UT's Don Mahoney wants to send his line out on winning note

Mahoney wants to send O-line out on winning note

AMY SMOTHERMAN BURGESS/NEWS SENTINEL
Tennessee offensive line coach Don Mahoney, left, instructs players during practice at Haslam Field this spring.

Photo by Amy Smotherman Burgess

AMY SMOTHERMAN BURGESS/NEWS SENTINEL Tennessee offensive line coach Don Mahoney, left, instructs players during practice at Haslam Field this spring.

When Tennessee offensive line coach Don Mahoney entered his unit’s meeting room last December, he felt like the newest member of an old club.

His five starters had played in 163 college games. They’d seen a lot of line coaches come and go, including the most recent one — Sam Pittman — who they liked a lot.

So Mahoney delivered a frank and conciliatory message.

‘I said, ‘You seniors do not know me well. You’ve had numerous coaches come through. I don’t expect you to trust me (from the start),’ ” Mahoney said.

Rather than rebel against their new coach, the group of veterans have embraced him. Mahoney has been impressed. And while head coach Butch Jones has gone out of his way to avoid heaping too much praise on the line, Mahoney can’t hide his excitement.

“In all my years, this is the most talented bunch that I’ve been around,” he said.

They’re also good guys.

“They know me to be real and up front, and I know that I’m getting the same from them by their body language,” Mahoney said. “They’re talented, but they’re really some high-character guys.

“They deserve to go out the right way. Whatever that is, I don’t know. But they deserve it. That’s what we’re working toward.”

This will be the last year for the Vols’ starting line. In addition to seniors James Stone, Zach Fulton, Alex Bullard and Ja’Wuan James, junior Antonio “Tiny” Richardson is all but certain to leave early for the NFL.

If the Vols don’t turn things around in 2013, they will leave after being part of one of the bleakest eras in modern UT football.

“It’s a lot of motivation because we’ve put in a lot of work together over the years and we haven’t seen the success we’d like to see,” said Stone. “So this year really motivates us to lead and try to push other guys along as well as push each other to become better.”

Mahoney sees that dynamic when he walks into the meeting room. The veterans know each other well. They’re smart. They ask good questions. There are no egos, and they’re eager to help the younger players who will be left behind in 2014.

Mahoney has been a coach for two decades. He’s had good lines and bad lines, fat ones and weak ones, too many tackles and not enough guards. But he freely admits he’s never been around a unit quite like this.

“I’m enjoying every minute of it,” he said. “To be around these guys and their skill sets and their work ethic and attitudes has been tremendous.”

This sounds like exactly the type of praise that Jones has discouraged. With a brutal schedule looming, Jones doesn’t want overconfidence to be pounded out of his line in the SEC.

But Mahoney said the character of this year’s group gives him few worries.

“There’s been a lot of patting on their back,” Mahoney said. “I’ve told them, ‘Guys, we haven’t accomplished a thing.’ They know that. They understand that.”

There’s something else Mahoney always repeats: “You guys deserve to leave here the right way.”

It’s a goal based on mutual affection.

“I really believe that,” Mahoney said.

Evan Woodbery covers Tennessee football. Contact him at evan.woodbery@knoxnews.com

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Comments » 33

td writes:

With the exception of significant injuries at any position, pass blocking (time & limited sacks) and short yardage 1st downs and touchdowns will determine the fate of Team 117. 2013 Tennessee wins or defeats ride on the shoulders of this offensive line. Five years from now, all could be starting in the NFL.

iowa_vol writes:

I HATE the word deserve. People earn what they "deserve." Hopefully this team earns a few wins. One exception. Kiffin deserves a sharp kick in teeth.

mikethehistorystudent writes:

in response to iowa_vol:

I HATE the word deserve. People earn what they "deserve." Hopefully this team earns a few wins. One exception. Kiffin deserves a sharp kick in teeth.

Kiffin has earned a sharp kick in the teeth.

mikethehistorystudent writes:

A great O'line can make a mediocre offense look good. They give the QB more time and open holes for the running game. Like my old coach tole me, "If you guys block everyone, even I could run for 200 yards a game!" Combine that with a hungry and mature AJ Johnson and Dan McCullers and you're looking at a real team. Even Freshman North is fine tuning his receiving game. That's why I'm predicting 7-8 wins instead of the 5-6 the media know-it-alls are predicting.

trubleoj#657755 writes:

Lock your man up and drive!

flatrock writes:

Old Vegas football analyst friend told me he rates strength of team in this order of importance: 1. OLine 2. Secondary 3. DLine 4. QB 5. LB 6. Kickers 7. RB 8. WR...Hard to argue.

DukeDeLuca2 writes:

Fire Fulmer!

DukeDeLuca2 writes:

in response to flatrock:

Old Vegas football analyst friend told me he rates strength of team in this order of importance: 1. OLine 2. Secondary 3. DLine 4. QB 5. LB 6. Kickers 7. RB 8. WR...Hard to argue.

