Family decision: Mike DeBord talks about leaving Vols for Indiana

Vols offensive coordinator Mike DeBord.

KNOXVILLE - As Mike DeBord was studying video last month to prepare Tennessee for the Music City Bowl, the offensive coordinator watched Nebraska's game against Indiana.

He had no idea at the time the Hoosiers' offense he was watching soon would become his.

"I was watching their offense, and their offense was very similar to ours in a lot of ways," DeBord said Monday during an interview with Knoxville's Sports Radio WNML. "I just thought that Indiana, they were well-coached, and also, I thought they had really good talent. But I wasn't able to study them individually.

"I wasn't doing it that way, because I had no idea that this was going to happen."

This was DeBord leaving the Volunteers after two productive seasons to take the same position at Indiana, where he was introduced by first-year coach Tom Allen last week.

Speculation quietly swirled during the season that DeBord was contemplating retirement, and the expectation grew leading up to Tennessee's season finale in Nashville. During a news conference the day before the bowl game, DeBord gave a wistful answer when asked to reflect on his two seasons at Tennessee, and he shared a lengthy embrace with quarterback Josh Dobbs on the field after the Vols beat the Cornhuskers 38-24 to conclude a second consecutive 9-4 season.

DeBord actually told Vols coach Butch Jones he would be leaving after the bowl game with one objective in mind.

"I don't remember when it was - it was before the bowl, but I just told him I was going to make a move to get closer in location to my family," he said. "These past two years, I loved every second of my job. I loved working for Butch. I loved the coaches I worked with. I loved the players at Tennessee.

"I loved Tennessee football, but the one thing I hadn't been able to do was to see my grandkids and my kids and my sister and my brother, et cetera. That was wearing on me a little bit. I just made that decision that somehow, some way I was going to get back to them closer in location. Whether that meant retirement or what that meant, I was going to go back that way."

DeBord, who turns 61 in February, is an Indiana native - he's in the state's football hall of fame - with multiple ties to the Hoosiers' program. His younger brother played for Indiana when ESPN personality Lee Corso coached in Bloomington. He and former Indiana coach Terry Hoeppner coached together at Franklin College for two years in the early 1980s.

Allen's relationship with DeBord goes back nearly 20 years, when he was an assistant coach at Ben Davis High School in Indianapolis, and DeBord has known Allen's father since 1979.

"I've known Mike for many, many years," Allen said during a news conference last week, "and have so much respect for him as a person, first and foremost, and the way that he has conducted himself in our profession and the high level that he's achieved on the field."

Allen coached under Hugh Freeze at Lambuth, Arkansas State and Ole Miss before running the defenses at South Florida and Indiana the past two seasons and taking over last month for the ousted Kevin Wilson.

"He and I have stayed in close contact through the years," DeBord said, "and usually every time he had a decision to make coaching-wise about (his) career and stuff, he would always call me and we would talk it through. He kind of used me as a mentor that way a little bit. I've known him for quite some time now."

DeBord is proud of what he accomplished as the Vols' offensive coordinator. They recorded the second-highest rushing yardage total in program history in 2015. Tennessee's 473 points this past season are the second-most in program history behind the 484 points the Vols scored in 1993.

The Vols averaged 36.4 and 35.2 points per game in DeBord's two seasons to finish second and third in the SEC in scoring with him as offensive coordinator.

"I don't know that you could say one thing (stands out)," DeBord said, "other than I felt like my relationship with the players, my relationship with the coaches and my relationship with Coach Jones, that's where it all started. The things we were able to do on offense were because of that.

"I'm proud of the relationships, but also I'm proud of productivity that we had there at Tennessee."

Contact Patrick Brown at pbrown@timesfreepress.com.