Felton should be an improvement on the trail and perhaps a downgrade on the field. However, that latter judgement isn’t based on any prior results. It’s based on the fact that he’s more unknown than Rumph is.
Tennessee held serve on the recent coaching moves.
I don’t think they massively upgraded or downgraded in either position. If you wanted to split hairs, you could say they downgraded with Brumbaugh taking over for Rocker. But if it’s a downgrade, it’s a very small one.
Something to keep in mind is that people overstate the importance of position coaches. Yes, they have an obvious effect when it comes to on-field play and recruiting success. But a mediocre position coach under a great coordinator will not detract from that coordinator’s success in a glaring way. That offense or defense will still be pretty close to that coordinator envisions. Vice versa, a great position coach cannot hold back the tides of a bad coordinator.
Nothing about these departures and their replacements has changed expectations for 2020. Tennessee’s strengths are still strong as ever, while their weaknesses remain the same.