KNOXVILLE — It's too soon to know if the seven new assistant coaches on Derek Dooley's staff at Tennessee are upgrades over their predecessors.
From the perspective of the Volunteers' third-year coach, though, the new faces offer a fresh start of sorts.
“Is it normal to have seven coaches transition in a year? No, it's very rare for something like that to happen,” Dooley said during his interview with the Times Free Press last week. “But I kind of view it as sort of a correction. When you start a company, when you start anything, you always have that little initial correction to kind of fix all the things maybe you didn't get right in the beginning.
“I think it was a good correction for me, and I think it's going to be for the team.”
Though from a professional standpoint he didn't have much time to sulk, Dooley had to find it tough seeing seven coaches he hired to join him at UT in 2010 leave after just two seasons. For example, Terry Joseph, the last of the departing group, had been a Dooley assistant for the last five years. All of the coaches that left made lateral moves, though not all for the same reasons.
“I think some left because the fit wasn't right,” Dooley said. “I think some left because they maybe allowed the fear … the fear made the wolf a little bigger than it was. I think some left just because professionally they thought it would be a good growth situation.
“Each coach was unique in why they left, and it's part of the profession.”
It's also part of the profession as the head coach to hire the best candidates for the coaching vacancies. After making the comment that his coaching staff needed to have better trust with each other, Dooley said some familiarity was part of his search process. It's the made the transition seamless, he said, even amid so much turnover.
“I think it was important for me at the defensive-coordinator level,” Dooley said. “I thought that position, more than any, having to teach somebody everything about me, what I believe, philosophy, how we run things organizationally — I just felt like the learning curve [was too much].
“I wanted to get somebody who had the same philosophy as I've had, they've been in the same system, they believe in the same things that I believe [and] I didn't have to sell what I was doing to them. Sal [Sunseri] fit that mold. I think because of that, that's permeate throughout the staff.”
Each coach on UT's entirely new defensive staff has a connection to Sunseri, the Vols' new coordinator. Whether it was coaching under him like Derrick Ansley or just seeing him a few weeks out of the year at the Carolina Panthers' training camp like Josh Conklin, that continuity has had an impact. Offensively, running backs coach Jay Graham played at UT, offensive line coach Sam Pittman knew offensive coordinator Jim Chaney and tight ends coach Charlie Coiner was on Louisville's staff with Sunseri for three seasons.
The familiarity has been an asset for the Vols through spring practice, but whether or not the new staff is upgrade won't be proved until next fall and next February.
“I don't want to compare the staffs; I think it's a little premature,” Dooley said. “This group's only been here a couple of months. What I can tell you is that I believe this group has a real good understanding of Tennessee, the SEC and what it takes to be successful in this league.
“It's been a real seamless transition, and I think the players are really embracing the new energy.”
Patrick Brown has been the University of Tennessee beat writer since January 2011. A native of Memphis, Brown graduated from UT in May of 2010 with a bachelor’s degree in Journalism/Electronic Media and worked at the Knoxville News Sentinel for two years on the sports editorial staff and as a freelance contributor. If it’s the NBA, the NFL or SEC football and basketball, he’s probably reading about it or watching it on TV. Contact him ...