Jan. 13, 2012
Vols head coach Derek Dooley spoke to the media on Friday on a variety of topics including the new assistant coaches and roster moves.
Head Coach Derek Dooley
(On coaching changes and Sam Pittman's hiring)
"I'll start with the coaching changes. Obviously, a lot has happened since we last talked not long ago. We hired Sam Pittman as you know. Sam has done a great job the last five years at North Carolina. Some of these hires happen quickly. I know it looked odd. Some of them take forever. There's no real rhyme or reason why. Every coach has different interests. They're in a different situation. They have to go through diligence differently and we have to do the same thing. It just so happened the Sam thing fell on us quickly and I'm glad he's a part of us. He's going to do a great job.
(On hiring Sal Sunseri)
"Of course we hired Sal (Sunseri) as our defensive coordinator. I first saw Sal in I think it was the 1983 (1982) Sugar Bowl. I was down there just a coach's kid on the sideline and he was an All-American linebacker. I worked with Sal in 2000 at LSU andd eveloped a relationship with him and just watched his body of work over the last 10 years. I'm so excited he wanted to be a part of Tennessee. He's an outstanding football coach. He's an outstanding recruiter. He has great energy. He is an awesome human being. I think he'll be a really good fit for us. Those are the hires that we have made. We obviously have two more, which I don't want to talk about. The rumors are beautiful, some of the rumors you guys put out, people that I have never even talked to who we've hired.
(On the support of Dave Hart)
"I do want to mention that (Athletics Director) Dave Hart has just been a tremendous resource for me here, especially when you hire a D-coordinator. These are complex hires. There are a lot of things involved. It's obviously a very important hire for any program. He's been very supportive in helping me through the process.
(On roster changes)
"Now, let me go to the roster. As every program has, we have a little attrition at the mid-year; DeAnthony Arnett, Martaze Jackson, Art Jeffery, Matt Milton, Nash Nance and Robert Nelson are no longer a part of the team, all for different reasons. Some of it is family, some of it academic pursuits, some of it opportunity to play at other places and we wish them well. We support them. We never like anybody to leave our program, but sometimes it's in their best interest and it's a good mutual parting of ways. We move on. JerQuari Schofield is here, but not a part of the team right now because he has a lot of work to do academically and I want him to focus on that."
"Let me update you on everybody. Ok, I'm just going down the list. Brent Brewer is eight weeks out, he is off his crutches and he is doing great. He'll be out for the spring on his ACL. Alex Bullard, he had a little meniscus tear and he is fine. He is going to be full go. Alan Carson, he got scoped as well. He is on crutches probably for another week but he is going to be fine and full go for spring. Justin Hunter is doing really well. He is how many months out? He is running right now. He is right on track and doing great. Greg King had a meniscus tear and is doing, I think, better than he has been. He is going to be full go. Marlin Lane, same deal. He is full go. All of these postseason surgeries helped. You know about Da'Rick (Rogers). He will get his pins out in four weeks so he can't really catch for another couple of months, but he should be full go for spring. He will be fine for spring. It's going to limit him a little bit here. Marlon Walls was another scope guy on his knee. He will be full go for spring. He's ready to go. Our shoulder guys, Daniel Hood, Curt Maggitt and Prentiss (Waggner), all had successful shoulder repairs. They are in slings and will be in slings for a little while. They are going to be non-contact in the spring, which obviously for Dan Hood, there is not much more you can do. For a guy like Prentiss, you can probably do a lot because of the position. Herman (Lathers) is doing good. He is full go. We'll see how that goes. That is everybody."
