Tennessee football staff better than expected

Marvin Westwestwords

This goes under the heading of “Just tell it like it is.”

The new football coaching staff at Tennessee looks more promising than I expected. At this point, it is somewhat ahead of my wishful thinking.

On offense, it is Central Florida North. That makes sense. Offense is what Josh Heupel’s teams have done best. The head coach brought key helpers with him.

Offensive coordinator Alex Golesh comes across as smart, very smart. Line coach Glen Elarbee is loyalty personified, together we can.

Jerry Mack, an outsider with 17 years of collegiate coaching experience, has unusual credentials. When he was 33, he was the youngest head coach ever at North Carolina Central. He went three for three in conference championships and coach-of-the-year honors.

He has connections in high places. He is from Memphis and has coached at Memphis. He was offensive coordinator at Rice the past three seasons. Rice is in Houston. Several young people play football there.

Mack will coach Vol running backs.

Defensive assistants carry more survivor scars. With one vacancy remaining, there is already a combined 111 years of experience. They’ve been through the wars. I’m afraid to count how many times Willie Martinez has changed jobs.

Based on resumes, zoom introductions and what I know as facts, the staff won’t be as overmatched in recruiting potential as I originally surmised. It appears Heupel went outside his comfort zone and listened to somebody who knows the Southeastern Conference.

Defensive line coach Rodney Garner, 54, is the home-run hire. He has logged 30 years in the league, Auburn for five, Tennessee two, Georgia 15 and Auburn again.

Garner is a proven recruiter, a natural salesman in family living rooms. He convinces mothers, aunts and grandmothers that he will look after their boy. Fathers, generally a bit more cognizant of what football really is, just nod and hope for the best.

Rodney Garner is two for one. He is a different person on football fields. He treats everybody the same – with tough love.

“I promise we talk to them like most have never been talked to before in their lives.”

Survivor? There are reasons. Rodney is a fundamentalist, regarded as one of the best in the country. Through the years, his technique has produced developmental results. Tennessee desperately needs development and results.

Defensive coordinator Tim Banks didn’t exactly leap from Penn State to seize the Volunteer challenge. He first said no thanks when Heupel called. A second effort and more money, $4.2 million for three years, proved decisive.

I like the fact that Banks once coached linebackers for old Vol Tommy West at Memphis. I’ll not hold it against Banks that he spent five seasons with Butch Jones at Central Michigan and Cincinnati. He broke away for Illinois and landed with James Franklin and the Nittany Lions in 2016. Franklin speaks highly of the man and his mission.

Banks has 25 years of college coaching experience and 14 consecutive years with some level of defensive leadership responsibility. Safeties are his position specialty. He has been a very effective recruiter.

Brian Luc Jean-Mary, 45, played at Appalachian State, coached at Georgia Tech and directed linebackers for more than a decade for Charlie Strong at Louisville, Texas and South Florida. Last season was his first at Michigan.

Jean-Mary has been very good in recruiting. With the Longhorns, he was ranked No. 1 among Big 12 assistants. Not long ago, on behalf of the Wolverines, he dropped into Tennessee and beat the Vols for highly regarded linebacker Junior Colson of Brentwood.

You’d never guess that connection: Colson was adopted from an orphanage in Haiti. Jean-Mary was born in Apopka, Fla., to Haitian immigrants. Junior said the coach could relate to his background.

Colson enrolled at Michigan last month. Do you suppose Tennessee could find a scholarship if he wanted to transfer?

I didn’t expect Heupel to bring any defensive coaches from Central Florida. The Knights weren’t very good on defense – 123rd among 127 teams on total defense, 112th on pass defense, nine interceptions from 350 throws.

Willie Martinez

You do remember Brigham Young U. in the nice, little Boca Raton Bowl? Zack Wilson hit 26 of 34 for 425 yards and three touchdowns against Central Florida. Willie Martinez, assistant head coach, directed the Knights’ secondary.

Fans may remember that Butch Jones unceremoniously dismissed Martinez as Tennessee secondary coach after the 2016 season. That November was bad. Alas, the Vols ended up worse without Willie.

Martinez, 57, a coach for 35 seasons, was much better at many other stops – three in Florida high school football, at his alma mater, Miami, at Bethune-Cookman, Grand Valley State, Central Florida the first time, Eastern Michigan and Central Michigan, Georgia, Oklahoma, Auburn and back to Central Florida.

Willie has been part of six conference championships. He played or coached in 20 bowl games. He has a national championship ring as a defensive back for 1983 Miami Hurricanes.

Welcome back, Willie.

Marvin West welcomes reader comments or questions. His address is marvinwest75@gmail.com

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