Yes. It all starts with the offensive line. Good lineman make mediocre backs look good, good backs look great, great backs look like legends.

I always thought the key to Coach Fulmer's success was the emphasis on the offensive line. Of course, he was a lineman, so he understood.

As for this team, Coach Dooley did a whale of a job recruiting them. Coach Pittman nurtured the talent and polished them up. It's all up to Coach Jones and his staff to reap the harvest of the seeds that have been sown.

Go Vols!

hateNCloveTN writes:

This line is experienced and prepared. The biggest issue with this team is the defensive and offensive backfield. Neither have much experience. The defensive backfield showed promise during the spring game but the offense showed poorly. If we can decide on a QB and these running backs deliver then we can/will have a decent season. Here's to a happy ending for this great offensive line. GBO

SummittsCourt writes:

As the O-Line goes, so goes the offense. I think this group will be a major factor in winning games this season.

Go_Big_O writes:

This year, I would like to see this line learn how to "take over the game". I believe they have the talent to do just that, but I am waiting to see if they can develop the mindset that says "as an OL unit, we're unstoppable".

Dickattrade writes:

in response to td:

With the exception of significant injuries at any position, pass blocking (time & limited sacks) and short yardage 1st downs and touchdowns will determine the fate of Team 117. 2013 Tennessee wins or defeats ride on the shoulders of this offensive line. Five years from now, all could be starting in the NFL.

Please help me out a little. I am getting old and slow and must have missed the Team 117 concept. someone please explain what I missed

iowa_vol writes:

in response to Dickattrade:

Please help me out a little. I am getting old and slow and must have missed the Team 117 concept. someone please explain what I missed

117th team in Univ. of Tennessee football history...

BTKidd writes:

I hope that the line is extremely dominant this year. They will need to be to compensate for the dearth of talent left by the worst coach in UT history.

bUTch_please writes:

Love 'em up Coach Don, from what they've been through, they deserve it. The best OL in the SEC is a force to reckon with, for it's their time to shine.

Go TEAM #117!

TrackVol1975 writes:

That these players still would be as dedicated as they are given the recent turmoil of the UT program the past five years speaks volumes as to the character of each of these individuals. They are men of respect in every way.

For the first time since David Cutcliffe went to Duke, I am feeling optimistic about the direction of this football program. No, we won't catch up to Alabama while "Coach Satan" is there, but I believe we will become a whole lot better than we have been in recent years.

Pompey writes:

...if this OL decides not to be intimidated in Gainesville, that Saturday could get funky for the lizards....!

FearTheVols1252 writes:

in response to hateNCloveTN:

This line is experienced and prepared. The biggest issue with this team is the defensive and offensive backfield. Neither have much experience. The defensive backfield showed promise during the spring game but the offense showed poorly. If we can decide on a QB and these running backs deliver then we can/will have a decent season. Here's to a happy ending for this great offensive line. GBO

I’m hoping the conditioning and up-tempo nature of this offense helps us overcome some of the talent deficiencies at skill positions and leads to 1 or 2 upsets for teams that may not be able to keep up in the 4th quarter. If we’re able to do that, and some of these skill players evolve over the course of the season, we could be a pretty dangerous team by seasons end. Only time will tell.

62vol writes:

If we have a quarterback that can hide the ball and sell the run and pull off play action and run stretch plays, etc., it will be easier for this line to excell. A back that can break the first tackle would add a huge dimension to this line. This line usually makes a hole but if the blocking back missses his block, the result is still only a short gain. The strong point of the team is the O-line. They do deserve to have better support. This is where CBJ comes in to coach and demand. His staff may provide the biggest difference this year.

bUTch_please writes:

in response to 62vol:

If we have a quarterback that can hide the ball and sell the run and pull off play action and run stretch plays, etc., it will be easier for this line to excell. A back that can break the first tackle would add a huge dimension to this line. This line usually makes a hole but if the blocking back missses his block, the result is still only a short gain. The strong point of the team is the O-line. They do deserve to have better support. This is where CBJ comes in to coach and demand. His staff may provide the biggest difference this year.

No doubt. I would've expected they were wearing flack vests by the end of last year. How many times did the lineman next to the gap get a helmet on his spine from our own RB? Or a huge open interior cut-back ignored to get trapped wide on the sideline?

ModelMaker writes:

in response to iowa_vol:

I HATE the word deserve. People earn what they "deserve." Hopefully this team earns a few wins. One exception. Kiffin deserves a sharp kick in teeth.

I agree.

rbwtn writes:

I'll say it again the offensive line blew me away. If I was on defensive I would be intimidated and over the years in seeing them they are a Nice bunch of educated guys I respect them and I hope they kick some bottoms and get the recognition they deserve.

