KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — Tennessee’s Bob Shoop said Wednesday he was hired to help the Vols beat Florida.
“I know when I got here on the job, I was instructed my responsibility — and winning these first three games was great — but I’ve been told on numerous occasions that my responsibility is to win this game, so we’re excited and we’re looking forward to it,” Shoop said.
Asked if that directive came from head coach Butch Jones, Shoop replied, “Him and about six million people on Twitter.”
The No. 14-ranked Vols (3-0) play the No. 19-ranked Gators (3-0) at 3:30 p.m. on Saturday at Neyland Stadium (TV: CBS).
Shoop is one of the highest paid coordinators in the nation with a reported three-year contract worth $1.15 million annually, and his calculated comments on Wednesday showed why.
Shoop effectively shifted pressure from the performance of his banged-up defensive unit to his ability to play-call effectively and design disruptive schemes.
The 50-year-old Shoop is a Yale-educated man, and his entertaining dealings with the press are often a matter of chess, not checkers, as he manipulates the questions to his advantage.
Regardless of Saturday’s outcome, Shoop is a rising star in the coaching ranks, having proven he can do more with less by elevating defenses at Vanderbilt and Penn State into the top 25 of the national rankings each of the past five seasons.
Much of the talk in Knoxville has been about the Vols’ attempt to break an 11-game win streak to the Gators at home, but in 2013 Shoop was a part of a Vanderbilt team that broke a 22-game losing streak to Florida with a 34-17 win at The Swamp.
Three of the Commodores’ touchdowns were a direct result of interceptions, and the Vanderbilt players credited Shoop for giving them the right mindset.
“Before the game, (defensive coordinator Bob) Shoop came to all of us and asked us what do we want to leave for our legacy,” Vandy defensive back Andre Hal told the USA Today after the game. “I think this is what we wanted to leave. We wanted to beat Florida. We wanted to beat Georgia. We want to win the rest of the games — just win out.”
Shoop also told media on Wednesday that Tennessee’s 28-19 win over Ohio was “one of the greatest wins” he had been a part of, a comment that seemed to go over the heads of those not sophisticated enough to appreciate the situation.
UT lost its best cornerback (Cam Sutton) on a day that another top cornerback (Justin Martin) was sidelined by ankle injury and starting nickleback (Malik Foreman) was suspended, essentially removing three of the top six defensive backs.
At linebacker, The Vols were already without middle linebacker Darrin Kirkland when the team’s leading tackler, starting outside linebacker Jalen Reeves-Maybin, went down with an injury. Then, backup linebacker Quart’e Sapp was lost for the season with an ACL injury, meaning three of the top six linebackers were out, too.
Shoop referred to it as “an Apollo 13 moment” for his defense, as Ohio had stayed within 21-19 entering the fourth quarter, the Vols’ offense sputtering.
As for the Florida rivalry, and what it has been like for Shoop to experience it for the first time, the Tennessee defensive coordinator paused before sharing his thoughts.
“Just the passion of both fanbases, that has been exciting to me, and it should be, two historic programs competing in September, it’s always been a tradition there,” Shoop said. “I’m very impressed with how our players have handled it, they haven’t taken the bait, they’ve stayed on point, stayed focused on the task at hand
“And once 3:30 rolls around on Saturday, all the other stuff is out the door.”