Vols' search still focused on quarterbacks coaches

A smiling Butch Jones is embraced by North Texas Interim Head Coach Mike Canales following Tennessee's 24-0 win in Neyland Stadium.

KNOXVILLE - With one opening still on its football coaching staff, Tennessee's search continues for a quarterbacks coach instead of an offensive coordinator.

All signs are pointing toward the Volunteers promoting tight ends coach Larry Scott to the offensive coordinator role with play-calling duties as head coach Butch Jones continues to interview potential candidates to coach quarterbacks.

One of those candidates is returning to Knoxville for a second interview, according to one report.

Utah State assistant Mike Canales, who met with Jones last week, was expected to come back for another meeting with Jones at some point this weekend, 247Sports.com reported Friday.

The former offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach at Arizona, South Florida and North Texas was one of four candidates to interview for Tennessee's vacancy last week. He followed former Florida State quarterback Chris Weinke, the Heisman Trophy and national championship winner for the Seminoles who just completed his second year as the quarterbacks coach for the NFL's Rams, and preceded two other interviews later in the week.

Those interviews were with former San Diego State and NFL quarterback Kevin O'Connell, who spent the 2016 season as an offensive assistant with the San Francisco 49ers, and former UT-Chattanooga offensive coordinator/quarterbacks coach Jeff Durden, who recently followed former Mocs head coach Russ Huesman to his new job at Richmond.

After his career with the Aztecs, O'Connell was drafted in the third round of the NFL draft by the New England Patriots in 2008, but he was waived by them prior to the 2009 season and bounced around the league with four different teams.

O'Connell worked with both Johnny Manziel and Marcus Mariota leading up to the NFL drafts before landing his first full-time NFL job as the quarterbacks coach with the Cleveland Browns in 2015. With the 49ers he worked alongside quarterbacks coach Ryan Day on Chip Kelly's staff. Ohio State recently hired Day as its co-coordinator and quarterbacks coach.

Durden spent nine years as the offensive coordinator at James Madison, which won the Football Championship Subdivision title, before the Mocs hired him in 2013, but it's unlikely he'll wind up at Tennessee.

Tennessee also had some level of contact with Carolina Panthers quarterbacks coach Ken Dorsey, a former star quarterback at Miami, but it's unlikely Dorsey will remain in the mix as he may opt to stay in the NFL.

Among the coaches with whom he's met, Jones has the closest and longest relationship with Canales, who was the interim coach at North Texas when the Mean Green lost 24-0 at Tennessee in 2015, and he called him "a great friend of mine" during the week leading up to that game.

"I have known him for a very long period of time," Jones said. "I have admired him as a play- caller, as a quarterbacks coach and as an offensive coordinator. He has done a great job in a difficult situation."

Speaking of difficult situations, Tennessee has done Jones no favors by dragging out its search for a new athletic director to replace Dave Hart, whose retirement was announced last August.

There have been conflicting reports as to whether the university is hiring the same search firm it most recently used to land men's basketball coach Rick Barnes or just using the one with which it has a long-term contract. Raja Jubran, vice chairman of Tennessee's board of trustees, told Sports Radio WNML's Jimmy Hyams it might be the spring before Hart's replacement chosen.

"Hopefully we will get someone on board one or two months before Dave Hart retires (at the end of June)," Jubran told Hyams. "It could be April or May."

New chancellor Beverly Davenport will assume her role officially on Feb. 15 and will have input on that hire.

UTC athletic director David Blackburn continues to receive much public support. The Knoxville-based Copper Cellar Family of Restaurants this week endorsed Blackburn to become the Vols' new athletic director. One of the restaurants, Calhoun's, is among the concessions available in Neyland Stadium.

The company's social media post, which received more than 2,600 responses on Twitter, stated it was time to put the Vols "back in the hands of a Tennessean."

Contact Patrick Brown at pbrown@timesfreepress.com.