BigVolFaninSC writes:

We will go as far as this group takes us...If the defense improves just a little, we will get one or two more Ws than last year! Of course, the goal should and will be higher, but bowl-eligible is a success for this year! Can't Wait! Go Big ORANGE! #BrickByBrick

Olddogsrule writes:

This year we play: A politician, what-folks on a pic-nic?, 2 fowls, a lizard, 4 felines, a red tide (that foul smelling stuff in the water that sometimes shows up when we go to the beach), a canine, and an outhouse door … sheesh!.

6-6 to 8-4 if we get the trap games

GO YOU VOLUNTEERS!

'SMOKEY RULES'

Dickattrade writes:

in response to iowa_vol:

117th team in Univ. of Tennessee football history...

Thank you for your assistance.
Go vols

tovolny writes:

I have liked and I am liking what I hear from our Head Coach and this group of assistants. These guys seem as dedicated as the players I knew in the late 60's and early 70's. I still see the old guys in the stands yelling and screaming, and we all feel young and charged to 100% when the ball is kicked off on Saturdays. This present group of coaches have some how captured the spirit of Tennessee. And, the SPIRIT and SPIRITS are still there on Shield Watkins Field. Remember the player from Auburn who picked up a fumble and was headed directly to a winning touch down but fell flat on his face at about the 30-yard line with no other players within 15 yards? That Auburn player claims an orange-clad player wearing a leather helmet tackled him. Don't take my word on this, check it out with one of the historians...they will give you the ghost's name and number. You younger fans will enjoy what you learn in the process of checking this out. The real Tennessee Spirit, only a few possess it...but you already know their names.

RollTideJoe writes:

in response to TrackVol1975:

That these players still would be as dedicated as they are given the recent turmoil of the UT program the past five years speaks volumes as to the character of each of these individuals. They are men of respect in every way.

For the first time since David Cutcliffe went to Duke, I am feeling optimistic about the direction of this football program. No, we won't catch up to Alabama while "Coach Satan" is there, but I believe we will become a whole lot better than we have been in recent years.

I guess the Satan tag comes from not being able to beat him then. Huh.

Rock_E_Topp88 writes:

in response to BTKidd:

I hope that the line is extremely dominant this year. They will need to be to compensate for the dearth of talent left by the worst coach in UT history.

"Billy The Kidd" ??????????

Really Toddygirl? A 53 year old Rabbit Ear hack calling himself a KID? Of course, compared to your mentor and idol, Flowers, you are a kid. Whatever he spews you lap up....Sad.

beartn#223846 writes:

The line needs to be dominant for the offense to go. I do think we will give up more sacks, since Bray avoided some with his quick release. I hope we can rush for 150+ per game.

ModelMaker writes:

in response to 62vol:

If we have a quarterback that can hide the ball and sell the run and pull off play action and run stretch plays, etc., it will be easier for this line to excell. A back that can break the first tackle would add a huge dimension to this line. This line usually makes a hole but if the blocking back missses his block, the result is still only a short gain. The strong point of the team is the O-line. They do deserve to have better support. This is where CBJ comes in to coach and demand. His staff may provide the biggest difference this year.

That's the way I see it. I would love to see Tennessee go with a "slight of hand artist" (if they have one) that can run the football and drop a pass in there every now and then to keep them honest. With their offensive line I would say they would have a good chance to win the time of possession. If the timing and execution are there it can be a lot of fun to watch; that's where the coaching comes in.

BIVOLAR_BEARE writes:

in response to BTKidd:

I hope that the line is extremely dominant this year. They will need to be to compensate for the dearth of talent left by the worst coach in UT history.

Uhhh, Patterson, Bray and Hunter left before their senior year, DA.

BTKidd writes:

in response to BIVOLAR_BEARE:

Uhhh, Patterson, Bray and Hunter left before their senior year, DA.

Well, where should i start? We have two qb's that coach Jones was soo sold on he recruited two more and stated the job was still up for grabs two weeks before the season starts. We have three rb's who wouldn't be third string for bama, lsu, georgia, or florida. We have wr's who wouldn't start for any of the above mentioned teams. We had to convert a safety to fill in at linebacker. We had to convert a wr to fill the void at corner.

Instead of portraying everything that came out of your beloved's mouth as gospel for three years, you should have uncovered his con. He put out this yarn that he had a special way of evaluating players. The truth was he didn't go head to head with the elite teams for players to hide the fact that he was inept. Jones himself has said UT had players that had no business being on an SEC roster.

I am however grateful that you have come to the conclusion that Tyler Bray was a great player for UT. I was tired of hearing you blame him for your hero's failed tenure.

johnlg00 writes:

As much as I hope the OL can live up to all the almost scarily optimistic hopes of the fans, I hope they can work some of the younger guys into the action as well. I don't expect any of the younger ones to actually beat out any of this year's starting group, but they just can't afford to go into next season with NO playing experience, given that they will fewer as well as rawer.

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