KNOXVILLE – In the mad rush to get to Tennessee, set up his office and get moving on the recruiting trail, new defensive coordinator John Jancek hasn’t had much time to study the film of UT’s disastrous 2012 defense.
He did catch a few glimpses on a recent airplane trip though. He’s not one to dwell on a past he has no control of, but he’s at least somewhat aware of the situation he’s walking in to.
“We’ve got some work to do,” Jancek said in his first meeting with the media since following head coach Butch Jones from Cincinnati to Knoxville.
Some might consider that a huge understatement.
The numbers weren’t pretty for a Tennessee defense that was unable to successfully transition from the 4-3 to the 3-4 defense under former defensive coordinator Sal Sunseri. Opposing offenses ran over, around and through a porous
defense that had flaws on every level.
It was a unit that finished 110th in the NCAA in total defense, giving up an average of 471.3 yards per game. Opponents also averaged 35.7 points per contest. It hit a low point in a 55-48 win over Troy. Despite the victory, the Vols gave up a school-record 721 yards of total offense. That was one of many points in the season when it was evident that change needed to be made.
Jancek will bring change. It starts with the move back to a 4-3 base defense. But it’s not just scheme that will be different. The former Georgia co-defensive coordinator gave his vision for what the defense will look like if he’s able to turn it around.
"If I could have my perfect style, I would want to describe it as a defense that plays with great effort, that plays with great intensity and that doesn't beat itself,” Jancek said. “Players are in position to make plays and be an exciting group to watch. Part of that style is tackling. To be great tacklers and be physical and when people play Tennessee, they know that they are in for a long game. That is my ideal style.”
He has a defensive staff he believes can help him get to that point. It’s heavy on SEC experience and familiar faces. Jancek has previously worked with every defensive assistant with the exception of linebackers coach Tommy Thigpen.
Every defensive coach – Jancek, Thigpen, defensive backs coach Willie Martinez and defensive line coach Steve Stripling – has worked with at least one of the other staff members at some point in his career.
"Continuity is huge in a coaching staff,” Jancek said. “You don't want to bring new guys in every year. You want to have continuity, and you want to be familiar with each other and know the day-to-day operations. There is a level of comfort. I think that comfort level around the coaches transcends to the players.”
Jancek thinks the new staff's SEC experience is a plus, too.
“We have guys that know the league and understand the intensity and level of recruiting and have played in these venues before," he said. "They know what to expect when you walk into a place like Tennessee.”
It won’t be an overnight fix for Jancek and his staff. That doesn’t mean progress can’t come soon. The Vols will return most their top defenders in 2013. Safety Brian Randolph will return from his torn ACL. It’s a unit that was in the top 30 in total defense just two years ago.
"I don't think there is such a thing as a quick fix in this conference,” Thigpen said. “Our goal is to get better and to see the improvement every single week. We aren't looking to jump from whatever we were ranked last year to number one or number two, but what we need to make sure that happens is that there is a steady improvement every single week and every day they come to work."
Jancek made no guarantee on how long it would take. He knows he doesn’t have too long to makes changes. All he has to do is look at the previous coaching staff. He’s excited about the opportunity, though. It’ll start on Jan. 7, when players return to campus after their Christmas break.
“It is going to be a great challenge,” he said. “Certainly an opportunity for myself and the defensive coaching staff. It is exciting. We are at a great place. We have great people around us and all the support that we need, so we are going to roll up our sleeves and get to work."
Daniel Lewis covers Tennessee football for Nooga.com. Follow him on Twitter @Daniel_LewisCBS