(On mid-year enrollees)
"You know we have seven mid-year guys. They look good. We are excited about Cody Blanc, Alden Hill, Justin Meredith, Nathan Peterman, Darrington Sentimore, Trent Taylor and Tino Thomas. No real issues with any of them right now. They are ready to go, they are in school and good. We've had a couple of team meetings. The kids came back Wednesday with just a tremendous amount of energy and enthusiasm. I told them, like I said a week ago, I am as excited as I have ever been about an offseason. We are tweaking a couple of things to kind of incorporate a little competitive component to the offseason program, but more than anything I told them the two most important things we can achieve are teamwork, learning how to be a team and work together as teammates and understanding the individual investment and commitment it takes every day to be a great player. We are going to kick off our winter program on Tuesday and then we will be off and running. Of course, the coaches have two more weeks to close out signing day. That is the update."
(On taking a breath after making the defensive coordinator hire)
"That one is a lot of anxiety on you, but they all are really. That one, of course, more so than others, because that one impacts a lot of the other ones that you hire. It is hard to really cover up a wrong hire at the coordinator level. You catch a breath for about 30 seconds and that is about how long you have at Tennessee before something else is on the way and we move on to the next phase."
(On evaluating Sal Sunseri)
"He has called plays. He's had four years of it before. Sal's body of work is more than the three years with Nick (Saban). He had seven years with John Fox who, right now, is probably playing better defense than anybody in the NFL. He has a tremendous knowledge of football and, not only that, but everywhere he goes, his players perform. It was pretty simple for me."
(On what scheme he will bring to the defense)
"We talked a lot about it and one of the reasons I went after Sal was because I felt like we needed to be a little more multiple and I felt like we needed to be a little more aggressive in situations of a game. Sal brings that. I think our personnel allows us to do a lot more because of the body types that we have and guys that we have recruited. That is going to be something that is important. I've always said, like I've told you guys, every time you have a coaching change it is a great opportunity to try and improve in some areas you think you need to improve in. I hope we did that."
(On how recruiting factors in during the interview process)
"It is very important because if you can't get the guys, it doesn't matter how good a coach you are. There were some great coaches in that national championship game, but it wasn't short of great players. You have to be able to do both. Both of the guys that we hired have a long history and track record of signing some really quality talent."
(On hiring a coach away from Nick Saban)
"I didn't view it as that, just because of the nature of the jump in title. I told Nick when I called him that it was a hard call because it isn't a Tennessee-Alabama deal. It was such a good opportunity professionally for Sal, and I know Nick has always been proud of the coaches that go on to bigger and brighter things because of the time they spent with him. I'm appreciative of what he gave me as a coach and I know Sal is appreciate of what he has given him as a coach. I was really pleased at how professionally he handled it. We have a friendship too, and that will never be compromised. It wasn't about Tennessee taking anything from Alabama. It was a guy that has had a track record of great coaching over the last two decades and an opportunity that I think he has been wanting for a couple of years."
(On stepping away from Nick Saban to prove yourself)
"I think all coaches are like that at some point. If you have aspirations of becoming a head coach, at some point you have to go out there and do it on your own. I know Sal, ever since we were together in 2000, the next step he wanted was to be a D-coordinator at a high level and to his credit he didn't want to just rush into it. He was in there grinding with Foxy for seven years and then when he got an opportunity to go with Nick he viewed it as another way to grow professionally. Some coaches want to get the title and that is good and a lot of times it works, and then other coaches like to learn and develop and grow so that when they do get the title they are ready to go."
(On whether Sunseri's background with linebackers gives him some flexibility in the rest of his coaching hires)
"There is still flexibility. I don't want to tell to go ahead and tell you how we are going to slot everybody, but yeah, Sal can coach a lot of positions."
(On how quickly the coaches will begin recruiting and whether Sunseri will focus on the Baltimore/D.C. area)
"Right now, Sal is going to hit the guys we have committed. He needs to go meet the defensive players and help recruit some of the others. Once we get to signing day, we will evaluate what areas all of our coaches will go to"
(On being more multiple defensively)
"Multiple, that includes 4-3, that includes 3-4, that includes a lot of third-down pressures, it includes everything. What we end up ultimately being, only time will tell based on our personnel."
