KNOXVILLE — Jeremy Pruitt's defense improved over the latter half of the 2019 season, and with as many as eight starters set to return, that improvement was expected to continue.
But any improvement this season will come with what will be an entirely new staff on that side of the ball.
According to multiple reports on Monday, defensive line coach Tracy Rocker is expected to take a similar role at South Carolina, while outside linebackers coach Chris Rumph will leave for a position with the Houston Texans.
In addition, director of player personnel Drew Hughes has also accepted a position at South Carolina.
But Pruitt has worked quickly to fill those positions, naming a couple of former UTC assistants to his staff. Bruce Feldman of Fox Sports and the Athletic reported that Colorado defensive line coach — and former UTC defensive line coach — Jimmy Brumbaugh has been tabbed to replace Rocker and former Vols quality control analyst and current Akron outside linebackers coach Shelton Felton will replace Rumph. Felton coached outside linebackers for the Mocs in 2017.
Brumbaugh had just finished his first season at Colorado. Prior to that, he spent a couple of seasons at Maryland as a co-defensive coordinator and defensive line coach, and for the four seasons before that was the defensive line coach at Kentucky. Under his tutelage at Kentucky, Bud Dupree was a first-round draft pick by the Pittsburgh Steelers and Za'Darius Smith was a fourth-round pick by the Baltimore Ravens before signing with the Green Bay Packers this offseason. Smith was a Pro Bowl selection this past season.
Brumbaugh's first task will be taking over a position group that was one of the most improved by the end of the season for the Vols, despite entering the year with little experience. Every single player on that group returns for 2020, plus the Vols will add Emmit Gooden, who tore his ACL in the preseason and missed the year.
Felton got his first coaching opportunity at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga, where he coached outside linebackers for the No. 1 defense in the Southern Conference. He spent last season in the same capacity at Akron, along with coaching defensive ends for former UTC head coach Tom Arth, who he had worked with in Chattanooga.
Darrell Taylor is the lone departure from the 2019 season at outside linebacker, but his loss is a big one. In his two seasons under Rumph, Taylor had 16.5 sacks and 21 tackles for loss. But Rumph was equally important in the development of players such as Kivon Bennett and Deandre Johnson, who played big roles in the position opposite Taylor.
The coaching departures mean that Pruitt (who coached safeties some) and defensive backs coach and defensive coordinator Derrick Ansley are the lone remaining defensive coaches returning on staff. Tennessee — which allowed 307.9 yards and 17.3 points in their final eight games — had already announced the move of tight ends coach Brian Niedermeyer to the defensive side of the ball, where it's been reported that he will coach inside linebackers and replace Kevin Sherrer, who left for the New York Giants recently.
Tennessee's position currently is that Niedermeyer's position "has yet to be determined."
The Vols have had a busy offseason in terms of coaching changes. Running backs coach David Johnson left for a similar position at Florida State and has been officially replaced by Texas A&M assistant and former Vol Jay Graham. Niedermeyer's move to the defensive side of the ball left an opening at tight end, a position that has been filled by former director of football programming Joe Osovet.
Contact Gene Henley at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @genehenley3 or at Facebook.com/VolsUpdate.