Steve Stripling has been alongside Butch Jones since 2009. Their time together had stops at Central Michigan, Cincinnati and eventually Tennessee.
Now, the 63-year-old is moving from defensive line coach to working in an off-the-field role within Jones’ five-year old Tennessee program.
The move allows Jones to reach out to longtime friend Brady Hoke to be Tennessee’s new defensive line coach.
The friendship between Jones and Hoke goes all the way back to Hoke’s head coaching days at Ball State from 2003-2008. The eventual San Diego State and Michigan head coach attempted to hire Jones, who was a Central Michigan assistant at the time.
Now, more than a decade later, the two are finally coaching alongside each other. Hoke even stopped by Jones’ spring practices in 2015 after leaving Michigan.
JONES: You are always learning in this profession. Brady Hoke has always been a great friend of mine. He is still in town.
— Tennessee Football (@Vol_Football) April 2, 2015
Hoke is a year removed from a season as Oregon’s defensive coordinator.
“Butch had called me and we talked a little bit about it,” Hoke told reporters in his first media appearance since arriving on Rocky Top.
“Obviously, things went south in Oregon, and being a defensive line coach for most of my career – even as a head coach I still coached part of the defensive line – it’s been great.
“The relationship and trust factor that we have in each other, that was built over many years. It’s one reason it was attractive to come to Tennessee.”
Hoke has coached at Oregon State, Michigan and Oregon at the Power 5 level, and he knows what coaching at Tennessee brings to the table.
“This is a great place to be, we’re very excited about it,” Hoke said. “We’ve got great facilities, a great head coach who I’ve known for 15-18 years and a great staff on both sides of the ball. I like the chemistry, I like how everybody is working together. I’m getting to know the players better on a daily basis, but we’ve got a lot of willing kids who have done a nice job in the offseason program.”
The early part of Hoke’s job is to find replacements for departed defensive ends Derek Barnett and Corey Vereen, who combined for 20 sacks and 30-plus tackles for loss in 2016. Junior Dimarya Mixon and red-shirt sophomore Charles Mosley are also gone from the defensive line after UT recently announced they are no longer part of the program.
Regardless, Hoke likes the players he has to work with this spring as he tries to repair a defense that gave up 449.2 yards per game last season and 218.5 rushing yards per game (104th nationally).
“I like the room of guys that I have. That doesn’t mean I don’t like everyone else, but I like my room. You get a chance a little bit to focus back into your world and what you’re doing, but it’s exciting. I look forward to it.”
Hoke will have Jonathan Kongbo, Shy Tuttle, Kyle Phillips, Austin Smith, Deandre Johnson, Darrell Taylor, Kendal Vickers, Quay Picou, Brandon Benedict, Mykelle McDaniel, Joey Cave, Paul Bain, Alexis Johnson and Kahlil McKenzie to work with when spring practice begins March 21.
“They better be tough,” Hoke said. “Toughness is something you have to have in this game – and that is mental and physical toughness.”