Coach's Corner: Can Weinke Navigate Tennessee's Crowded QB Room Successfully in 2020?
Tennessee's coaching staff is one of the most talented in the country, as Jeremy Pruitt has proven effective and efficient in making impactful hires since arriving in Knoxville in 2018. With all sports on hold, we take an opportunity to look at the facts, strengths, and question marks around each coach over this Coach's Corner series, and we take a look at quarterbacks coach Chris Weinke in this edition.
Weinke joined Tennessee's staff in 2018 as the Running Backs coach, and he then moved to Quarterbacks coach for the 2019 season, after staff adjustments were made to bring Tee Martin back to Knoxville. Weinke is not viewed as a fan favorite by most, and a large part of this is because he leads a critical position with the quarterback room, and he had lofty expectations as a recruiter when he arrived on Rocky Top. Weinke's quarterbacks were highly criticized and more than questionable in 2019, but the unit helped the Vols achieve and 8-5 record after a tumultuous start. I do not believe Weinke gets enough credit for that. The group threw for 19 touchdowns, 13 interceptions, and 2,878 yards. In comparison to 2018, where the Vols threw for 15 touchdowns, 5 interceptions, and did not eclipse 2,500 yards. Brian Maurer, Jarrett Guarantano, and J.T. Shrout all produced one win as a starter, and each guy flashed potential during the rather rough season. Weinke now has a crowded room with a ton of questions and concerns heading into 2020.
Weinke's knowledge and ability surrounding the quarterback position make him as unique as any coach in America. He is a Heisman Trophy winner who played at the highest level and has now coached at all three levels of the games. Weinke's coaching time at the professional and high school level have helped him boost a resume that most would only hope for. This season showed that he can help groom quarterbacks to success, as all three quarterbacks did have success, even if it was short-lived under his direction. Many would argue that he navigated through as messy a situation as possible with Maurer and Guarantano's injuries putting tremendous strain on the unit. However, the room is not going to be any easier on him this fall, especially in the wake of the cancellation of Spring Practice.
The Question Marks
Can he be the guy who elevates Tennessee's quarterback room to the next level? He has varying talent across the board heading into 2020, but the lack of reps in Spring could hurt the cause. Harrison Bailey comes in as the guy touted with turning this program around, while Jimmy Holiday brings a new element to the table, and fifth-year season Jarrett Guarantano, and underclassmen J.T. Shrout and Brian Maurer both return. How can Weinke not only navigate this room but make it even more productive in the 2020 season is going to be key for Tennessee's success? There were thoughts that at least one guy could leave the room, but that is now on hold indefinitely, so this is going to be Weinke's biggest question mark, in my opinion. On the recruiting trail, Weinke was attributed as being the primary recruiter for Harrison Bailey and Malachi Wideman by 247 Sports, but if you follow recruiting closely, you know that Pruitt led the charge for Bailey the entire way with Weinke assisting. Bailey spoke highly of Weinke and is excited to play for him, though. Weinke used a close relationship with people around Wideman to help Tennessee get in the door and win that battle, so he is owed a large credit for that one. He came much closer to five-star Justin Rogers than most know, and it just did not work out. As a recruiter, the question mark has to be if Weinke can make his national ties pay off in a pivotal cycle for the Vols. If so, Tennessee fans should be very happy.