(On whether he wanted to be more multiple even before changing coordinators)
"I wanted to grow. I think each year you look at what you did on offense, defense and special teams and say, `Where could we have been a little better schematically?' Some of the things, it's not that you were wrong last year, it is just that maybe there were circumstances that didn't allow you to do that. What is changing this year and what should we do a little bit better? Whether Sal was here or not, that was kind of the direction we were going to want to go in."
(On whether there will be a schematic change on the offensive line)
"No, I think we can continue to build. He has been in, systematically, a pro-style offense the last five years over there with (North Carolina offensive coordinator) John Shoop. We know John very well, I know the systems he has been in, Jim (Chaney) is very comfortable and we had a lot of good dialogue. The only learning curve will be personality more than anything, but there is always a learning curve with a new coach schematically and you iron them out."
(On whether the Carolinas will become more of a focus area in recruiting)
"It has always been a focus area. We haven't done as good of a job as we probably could have. We've done a good job in some areas and haven't done as good a job in others, but certainly given how close it is and the history of the great players from those states, yeah, we need to do a little better job in there."
(On the dynamic for Sal Sunseri when he plays against his son, Vinnie, at Alabama)
"Well, I played against my dad. The only thing you learn from that experience is that the mom always pulls for the son. Roxanne (Sunseri's) first comment was, `I can't pull for you. I have to pull for Vinnie.' That is the only thing I can tell you on that one."
(On the importance of having NFL experience on your coaching staff)
"I think it is a factor. I don't hire somebody just because he has NFL experience. There are a lot of bad coaches that have NFL experience and there are a lot of great coaches who don't. I guess my time in the NFL and what it gave me, I see some value in it. It is something, if all things were equal, you would certainly like to have somebody that has been up there and have a few coaches on your staff that have that experience and connections because it is also important to grow each year professionally. If you are not wired in to all the different ranks where you can talk to coaches, you can't grow."
(On how much his year working with Sal Sunseri factored in to his decision)
"That was very important because when you are on a staff together, you develop a pretty close relationship either good or bad. I spent an awesome year with Sal. That was important, knowing that you have a guy in your staff room that is going to be bunkered in and ready to go for you. That played a big part of it. I know what Sal is about. I know what his character is, I've seen him coach, so there is a lot less risk."
(On whether Herschel Walker ran over Sal Sunseri in the 1982 Sugar Bowl)
"He did. That is a good memory. It was one of the great highlights. Sal came in a little high in his tackling technique and hadn't hit a guy like that probably, but I wouldn't bring that up to him. He wants that one back. (Pitt) won the game. There were two fourth and fives that game on the last drive. Georgia scored and (Dan) Marino comes back. On the first fourth-and-five, they run a quarterback draw which I think was the first time in his career that Marino ran one of those. Then the second, it might have been fourth-and-seven. Georgia ran a total blitz, a little out-and up for a touchdown. They asked dad, `If you had to do it all over again, would you run the blitz?' He says, `Hell no, I already know the outcome to that.' So, that is my memory of that game. And I cried."
(On whether he anticipates signing 25 players this year)
"There is a good chance, but that number is always a moving target. You can't go past 25. You can, but I guess there will be consequences. You can do whatever you want."
(On what he liked about Sam Pittman)
"He comes extremely highly recommended from a lot of people I know and trust and have worked with. I made more calls on him because nobody would give me anything bad. I said to keep calling, everybody has something, but he has just been so well respected throughout the years. I've had people call me unsolicited since we hired him. I think it was a deal where there weren't a lot of weaknesses. Good person, good football coach, the players love him everywhere he has been and play hard for him and he is an excellent recruiter. It was a little bit of everything."
(On how he sold his new coaches on coming to Tennessee)
"I just told them the truth. Just like I recruit, I've been really honest about where we were 23 months ago, why we haven't had the success the last two years that people outside of Knoxville probably aren't accustomed to seeing Tennessee have, meaning they don't know what is going on, what he have done the last 23 months and where I think we are headed. I try not to sell in a way that is misleading, because I want them to come in here and have all the information. The worst thing I think you can do is have them get here and go, `Well, you didn't tell me that.' So, I tell them the truth, same thing I tell recruits. I believe in where are headed, I believe in what we have done the last 23 months and these guys do to. That's all I know how to do."
