KNOXVILLE -- Tennessee won five football games this season.
Since then, the Volunteers have lost six assistant coaches.
Lance Thompson is the latest to leave UT, as the defensive line coach will return to Alabama, according to a source inside the Vols' football program. The national champion Crimson Tide had a vacancy to fill on their staff after UT hired outside linebackers coach Sal Sunseri as its defensive coordinator last week. Thompson's departure gives Vols' coach Derek Dooley three vacancies to fill.
Alabama didn't officially confirm the hire, and UT does not confirm coaches' departures to other programs.
"Sometimes you're able to make some improvements in areas and sometimes you're able to infuse new energy and new ideas and that's a healthy thing," Dooley said Friday after hiring Sunseri. "Certainly you don't want five new ones every year, but you get it, you try to make the best of it and you move on."
Sunseri previously has coached defensive line and linebackers, though Dooley declined to specify how he'd slot his staff on Friday. With Thompson's departure, Dooley has two defensive staff positions to fill entering his third season. Sunseri likely would be involved heavily in making those decisions.
"Coaches are not the main reason why we are here," UT defensive tackle Maurice Couch wrote on his Twitter account. "We are here to win games and to get an education. LT always preached it. I'm positive CDD [Dooley] will bring someone great to coach the dline gang, looking forward to work with C. Sunseri."
It's Thompson's third stint with Alabama coach Nick Saban. The 47-year-old was on staff with Dooley under Saban at LSU (2002-03) after 11 seasons at Georgia Tech. Following three seasons at Central Florida, Thompson rejoined Saban's staff at Alabama in 2007 and left for UT as linebackers coach when former coach Lane Kiffin was hired in 2009, and Saban replaced him with Sunseri.
"Good luck in bama coach t," UT defensive tackle Daniel Hood wrote on his Twitter account Sunday night.
Defensive backs coach Terry Joseph is the only defensive coach that's still with the Vols. Defensive coordinator Justin Wilcox and linebackers coach Peter Sirmon left for Washington. On the offensive side of the staff, offensive line coach Harry Hiestand (Notre Dame) and special teams coordinator/tight ends coach Eric Russell (Washington State) left for other jobs, and receivers coach Charlie Baggett retired.
Quarterbacks coach Darin Hinshaw slid over to receivers when Baggett left, and Dooley hired former Vol Jay Graham in December as his first full-time running backs coach. He hired North Carolina assistant Sam Pittman to replace Hiestand last week.
"It's important to have a professional dialogue [with assistants], and it's got to be a two-way dialogue," Dooley said. "What I think how we did or how the coach did ... and his thoughts on where he is and our program and everything, sometimes when you have those discussions, you get a lot better from them, both of you. Sometimes when you have those discussions, it causes you to start thinking about maybe is this the right fit?
"Sometimes when you have those discussions, you part ways. I do that with coaches every year. I think that's important and I think it's healthy. I ask them to give me the kind of feedback that I need as a head coach, honest opinions. I don't there's any other way you can grow as a program."
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 ...