Defensive line coach Brady Hoke has seen it all.
His arrival at Tennessee brings his career full circle from position coach, to coordinator, to head coach at three schools and back down the ladder to position coach.
It's not the transition that any head coach has planned, but it's one that Hoke is clearly ok with after being fired at Michigan in 2014 and Oregon in 2016.
Hoke is no longer in the pressure-cooker of being the face of a program, and after three weeks on Rocky Top, the 30-plus year coaching veteran likes the fact that he's back at the core of who he is — a teacher in the defensive trenches.
“I like my room. Let me put it that way, I like the room of guys that I have,” Hoke said. “That doesn't mean that I don't like everyone else, but I like my room. You get a chance to focus back into your world and what you are doing. It's exciting and I'm looking forward to it.
“Being with those kids is fun which is why as a head coach I always coached something on the defensive line. I love being around those guys. My favorite time of the day is 2:25 p.m. when I get to be around those kids.”
Even though Hoke is back to his roots and the core of who he was 30 years ago when he got his coaching start at Grand Valley State in 1983, his resume is an aid to head coach Butch Jones, who heads into his fifth year with a growing spotlight on him.
“I think it can help at times when different situations come up that you have dealt with or have been through,” Hoke said of his head coaching experience.
“Hopefully, I bring a little different perspective at times. I know coach and I talked about that a little bit during the hiring process. I think it helps because of the different situations that you go through as a head coach. I think Butch pretty grounded. What I know of him and see of him on a daily basis, this thing is going in the right direction.”
To try and ensure things are going in the right direction, Jones has been aggressive this offseason in his coaching changes. Jones hired a new strength coach in Rock Gullickson, who has decades of experience. Offensive line coach Walt Wells has been a coordinator before, as has secondary coach Charlton Warren. Jones also promoted Larry Scott to offensive coordinator, who has head coaching experience as the interim at Miami.
Clearly, Jones' staff changes were not just about hiring guys he knew, but also guys with experience beyond their role at Tennessee — and no one has more experience than Hoke.
In fact, Hoke has more experience than Jones. Hoke's resume has 12 years head coaching experience. And while coaches who have been at the top are in a race to get back there, Hoke insists he's not. And why should he be. He's making $500,000 at Tennessee and is still getting money from his firing at Michigan.
“Right now, I love my job. I don't think we as a family could be at a better place than Rocky Top.”
For Jones, Hoke's arrival couldn't be a better fit.
Jones' longtime friend brings a wealth experience. He's can be a sounding board for Jones about things only a head coach understands. But Hoke's also a great fit because he's clearly found peace with his career — focusing on the passion that got him into coaching over 30 years ago by teaching college football's version of trench warfare to a room of defensive linemen.