KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — New Tennessee defensive coordinator Bob Shoop considers himself a student of the game and has spent the last few months learning as much as he can about the Volunteers' football history.
Shoop arrived at his most recent media session holding a copy of the annotated journals of former Tennessee coach Robert Neyland. The western Pennsylvania native also mentioned how much he enjoyed meeting former Tennessee and Pittsburgh coach Johnny Majors.
"I was a Pitt fan back in the day," Shoop said. "When coach Majors left Pitt to come to Tennessee, it kind of broke my heart."
Now Shoop is the coach who left a Pennsylvania school for Tennessee. After working as James Franklin's defensive coordinator first at Vanderbilt and later at Penn State, Shoop accepted the same position on Tennessee coach Butch Jones' staff.
Shoop replaces John Jancek, who departed in January. When he left, the move was described at the time as a mutual parting, though Jones' comments at Shoop's introductory press conference a week later left little doubt it was the head coach's call. Jancek is now the safeties coach at South Florida.
One of the things that appealed to Shoop about this job is that it wasn't a rebuilding situation. Tennessee's only senior defensive starters in its Outback Bowl victory over Northwestern were tackle Owen Williams and safeties LaDarrell McNeil and Brian Randolph. The switch in coordinators isn't expected to result in major schematic changes.
"We have a lot of guys back, so our playing style, we're a lot more confident," linebacker Darrin Kirkland Jr. said. "I think that will show on the field."
But it's going to take time before Shoop works with his complete defense at Tennessee. Eight injured defensive players are missing spring practice, including Tennessee's top returning tackler (Jalen Reeves-Maybin) and pass rusher (Derek Barnett). Five defensive linemen are sidelined.
Shoop insists that isn't a major problem. The new coordinator said he already knows what Barnett and Reeves-Maybin can do. Spring practice is giving him a chance to learn more about the guys on his roster who haven't played as often.
"In some ways... it's not been a negative at all really," Shoop said.
Shoop also already knows several of the defensive players very well because he recruited them while at Vanderbilt. Defensive back Rashaan Gaulden said his first major offer came from Vanderbilt when Shoop was on the Commodores' staff.
"I knew what kind of guy he was coming into this program," Gaulden said. "I knew he was the right fit. He's a great guy, down to earth, a very aggressive style coach. I love that."
Shoop likes what he's seen of this defense so far.
He raves about cornerback Cam Sutton's work ethic and said that "you hear other players' names as far as corners in the SEC, but I think it's about time we start putting him up at the next level." Shoop said Kirkland, a starter as a freshman last fall, has the command and approach of "a 10-year veteran."
Shoop said he often exchanges late-night texts with Kirkland and praises the linebacker for asking the right questions and challenging the coordinator's thoughts. Kirkland said Shoop has a "beautiful mind."
Shoop is building similar working relationships with other defensive players.
"Every night in the Anderson Training Center, his office is filled with players coming in and wanting to be around him and talking football," Jones said.
Shoop uses his love of sports history in these study sessions. Shoop said he's quoted San Antonio Spurs coach Gregg Popovich, Boston Celtics coach Brad Stevens, Chicago Cubs manager Joe Maddon and New England Patriots coach Bill Belichick.
He also is becoming increasingly familiar with Neyland's game maxims for winning football. The list of maxims, a part of Tennessee football lore, includes such pointers as "if at first the game - or breaks- go against you, don't let up... put on more steam."
"They still hold true," Shoop said. "That's the most amazing thing to me."