(On why Sal Sunseri chose Tennessee)
"I think Sal wants to coach at this level and probably would rather have an impact at this level than be in a different part of the country or a different league. I think the SEC and the NFL is appealing to Sal Sunseri as an assistant and I am sure there will be a time when he will want to be a head coach one day. Of course, you start getting different opinions when you are in charge. I just think the appeal of the NFL kept him there and then going back with Nick knowing he could go compete for a national championship and an SEC championship at a program like Alabama and I think he has the same sort of thinking about coming to Tennessee."
(On whether there are challenges on having so many new coaches on staff)
"Are there challenges? Yeah. The challenge is that there is a learning curve to how we do things. We have a recruiting weekend this weekend and Jay (Graham) and Sam have never been through a recruiting weekend with us and what the expectations are. So there is a learning curve there, there is a learning curve in getting to know each other as people, but there is also, despite the challenges, some positives that happen sometimes. Sometimes you are able to make some improvements in some areas and sometimes you are able to infuse some new energy and new ideas. That is a healthy thing. Certainly you don't want five new ones every year, but you get it, try to make the best of it and move on."
(On hiring a defensive coordinator with SEC experience)
"I think that's fair to say. That was important to me. It didn't mean we weren't going to go in that direction, but we preferred somebody that had been in these wars. They know what kind of players we have in this league. They know what kind of scrutiny and exposure that you're going to get in this league. They know the stage and they love it. That was important. They know our opponents, having a little leg up on who these coordinators are, what they do and how they do it. That played a part in me."
(On adjusting to coaching in the SEC)
"I think it's a big adjustment for some and I don't think it's a big adjustment for others. I think it's a personality and a fit. Some people love coaching in this league and some people, you couldn't pay them enough money to come coach in this league. That's just the way it is. It's ridiculously competitive every day, in recruiting and on the field. The scrutiny that you get every day is not like any other program and a lot of coaches don't like that."
(On not having the same staff intact)
"I sit down every year, John, with all of our coaches. It's important to have a professional dialogue. It has to be a two-way dialogue on how I think we did or how the coach did, good or bad, and his thoughts on where he is, 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 think 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 think there's any other way that you can grow as a program and as a coach if you don't do that."
(On Tennessee's defensive scheme)
"It's going to be both, but I'm not going to tell you what we're running right now. Sal has been on board here how long? A couple of hours? Can we wait until spring to get into the scheme? You have enough to write about. Who are we playing first? Do you want to start breaking down N.C. State?
(On whether Tennessee will play with four linebackers or three linebackers)
"We're going to have both. Some plays we'll have two. We might have one some plays. We're going to do it all. Are we going to run some 3-4? Yes. That's what you all want to here. We're not going to be a 4-3 team. We're going to be a multiple team, which means there will be 3-4 principles. There will be 40 principles. There will be some odd looks, third down, everything. It's everything. What we're going to look like next fall is going to be predicated on - as we put stuff in during the spring and in training camp - what can we do well given our personnel? That's why I don't want to say it. It's not because I'm trying to hide anything. Until our guys get out there and start doing this stuff, you don't know what they can do well and what they can't."
Running Backs Coach Jay Graham
(On leaving South Carolina for Tennessee)
"It was tough because I enjoyed my years at South Carolina, but it was easy in the way that (Tennessee) is the place where I played and it is a part of who I am. This is also the place I came back to when I `cut my teeth' as a graduate assistant coach. Tennessee was always the place I saw myself coaching."
(On what he wants to bring to Tennessee's run game)
"What I always try to do is teach guys to run the ball the right way and do all the things to help an offense be successful."
(On his recruiting style)
"I think a lot of the running backs I've recruited can identify with me. I played in the NFL. I played in the SEC. I think a lot of the guys want to identify with that."
