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VOL. 40 | NO. 21 | Friday, May 20, 2016

Shoop’s simple task: 11-win defense

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Defensive coordinator Bob Shoop, center, and defensive backs coach Willie Martinez, right, during spring practice at Neyland Stadium.

-- Craig Bisacre/Tennessee Athletics/Utsports.Com

When Butch Jones hired Bob Shoop away from Penn State in January to oversee Tennessee’s defense, he offered some challenging marching orders.

“Make no mistake, when he hired me, he said, ‘Your job is to get us from nine wins to 11 in a hurry,’” Shoop recalls.

Pressure? What pressure?

Stoop wouldn’t have it any other way. He has his own great expectations for the Vols defense.

In his introductory press conference at UT, Shoop said he would field a “championship defense.” If that takes the Vols from nine wins last season to 11 wins in 2016, he’s living up to Jones’ expectations.

Jones raised some eyebrows when he jettisoned defensive coordinator John Jancek after the Outback Bowl blowout. Jancek’s defense ranked No. 16 nationally in points allowed last season – 20 per game. The Vols held three of their last four opponents to single digits in 2015.

But, the Vols struggled at times with missed tackles and blown assignments. They had huge fourth-down gaffes in losses to Oklahoma and Florida.

All told, UT failed to hold double-digit leads in three of their four losses last season. And while offensive breakdowns contributed to those come-from-ahead losses, Jancek’s defense was the primary culprit.

This is a defining moment for Jones.

With 2016 viewed as a possible breakout season for the Vols, he could have stuck with a defensive coordinator whose scheme and philosophy were familiar to returning players. Instead, he swung for the fences letting Jancek go and hiring Shoop.

Shoop signed a three-year contract that pays $1.15 million annually. Shoop also told UT he would cover the $800,000 buyout at Penn State.

UT athletics director Dave Hart said Shoop’s decision to pony up for his own buyout was “a very, very loud statement about how bad Bob wanted to be a part of what is going on here in our football program.”

Shoop, who followed James Franklin from Vanderbilt to Penn State in January 2014, was making $1 million a year as Nittany Lions defensive coordinator.

Since leaving Vanderbilt, Shoop has been in demand – particularly among SEC programs that had seen how his Commodores defense performed. LSU pursued him after the 2014 season, but Shoop got a raise and stayed at Penn State.

Auburn coach Gus Malzahn tried to set up an interview after Will Muschamp left for the head coaching job at South Carolina after last season but Shoop declined.

For whatever reason, he found the job at UT more appealing than those he had passed on. In the arms race of SEC football, it was considered a coup by Jones.

Just two weeks before he was hired by the Vols, Shoop told the media in Happy Valley that he hoped Penn State would keep him “forever and ever and ever.”

Then he bolted for Knoxville. And that was after turning down LSU one year and Auburn the next. Why?

It probably has a lot to do with the job security of his boss. With the Vols on an upward tick – 5-7 to 7-6 to 9-4 – Jones’ position is secure … or about as secure as most SEC coaches can hope to be.

Although Franklin’s two-year record of 14-12 at Penn State is roughly the same winning percentage as Jones’ at UT, he’s stuck in after back-to-back 7-6 seasons. If he goes 7-6 again, it might not be good enough.

Likewise, Shoop passed on offers from Les Miles at LSU and Malzahn at Auburn. Both are squarely on the hot seat.

Shoop turns 50 in August, and it is no secret that he hopes to get another shot as a head coach. He was head coach at Columbia in 2003-05, going 7-23 at the Ivy League school. If he can help Tennessee take the next step, he could be in play.

Shoop left his mark at Penn State. He inherited a mediocre defense that ranked No. 48 in yards allowed in 2013 and turned it into one of the nation’s top units.

The Nittany Lions ranked second nationally in yards allowed in 2014. Despite some key personnel losses, Penn State ranked No. 14 last season.

Shoop isn’t afraid to set the bar high. He calls UT’s defense “the Orange Swarm.” And he believes taking away the run is Job 1.

“We’re very committed,” he says. “We’re going to stop the run. … Nobody will run the football on Tennessee.”

It’s an interesting approach – and a bit old school. Today’s rules and the evolution of the game put defenses at a huge disadvantage. Offenses spread the field and often operate without a huddle, sometimes leaving defenses dazed and confused.

“The game itself has evolved incredibly,” he explains. “From an offensive perspective, the coaches don’t think they can ever be wrong. There can be numerous plays – all those options – within the framework of a single play.

“They spread you across 50 yards of field and try to make the field larger than it seems. Then, in addition to that, offenses try to go as incredibly fast as they can.”

His answer is to play defense with aggression and speed while adjusting on the fly.

These days, it is a matter of breaking serve – getting the necessary stops via turnovers or punts and putting the ball back into the hands of your team’s offense. Against certain offenses, you can give up 30-plus points and still have played well.

“I believe in in-your-face philosophy, relentless pursuit, never-ending pressure and challenging every route,” Shoop says.

It helps that he inherited a defensive roster that has speed and quickness on the perimeter – defensive ends, outside linebackers and defensive backs.

Derek Barnett is projected as a first-round NFL draft pick due to his pass-rushing skills. Jalen Reeves-Maybin is a sideline-to-sideline linebacker. Cam Sutton is a shutdown cornerback.

The Vols have come a long way from the step-slow defensive roster that greeted Jones when he arrived as head coach in 2013. Shoop is a beneficiary of Jones’ recruiting diligence. UT has a number of playmakers on defense. The biggest concern is a lack of depth at defensive tackle.

In short, Tennessee has the ingredients on defense to take the next step. It’s up to Bob Shoop to get the Vols pointed in the right direction.

Reach David Climer at dclimer1018@yahoo.com and on Twitter @DavidClimer.

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