SEC Media Days: The most important coaching change on Rocky Top no one is talking about
HOOVER, Ala. — Tennessee’s hire of Jim Chaney was a hot topic from Hoover. Jeremy Pruitt and Jarrett Guarantano must have been asked about the offensive coordinator 50 times Tuesday during their appearance at the 2019 edition of SEC Media Days. The addition of legendary Volunteer signal-caller Tee Martin even came up a time or two during the festivities.
There’s no discounting how important those additions could prove to be to Pruitt’s program in the years to come, but for this season, the coaching change on Rocky Top that isn’t being discussed enough is the decision to move Chris Weinke to quarterbacks coach.
The Tennessee assistant is not a new hire this offseason; he served as the running backs coach in 2018, but Weinke’s new role will be vital if the Vols are going to exceed expectations this fall.
Make no mistake, progress is being made. Despite coming off a 5-7 season, Pruitt and his staff managed to sign a top 15 recruiting class filled with several blue chip prospects who will be seeing the field in 2019. Pruitt also managed to keep head strength coach Craig Fitzgerald from leaving from Maryland — had he left, Tennessee would have had 6 coaches fill the role in as many seasons.
That’s the good news. The bad news? Tennessee still has depth issues all over the roster.
The Vols don’t face a single Power 5 opponent outside of SEC play and play 7 of their first 9 games in Neyland Stadium. To take advantage of a favorable schedule, Guarantano has to take his game to new heights and carry the offense against some of the tougher defenses the Vols face.
Guarantano proved he could do that last season during Tennessee’s win at Auburn, but Weinke needs to help him produce more consistently.
Chaney has an outstanding track record of developing quarterbacks, but Tennessee’s offensive coordinator will be overseeing the entire offense.
After having Tyson Helton serve double duty as offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach last season, Pruitt wanted Guarantano to have one coach specifically focused on him this fall.
“He is a good teacher and he’s done a fantastic job with Jarrett,” Pruitt said of Weinke. “I thought it was important this time around to get a quarterback coach that can coach every single step, move, their eyes, that happens with a quarterback. Because when it’s an offensive coordinator, he’s looking at the left tackle, ‘Do we have the right split with the tight end?’ We need someone to coach the quarterback every single snap because the ball goes through his hands. You can see Jarrett taking to the coaching. His and Chris’ relationship is tremendous.”
When asked about Weinke, Guarantano echoed some of the same sentiments. In addition to the relationship developing between teacher and pupil, Tennessee’s quarterback said it was easy to put his trust in Weinke considering the success the former FSU All-American had on the field.
“Coach Weinke was also a great addition to this staff in the sense that he’s won a Heisman, he’s won in very big games and he’s had an NFL career,” Guaratano said. “So being able to drawback to him every single day to see whatever I did on film, whether it was right or wrong, it’s big for me.
“He pushes me harder than any coach I’ve ever had in the past year. I think it’s helped me immensely for our quarterback room, for any future quarterbacks that we get. It’s going to be a great attribution for them.”
Weinke’s move to quarterbacks coach isn’t getting the attention of some others on Pruitt’s staff, but based on how often the fate of the team’s overall success is going to ride on Guarantano’s shoulders, it is the most important one.