(On coaching under Steve Spurrier)
"I was able to learn more about protections. He is really great offensively and I was able to learn his offence. It's great as a coach to be able to grow offensively."
(On what Spurrier taught him outside of the X's and O's of football)
"He has a was of recruiting and I learned that way. He taught me a lot about professionalism and how to handle yourself."
(On how tough it was to leave a potential Heisman candidate in RB Marcus Lattimore at South Carolina)
"It was tough not to decide to leave not because he is a potential Heisman trophy candidate, but because he is a good young man. We talked about it and I said to him that he would probably coach at your alma mater if you had been in the same position. He agreed, and it was a good conversation. He is just a good young man."
(On being a former running back and now coaching a group of RB's that haven't had a former running back as their coach in a number of years)
"I think because I've walked in their shoes, I've done some of the things that they do, I think they can identify with me and understand it. Certainly, you have to know how to coach them and I think that validates it, but because you've been in their shoes and played at different levels, when they come off the sideline you can really identify with them during a game or at practice."
(On what made him decide to come to Tennessee when he was being recruited)
"I just wanted to learn from those guys (on those Tennessee teams). When I came on my official visit I was able to hang out with Aaron Hayden and Charley Garner and they told me `you are not going to play till your junior year.' Everybody else was telling me I was going to start as a freshman. I could understand where they were coming from and I liked those guys and I like learning from them. That was what I did for two years."
(On having a moment of reflection and realizing he is now back on the team he once played for)
"I've thought about it. When I see Gibbs Hall I remember walking out of the dorm and heading over to the weight room to work out and that's when I think about it. It's funny fifteen or sixteen years later to have the opportunity to coach these young men. I walked in their same shoes. Those are the things I think about."
(On educating the current running backs on who he was as a player at Tennessee)
"We've only had a couple of meetings because when I came in all the guys were out for Christmas break. One of the guys pointed into the corner of the room, and I guess my picture was up, and asked, `was that you?' They are starting to figure out who I am."
(On how being a former running back at Tennessee will help in recruiting other running backs to Tennessee)
"When I am sitting on a young man's couch I am a product of what I am selling. I think that's very important. For his parents to see that if you play well and can get to the NFL it is possible. Some of these young men might want to go off and couch too. I am able to talk about all of those things. I think that parents are able to see that this is what they want for their young man to end up doing."
(On what makes a good running back to him)
"You've got to have dynamic skill level. That is very important when you play in the SEC. Some of the defenses we play can be in the top five and you have to have a mental toughness and the ability to break tackles. I always look for young men that have the ability to adapt. When you get to college you have to adapt to this level right away."
(On what was difficult as a player to adjust to the SEC)
"The speed of the game and it is a lot faster than it once was. No one lines up in a base defense and just plays. The speed of the defensive linemen and linebackers have all become much faster. When you are in high school and you are the best player in the state, once you get on the field in the SEC you are facing some of the top players in the country."
(On what he has said to his new running backs on what it means to play for Tennessee)
"We talked about it a lot. I think that's very important for our young men to understand that and understand the historic tradition here and what it means. I will talk a lot about that (with them)."
(On evaluating the current running backs at Tennessee)
"I don't think you evaluate them on film right now as much. I think you wait to do it on the field, in person. That's the way to do it, instead of what is already on tape. A lot of it was trying to see what the player was thinking or what they were coached to do. Those things all go into how we work things out and what we have to do in order to move forward."
(On keeping some of his same recruiting area)
"It is really good that when you move as a coach that you keep those same recruiting areas. That's always a good thing."
(On recruiting South Carolina RB Marcus Lattimore)
"When I saw him on video I thought he was a really good running back. When I met him in person and started talking to him the more I realized the type of young man he is with how hard he works, how tough he is and when I had the chance to meet his family, that's when you know a kid has a good chance to become something special."
(On recruiting players to Tennessee by using Lattimore as an example)
"He is always an example. When I tell young men to study the film and do all the things to prepare for a game it's because that's what Marcus (Lattimore) did.