Jeremy Pruitt's decision to bring Tyson Helton to Tennessee as his offensive coordinator was one of the 15 "most important assistant coaching hires" in college football this offseason, according to Football Scoop.

As a former defensive coordinator, Pruitt is going to have most of his focus and exert most of his energy on that side of the ball, so he'll need to have a high level of trust in Helton and the rest of the coaching staff on the other side of the ball.

Though Pruitt and Helton have never worked together, they have known each other more than a decade going back to when they crossed paths when the former was coaching high school football in Alabama and Helton was at Memphis recruiting one of Pruitt's players.

Helton comes from USC, where he spent the past two years on staff under his brother, Clay Helton, and alongside former Tennessee quarterback Tee Martin as the passing game coordinator for the Trojans, and he worked with Jeff Brohm, a Bobby Petrino protege, at Western Kentucky the two previous years before heading to Los Angeles.

He also coached at Hawaii when Timmy Chang was breaking multiple NCAA passing records and at Memphis when DeAngelo Williams was taking the Tigers to new heights, and Helton was part of some of the best offenses in the program's history at UAB, where he worked alongside Will Friend, Tennessee's offensive line coach.

So why does Football Scoop include Helton in its ranking of 15 important assistant coaching hires of 2018? Here is the explanation from writer Zach Barnett:

The Tennessee job is the biggest of Jeremy Pruitt’s life. Bar none. Everything Pruitt has done in his 44 years on this planet and 21 seasons in the coaching business has built toward this exact moment. Maybe he takes over for Nick Saban at his alma mater one day, maybe he moves on to the NFL or maybe he sticks around in Knoxville as the second coming of General Robert Neyland. The possibilities are endless, but one thing is certain: that future will be written through what happens in the next 2-to-4 years.

As such, Tyson Helton is the biggest hire Pruitt will ever make in his life.

And that’s why he’s such an interesting choice.

Helton is well qualified for the position. Schooled under the likes of June Jones and Jeff Brohm, Helton’s work at USC most likely saved the staff’s jobs in 2016, as redshirt freshman quarterback Sam Darnold rescued the Trojans from a 1-3 start to a 9-0 finish, capped by a thrilling Rose Bowl win and No. 3 final ranking.

Helton has made his mark in the game by working with big-armed, scoreboard-popping quarterbacks. Before he mentored the No. 3 pick in the 2018 NFL Draft, Helton spent two seasons as the offensive coordinator at Western Kentucky, where he guided Brandon Doughty to throw for 371.5 yards per game in 2014 and 361.1 per game in 2015, leading the Hilltoppers to a 12-2 mark, a Conference USA title and a No. 24 final ranking.

The natural question, then, is how Helton will pair with a defense-first and defense-second head coach.


Helton is taking over an offense that bottomed-out by scoring just 19.8 points per game last season after ranking second in the SEC in scoring in 2016. He'll first have to sort out a quarterback competition between returners Jarrett Guarantano and Will McBride and two newcomers in Stanford graduate transfer Keller Chryst and freshman JT Shrout. The Vols also lost star running back John Kelly to the NFL.

Earlier this offseason, Helton described the offense he wants to run at Tennessee as one that will "run to win" with a physical ground game and generate explosive plays by pushing the ball downfield in the passing game.

"Tyson is very detailed, he's very demanding," Pruitt said after one of Tennessee spring practices. "I've sat in a lot of his meetings here with the players, and he does a fantastic job. He's very thorough. He goes through everything, from getting the calls signaled pre-snap, indicators, protections. He really does a nice job."