Via UT Media Relations
When you hear the name Chris Rumph, the first thing that comes to mind is hard-nosed defense.
Born and raised in St. Matthews, S.C., Rumph, the Vols’ co-defensive coordinator, got his start in coaching at South Carolina State as a graduate assistant in 1997 under legendary head coach Willie Jefferies. From there, he went on to become head coach at his high school, Calhoun County (S.C.), for the next four years before returning to the college ranks in 2002.
During his time at Calhoun County, Rumph learned what college coaches looked for in top-tier talent and took that knowledge with him back to the college game. Rumph became one of the top defensive coaches in the country by mentoring defenses at Memphis, Clemson, Alabama, Texas and Florida, while also becoming one of the nation’s top recruiters in the process.
“Before someone can believe in the shirt that you are wearing, they have to believe in the man that’s wearing the shirt,” said Rumph. “Throughout the years, speaking for myself and some of the other guys as well, we have a great reputation as a man first.
“I try to be genuine. I try to be who I am: Chris Rumph from St. Matthews, S.C.”
Rumph has recruited players such as Jon Bullard, Malcom Brown, Da’Quan Bowers, Gaines Adams, Phillip Merling, Darell Scott and Ricky Sapp — all during his time at Clemson. Caleb Brantley, Hassan Ridgeway, Alex McCalister, Ed Stinson, Jesse Williams and Josh Chapman, to name a few, are among the other stars he has recruited in his career.
In all, Rumph has coached four All-Americans and 18 eventual NFL draft picks.
Coaching Tennessee’s outside linebackers on top of his co-defensive coordinator duties, which he shares with Kevin Sherrer, Rumph came to Rocky Top after a 2017 season that saw him coach defensive line at Florida, wrapping up three seasons in Gainesville.
All told, Rumph has 15 years of coaching experience at the FBS level, including a stint at Texas in 2014 as defensive line coach and assistant head coach for defense.
From 2011-13, Rumph was the defensive line coach at Alabama, racking up two BCS National Championships along the way (2011 and 2012). During those two seasons, Rumph coached alongside current Tennessee head coach Jeremy Pruitt.
In Rumph’s final season at Alabama, the Crimson Tide ranked fifth nationally in total defense and seventh in rushing defense.
His years of experience in the SEC—a résumé staple among this new Vols’ coaching staff—makes it easier for him to sell the players on what it takes to play college football at the highest level.
“When we are speaking about (playing or coaching in the SEC), we are telling them how it is,” Rumph said. “We aren’t just reading about it from some book. We have experienced it ourselves. It just ups our credibility.”
In addition to his coaching experience, Rumph also played in the SEC—he was a four-year letterwinner at South Carolina, starring at linebacker and racking up 141 career tackles. He was on the 1995 Gamecocks squad that won its first ever bowl game, the 1995 CarQuest Bowl.
At Tennessee, Rumph has joined an extraordinarily well-rounded and battle-tested collection of coaches.
“I think that the staff is a powerful staff,” Rumph said. “Sometimes, I look around the room and I think, ‘Oh wow, that’s Tracy Rocker over there or Charles Kelly or Coach Sherrer … oh man, Tyson (Helton) and those guys from Southern Cal.’ It’s really impressive. The best thing about it is none of these guys have any egos. We go in the meeting room and a guy will bring up an idea and there are no egos—everyone is going along with the plan. With some of the guys we have on the staff and their track record and some of the things they have done, they are so humble. It’s a blessing. They could be in there saying, ‘I’m the guy who created all of these things.’ There are some humble guys in there, some great men.”
One of Tennessee’s big areas of emphasis in the offseason: strength and conditioning
“(The progress) has been unbelievable,” Rumph said. “Some of the gains that not only my guys have made, but as a team, is unbelievable. These guys are changing their bodies. At one point, they could come over to my house and I didn’t care if they took their shirt off around my wife. Now, I told them they can’t take their shirt off in front of my wife.”
But as it often is with coaching at the collegiate level—as well as at high school and even youth leagues—coaching football isn’t all about the weight room or the film room or the execution on the field. At the end of the day, the young men on Tennessee’s roster are pursuing degrees, educations both inside and out of the classroom, educations that will benefit them for decades after they leave Rocky Top.
“I just try to be genuine and try to let them know I love you and this is more than just football,” Rumph said. “It is life. I tell them all the time, if the only thing you learn from me is how to tackle, then I have failed. I don’t want to be a guy that just teaches you how to do that. I might as well leave if I want to do that. I want to teach them how to be a man, how to be a father, how to be a husband, how to treat your wife, how to treat your kids and how to treat people. That’s what it is all about. If we can do that, the world is going to be great.”