KNOXVILLE -- One moment Thursday afternoon reminded Mike DeBord just how much he's settled into his new home as Tennessee's offensive coordinator.
The Volunteers were hours from starting their 14th practice of the spring, the final one before Saturday's Orange and White game, when the offensive players and coaches met for a unit meeting.
"Before the meeting got started, I was laughing with guys and having a good time with them and all that stuff," DeBord recalled after practice. "Before that I wouldn't have known them, and I wouldn't have felt that relaxed with them. I feel very comfortable with them right now on the field, off the field. It's been a great transition."
The public reaction to DeBord's hire was mixed, at best. The 59-year-old, who replaced Mike Bajakian after he left for an NFL job, hadn't coached in two years and last called plays for a college offense in 2007. Butch Jones, Tennessee's third-year head coach, used the term "fit" ad nauseam in selling his choice.
DeBord ultimately won't prove himself until he's calling plays for the Vols this season, but the initial reviews from the coaches working with him every day are strong and positive.
"Coach Jake and I worked together a long time, and he's moved on, but the transition's been great," offensive line coach Don Mahoney said. "Coach Jones, great hire -- bottom line -- for all the reasons that he wanted him in here.
"He's a tremendous ball coach. He knows ball. There's a lot of guys out there that know ball, but he has the ability to get to guys, too, which has been exciting to watch as well.
"He's really jumped into knowing all that he can about the different players and positions. It's been interesting to see him interact with those guys, and he does a really good job. It just comes natural."
Eight of Tennessee's nine coaches are entering their third year with Jones and the Vols, and though he was the program's newest, DeBord hardly was the new guy, not that it made meshing with a staff built upon stability and continuity any easier.
His personality made the adjustment, both for DeBord and the other offensive coaches, rather seamless.
"He's really brought our staff together," receivers coach Zach Azzanni said. "He was just himself. That's what was neat. Coach DeBord has no ego. None. It was really easy for him to come in and fit in and joke around with each and all of us.
"From day one, there was never an awkward, this-is-different moment. I can't remember one. The first minute was, 'OK, how's this meeting going to go?' After that minute, it's like he's been here for 10 years."
In practice, DeBord spends most of his time with Tennessee's quarterbacks. On his off days, he'll branch out more and interact with the other position groups. In addition to regularly calling players' parents just to chat, DeBord ha s encouraged players to come into his office so he could talk to them and get to know them better.
"That office has never seen more people," Jones said last week. "It's like a revolving door."
It's Mahoney and Tennessee's offensive line, though, who perhaps have benefited the most from DeBord, whose background is with offensive lines and tight ends in both the NFL and college.
Mahoney recalled one time while on Jones's staff at Central Michigan when DeBord, a former head coach of the Chippewas who hired Jones there, visited his former assistant coach and spoke to his staff.
"I was really excited at that time, because I'd heard so many good things about him," Mahoney said. "To get his viewpoint of different questions that we had, I could definitely sense his expertise of the O-line position.
"I love the fact that every time we practice, we watch film and so forth, any bit of a chance for us to get better up front with some of the little things that he may point out has helped us, it's helped me and it's been healthy."
DeBord recalled what he told the offensive staff during his first meeting with them.
"I said, 'This isn't my offense. This is the Tennessee offense,'" he said. "I want all their input all the time. We've had great communication in that room. What I love about it is guys have opinions and they have thoughts, but nobody has an ego, where they don't feel like it's not been heard, or we're not applying it. It's been a group effort."
That effort, according to multiple coaches, is continuing to move Tennessee's offense in the right direction.
"It was a good fit," running backs coach Robert Gillespie said. "I can see exactly why Coach Jones thought so high of him. He's a great coach, a really, really brilliant mind and a very, very technique-driven coach both up front with the offensive line, the running backs, the receivers. He's brought a fundamental game to the offense, and it's been good.
"He's good with us having suggestions and been really good from a creative standpoint. The players like him, and he brings a lot of energy. It's been a good spring for our players to learn Coach DeBo and also for us as a coaching staff to learn him."
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