KNOXVILLE – When putting together his staff, Tennessee head coach Butch Jones had to balance bringing in assistants he was comfortable with and finding ones who are familiar with the SEC.
He got the best of both in John Jancek.
Jancek will serve as Jones’ defensive coordinator after spending the last three seasons in the same position at Cincinnati. Before his time with the Bearcats, he spent five years as a defensive assistant coach at Georgia, including a one-season (2009) stint serving as the co-defensive coordinator for the Bulldogs along with new Tennessee safeties coach Willie Martinez.
Of all the new assistants, Jancek might have the toughest task in front of him. Though a majority of the defensive starters will return, Jancek must overhaul one of the worst defenses in school history. It was a unit that finished 110th in the NCAA in total defense, giving up an average of 471.3 yards per game.
“We know we have some things to work on here at the University of Tennessee, but we’re committed to doing that,” Jancek said in his introductory video on UTSports.com.
Changes will start with the scheme. After former defensive coordinator Sal Sunseri switched the Vols to a 3-4 front in 2012, they will return to the more familiar 4-3 look in 2013 under Jancek.
“That will be our base,” Jancek said of the 4-3. “It’s not going to be what we do, but how we do it. That’s going to be our focus, playing hard, playing with passion and being physical.”
Added Jones in his introductory press conference: “Defensively, we are going to be a team that is going to swarm to the football and causes turnovers. We’ll be a team that doesn’t beat itself.”
That aggressive defensive philosophy was on display at Cincinnati, especially over the last two seasons. The Bearcats were ranked in the Top 20 nationally in scoring defense the last two years. They were among the best in the nation in tackles for loss (8.6 per game) and sacks (3.5 per game) in 2011. The 2012 Cincinnati defense finished 41st in total defense, allowing 373.8 yards per game on average.
Translating that success to the SEC will require clear teaching of the new scheme, improvement from the players currently on campus and an upgrade in overall athleticism on that side of the ball. The Vols showed a significant lack of speed, especially in the secondary, in 2012.
“We want to make sure we get speed,” Jancek said. “We know in the SEC that’s a key component. We want guys that are physical, that play hard and have a great passion for the game.”
Despite the struggles of 2012, Jancek will have several key players to build around. Linebacker A.J. Johnson, the SEC’s leading tackler, will be rejoined by linebacker Curt Maggitt and safety Brian Randolph, both of whom had their seasons cut short by ACL injuries, to form a defensive core.
Linebacker/defensive end Jacques Smith, defensive linemen Daniel McCullers, Maurice Couch and Darrington Sentimore, along with safeties LaDarrell McNeil and Byron Moore and cornerbacks Eric Gordon and Justin Coleman, are other players who have experience and have at least shown glimpses of potential in situations.
With Jones spending a majority of his time on the offensive side of the ball, it’ll be primarily up to Jancek to take that experience and potential and turn it into a unit far better than what was on the field for Tennessee in 2012.
“I’m going to be involved in all three phases, but I’m not a micro-manager,” Jones said. “I’m going to assemble the best staff in America and I’m going to let them coach.
“I’m hiring a staff to do their jobs.”
Daniel Lewis covers Tennessee football for Nooga.com. Follow him on Twitter @Daniel_LewisCBS