Let’s take a walk in Bob Shoop’s shoes.
Peak time in his 28 years of college coaching came at Vanderbilt, of all places. As defensive coordinator, he somehow made the Commodores relevant — great stats, national rankings, 9-4 records, back to back bowl wins, best in many moons.
Without five-star talent, Shoop was architect of two impressive victories over the Volunteers. James Franklin got most of the credit and a better job at Penn State. Shoop went along for the ride.
Bob became defensive coordinator of the year in 2014. The Nittany Lions allowed just 278.7 yards per game, second best in college football, lowest Penn State average in 24 seasons.
The next year wasn’t as much fun. The Lions were upset by Temple. Northwestern got ‘em. They surrendered 21 points in the fourth quarter and got trounced by Michigan State. They were an unimpressive 7-5 and 4-4 in the Big 10. They went to the TaxSlayer Bowl and got beat by Georgia.
Shoop escaped major scars. Penn State’s defense was somehow ranked 14th in the country. But, there were flashing caution lights. Fans were all shook up. Working for Franklin wasn’t as enjoyable as it once was. What if the castle crumbled?
The defensive coordinator, thinking about his future, grew uncomfortable. Butch Jones had put up a help-wanted sign. He dangled more than a million dollars. Shoop still owned a home in Nashville. Why not?
Shoop promised the Volunteers and fans a championship mentality, in-your-face defense built on relentless pursuit and never-ending pressure. Sounded strong.
Tennessee was supposedly cresting in Jones’ fourth season. It was picked to win the SEC East. Shoop knew several of the stars. He had once talked with Derek Barnett and Jalen Reeves-Maybin about attending Vanderbilt.
Shoop had no way of knowing half his 2016 group would get hurt, that he would actually run out of tackles. He couldn’t have imagined how poorly the secondary would play.
November defensive numbers were awful. Kentucky and Missouri rushed for more than 400 yards each and set school records. Kyle Shurmur, of all people, passed for 416 yards and Vanderbilt inflicted a crushing defeat.
The Tennessee defense was very bad. Shoop, big boy that he is, took the blame. It wasn’t all his fault but the coordination part sure looked fuzzy.
It would have cost UT a small fortune to give up on Shoop after one season. Jones fired secondary coach Willie Martinez. For about half a million, Charlton Warren was willing to appear as a replacement. We’ll find out later what a difference that made.
Shoop shoes may be a tight fit but keep walking …
He is betting his coaching life that this Tennessee defense will be better organized. Brady Hoke is supposed to help. There is a chance injured Vols will heal. Some may even be stronger.
There are at least a dozen questions, starting with whether Jonathan Kongbo can really play. He looks exactly like a player. So does Kahlil McKenzie. Neither has done much.
There are questions about starting linebackers and substitute linebackers. Do you suppose graduate transfer Shaq Wiggins, 5-10 and 169, can actually solve a corner problem?
Wait, don’t change shoes. Walk on with Shoop, no matter the heat.
He’ll find a way to stop Georgia Tech. He says the expensive lawsuit based on his move from Penn State to Tennessee is no distraction. I say he shares some degree of concern and responsibility for the future of Butch Jones and a sizable staff, based on wins and losses and trends and appearances.
Incidentally, the aforementioned James Franklin survived. The Nittany Lions won a conference title. They are No. 5 in national preseason rankings. I suppose some in Happy Valley think Bob Shoop miscalculated.
Marvin West invites reader reaction. His address is firstname.lastname@example.org