Feb. 9, 2012
BY ANDREW LENTZ
KNOXVILLE, Tenn. - Last Wednesday, high school seniors across the country spent the day explaining why they chose to bring their football talents to the school they signed with.
Yesterday, six new assistant coaches did the same, illustrating why they chose to make Tennessee their new home.
Derrick Ansley (cornerbacks), Charlie Coiner (tight ends/special teams), Jay Graham (running backs), John Palermo (defensive line), Sam Pittman (offensive line) and Sal Sunseri (defensive coordinator) met with the media Wednesday on the indoor field at the Neyland-Thompson Sports Center for the first time since arriving at UT.
There are multiple reasons that factor into a life-altering decision such as a career move, and that was no different in any of these six instances. But the common theme was excitement.
"I'm really excited because I know the history of Tennessee," Sunseri said. "They've won a lot of SEC championships. They've won national championships. There's great tradition here. You have a chance when you go into any high school and you're representing the University of Tennessee, to get that young man on the field to come play here."
"It was very exciting," Coiner said. "It was not just having any school call. It was the University of Tennessee and I know about this place. It is one of the top schools in the nation. I got pretty fired up about (coming to Tennessee)."
"I was pretty darn excited, I'll tell you that right now," Palermo said. "For me, it was a dream come true to be able to coach an hour and 45 minutes from your home at Tennessee. I don't think it gets any better than that."
By definition, excitement is something that stirs emotions. Nothing lives up to that quite as much as coaching in front of 102,455 raucous fans in orange.
"You have one of the top winning programs since 1926, a stadium of 103,000 people, and an offensive coordinator and head coach that I believe in," Pittman said. "That is why I wanted to come here. It is Tennessee, and that's how I feel about it. I wanted to come to Tennessee bad. I wanted to be a part of the University of Tennessee and I am glad that it happened."
For Sunseri and Ansley, it was a relationship-domino effect. Sunseri worked with head coach Derek Dooley at LSU in 2000.
"Derek," Sunseri said of what ultimately made the difference in his decision. "I wanted to be with Derek because we worked together at LSU. We know each other's work ethics and we're going to be relentless workers until we get it done the way he wants to get it done and the way I want to get it done. You don't just go with anybody. I believe Derek can be very successful here with the right people around him. It's like anything else, if you bring good people around you and let them go coach, you can have success." Once that domino fell, so did another. Ansley was a defensive assistant at Alabama from 2010-11.
"The familiarity I have with (Sunseri)," Ansley said on his difference-maker. "Working two years with him at Alabama, and working closely with him on defense. It was just an easy decision for us."
Tennessee's first new hire of the off-season also had to do with familiarity, but on a much different level.
Graham had the opportunity to come home and ran with it, something he's used to doing at UT. The former Vol rushed for the seventh-most yards (2,609) in UT history during his career (1993-96).
"It's great just to get a chance," Graham said. "I've practiced out here and went through morning runs out here. It is always great to be back and to be back apart of the program that helped me so much. It got me on my way in football and on to my second career of coaching. "
Graham spent the last three seasons coaching the running backs at South Carolina, helping elevate the Gamecocks to their first SEC Championship appearance in 2010.
He - and all of UT's new coaches - are hoping to do the same for a Tennessee program that's been to the pinnacle of college football, one day at a time.
"It would mean everything," Graham said. "That's why I'm here. I'm emotional about it, but I think it is an important day-to-day thing. I just think about how we take the next step in the right direction to become successful."