KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — Even after over 30 years of coaching, Mike DeBord still gets butterflies before every season opener.
“I’ve had a lot,” Tennessee’s offensive coordinator said, chuckling.
“I don’t know what the number would be, but I’ve had a lot of them. It’s funny. I still get nervous. That ‘What if they do that?’ What if they do this?’ It’s always that mind thing, especially when you’re calling the plays. But it’s really the same as it was when I first started coaching. You want to be mentally prepared to help your offense.”
With Appalachian State in town for the 2016 opener, No. 9 Tennessee just hopes DeBord’s annual pregame jitters don’t turn into a postgame queasiness like nine years ago.
Over the last week, the former Michigan coordinator has been peppered with questions about his memories of when the No. 5 Wolverines fell to FCS-foe App. State in a historic upset in 2007.
DeBord has brushed off the inquires, saying, “I don’t remember nine years ago. I barely remember yesterday. I just remember them being talented, just like they are now. I couldn’t even tell you what they lined up in defensively.”
DeBord added that he “tries to live for today,” and isn’t interested in examining the past — good or bad.
Considering DeBord is tasked with engineering an offense of a potential championship contender, that’s probably wise.
After a two-year coaching sabbatical, DeBord shepherded Tennessee’s second-best rushing season in program history in 2015. The Volunteers three-headed backfield carried the offense, but overall, the 2015 unit was stunted by inconsistency and predictability. The Vols prolific rushing attack averaged just 3.96 yards per carry in fourth quarters — contributing to several of those collapses as much as the defense.
However, Tennessee believes it’s better positioned for a balanced offense this fall, as DeBord openly admits he trusts quarterback Josh Dobbs more. During training camp, DeBord teased new wrinkles (think Dobbs, Jalen Hurd and Alvin Kamara in the backfield together more) and bragged about his full-cupboard of offensive weapons this fall.
In fact, DeBord acknowledged his hardest task right now is paring down gameplans to get everyone — Hurd, Kamara, Preston Williams, Josh Malone, Tyler Bryd — enough touches.
“That’s not easy,” DeBord explained.
“You’ve got guys you want to touch the football. We talk about it in meetings constantly.”
The Mountaineers pose a nice, early test for DeBord’s offense, as they ranked No. 11 nationally in total defense last season. App. State throws a lot of formations and fronts at opposing units, so unlike Michigan, Tennessee isn’t overlooking the Mountaineers.
“They have really good confidence. They’ve won 17 out of their last 19 games,” DeBord said.
“Their defense is nationally ranked in a lot of areas. … I want to see us execute. I want to see us take care of the football. I want to see us stay on schedule and obviously score touchdowns.”
Jesse Simonton covers Tennessee football and recruiting for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution and SECCountry.com