(This interview with Dale Jones was conducted before reports that UT has hired a defensive coordinator)
Tennessee has had trouble hiring a defensive coordinator, but there is one coach with ties to Tennessee that would love the job.
“No question, I want it,’’ said Dale Jones, a former star player at Tennessee who is now defensive coordinator at Appalachian State. “I would love to come back.’’
As of early Monday afternoon, Jones had not been interviewed for the defensive coordinator’s job at Tennessee. The Vols have reached out to at least half a dozen coaches who have declined.
Jones, 57, would welcome the chance to talk with UT’s new head coach, Josh Heupel.
“I want a shot to present my case to show what my defense could do,’’ said Jones, who helped UT win the 1985 SEC Championship with an iconic interception against Alabama.
“The key to the scheme is you don’t have to have a bunch of five stars. You’ve got to have 11 guys playing together. You’ve got to have decent talent, but it’s simple to teach.’’
Jones said his multiple 3-4 defense is effective against option teams and the run-pass option, which is the rage in college football nowadays. The Mountaineers defense allowed about 17 points per game last year (not counting points allowed by Appy State’s special teams and offensive). It led the nation in opponents’ completion percentage (48%) and ranked fourth in pass-defense efficiency.
Jones mentioned the defense almost pulled a stunning upset against his alma mater Sept. 1, 2016, when the ninth-ranked Vols needed overtime to beat Appy State 20-13. That was a UT team with quarterback Josh Dobbs and running backs Jalen Hurd and Alvin Kamara.
While Jones was at Appy State, the Mountaineers upset No. 5 Michigan in 2007 and nearly upset No. 10 Penn State in 2018 before losing in overtime.
“We’ve done this with lesser players,’’ Jones said. “If you get better players, the kind Tennessee gets, look out.’’
Jones worked at Appy State in a variety of roles from 1996-2018. He was named national special teams coach of the year in 2002. He worked as ASU’s defensive coordinator from 2010-12 before Scott Satterfield replaced Jerry Moore and Jones moved to a position coach.
Jones joined Scott Satterfield at Louisville in 2019 before returning to Appy State as defensive coordinator in 2020.
Jones has never hidden his affinity for Tennessee.
“I’m loyal,’’ Jones said. “I know the game. I want the job.
“It’s not the money. I want to bring Tennessee back. It’s shame how far it’s fallen. It needs to be great again. And I don’t think it would take that long.’’
Louisville defensive coordinator Brian Brown, who worked eight years with Jones, said Jones would be the perfect fit as Tennessee’s defensive coordinator.
“Absolutely,’’ Brown said today. “I think Dale would do a tremendous job. And he bleeds orange and white til the cows come home.
“He understands what opposing offenses are trying to do in the run game and the pass game. His defense is aggressive, kids play hard and make plays. Appalachian State was one of the top defenses in the country last year and he does an awesome job. He gets guys to play hard and downhill. And he gets the most out of his talent.
“Appy State established a culture there and a tradition of hard-nosed football and blue-collar football.’’
Jones said that Brown and former Vol Kacy Rodgers, who also talked to UT about the defensive coordinator’s job, both said they would want Jones on their staff if they went to UT.
Brown declined to discuss the UT job, but did say of Jones: “I would hire him any place, anywhere that I’m at.’’
When Rodgers was defensive coordinator for the New York Jets, in the spring of 2018 the Jets had LSU, Tennessee, Georgia and Appy State coaches visit to discuss how to defend the run-pass option, which was become more prevalent in the NFL.
“Appy State was extremely efficient in defending the RPO and the tempo offense, and his execution was really top notch,’’ Rodgers said of Jones. “He was very knowledgeable on how to defend it.’’