Kelsey Pope Named Tennessee Wide Receivers Coach

Kelsey Pope, who played a key role on Tennessee’s record-setting offensive staff in 2021, has been named the Volunteers’ new wide receivers coach, head coach Josh Heupel announced on Monday.

Pope, a native of Sylacauga, Alabama, worked closely with the wide receivers last season as an offensive analyst. He takes over for Kodi Burns, who recently accepted a similar role with the NFL’s New Orleans Saints.

“Kelsey was a natural fit for this role and someone our players trust and have the utmost respect for,” Heupel said. “He has a clear understanding of what it takes for our wide receivers to be successful in this offense. He knows how to connect with people and cultivate relationships, and he’s going to be a tireless recruiter.”

“I am excited to help continue the momentum we established last season,” Pope said. “I have seen firsthand just how much Tennessee football means to people year-round. It’s a special place, and the players in our locker room are eager to take the next step in their development. They have worked extremely hard thus far this offseason. I can’t wait until the start of spring practice, and I look forward to making an impact in recruiting. I am grateful to Coach Heupel for this opportunity.”

Pope was instrumental in the holistic development of a wide receivers room that featured multiple players with 60+ receptions for the first time in school history. The Volunteers were one of only two SEC programs with multiple players with seven or more receiving touchdowns in 2021. Meanwhile, Tennessee led the SEC in 30+ yard receiving plays (30), 40+ yard receiving plays (18) and 70+ yard receiving plays (4).

Wide receiver Cedric Tillman entered the 2021 season with just eight catches for 124 yards and no touchdowns in his first three seasons combined. Tillman finished the year with 64 catches for 1,081 yards and 12 scores, becoming the Vols’ ninth 1,000-yard receiver all-time and first since 2011. He finished sixth in the SEC in receptions, good for eighth in single-season school history.

All-SEC senior Velus Jones Jr. caught 62 passes — 10th in school history and 10th in the SEC — for 807 yards and seven scores. Jones Jr. was tabbed the SEC Co-Special Teams Player of the Year and earned Reese’s Senior Bowl All-America honors.

Pope possesses a firm knowledge of Heupel’s up-tempo offense, which averaged a nation-best 2.99 offensive plays per minute. The unit was the nation’s most
improved scoring offense, skyrocketing from 108th in the FBS a season prior to his
arrival to seventh in 2021 at 39.3 points per game. Pope was part of an offensive staff that saw Tennessee shatter eight single-season records, including points (511), total offensive yards (6,174), touchdowns (67), point after touchdowns made (67), total first downs (316), rushing first downs (164), fewest interceptions thrown (3) and passing efficiency (167.10).

Pope was the pass game coordinator and wide receivers coach at Gardner-Webb for one season prior to joining Heupel’s staff. He previously served as the wide receivers coach at Tennessee Tech in 2019, a season that saw the Golden Eagles post the second-best total offensive output in school history.

Pope mentored freshman wide receiver Metrius Fleming, who was an All-Ohio Valley Conference selection and a four-time OVC Newcomer of the Week recipient. Fleming hauled in 47 passes for 629 yards and three touchdowns, while rushing for two more scores and adding a 91-yard kickoff return touchdown. He averaged 26.5 yards per return and finished with more than 1,200 all-purpose yards.

Meanwhile, senior Darrius Stafford added 41 catches for 515 yards and three scores as Tennessee Tech averaged over 380 yards of total offense per game and put up 29.0 points per contest.

Pope spent a season as an assistant receivers coach at Shorter (Georgia) University on the Division II level in 2018. He helped guide a group of receivers that accounted for more than 2,000 yards and saw three of his pass catchers post seasons of 400 yards apiece.

Pope got his coaching start at Ohio Northern in 2017 where he worked with the running backs. He oversaw a run game that tallied 195.5 yards per game on the ground and a stellar 435.7 offensive yards per contest. Running back Christaan Williams rushed for 1,623 yards and 11 touchdown on his way to All-OAC honors and second-team All-America accolades.

A standout receiver himself, Pope starred at Samford from 2010-13, finishing as the Bulldogs’ all-time leader in career receptions (250) and single-game catches with 17 against The Citadel in 2011. He led the squad in receiving for three straight seasons and amassed 2,385 receiving yards and 13 scores during his career.

A three-time All-SoCon selection, Pope spent time in the NFL as a player with the Arizona Cardinals.

He earned his degree in public administration from Samford in 2014.