March 11, 2011
Peter Sirmon became Tennessee's newest assistant coach last month when he was promoted from defensive graduate assistant to the position in charge of linebackers. Sirmon played linebacker first at Oregon, where he was an All-Pac-10 performer, and then for the Tennessee Titans during a seven-year NFL career that included four years as a starter. Three of his four children were born in Tennessee and Sirmon feels right at home working alongside his old college roommate, UT defensive coordinator Justin Wilcox.
The Washington state native took time Friday to discuss a number of topics, including the linebacker position for 2011 and how he fits into head coach Derek Dooley's coaching staff. Here is a sampling of those comments:
Having played and having played so recently, what advantage does that give you in coaching these young guys?
"I think anytime you have kind of walked in the same shoes as the players, there's a level of communication and understanding. You're asking them to do things you know can be done and if things are difficult, you understand the problems they're having. It's easier to relate to them."
Talk about the chemistry this staff has and working with Justin (Wilcox).
"With Justin, we have a long history together so that's been good working with him. Terry (Joseph) was great last year, letting me help out a little bit there. Lance (Thompson) does a great job. The four of us are going to continue to work, push each other and try to improve."
Do you feel like you're a better coach now having worked with the secondary with your experience with linebackers?
"I do. I think anytime you see things from a different point of view, it improves your overall understanding of the concepts and schemes. Something that helped me a lot last year was starting to understand more of the passing game, different kinds of alignments and how they change the passing game for the offense."
What's been the biggest adjustment going from a graduate assistant position to full-time?
"Really, just the recruiting responsibilities are the difference. I have a pretty large area so just getting through the initial evaluations of so many players and making those contacts with the high school coaches is some of the work that's involved in recruiting."
Going back to fall camp a lot of guys in the secondary talked about how well you related with them. Do you feel like that's something that's going to be a strength for you in recruiting?
"I think you always have to relate to people. Sometimes you have a great rapport with people and sometimes maybe your personalities just don't mesh. The safeties last year had good personalities that came together. I loved working with them. It was nice that they thought I related well with them. The more comfort they have in what you're saying and how you're trying to help them improve, the more they're going to use those techniques."
How would you describe your coaching style?
"I think I probably have two separate styles. In the meeting room, I try to be very teacher-friendly and make it an easy environment to learn. I try to have no anxiety for the players in the room so they can be wrong, talk and not worry about being wrong on the field. On the field, it's going to be different where you demand and expect them to do what you're asking them to do and do it with great effort."
Did you think you would find yourself in a full-time position here?
"I didn't have that expectation here at all. I came out here for the opportunity. I had been with Oregon, obviously, the year before. It was a great opportunity to get back in the state of Tennessee and get in the SEC, but I had no plans on being full-time here."
What was your reaction when it was presented to you?
"It was obviously a huge step for me, my first full-time job here. The University of Tennessee is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to get your first start here."
Did you always know that coaching would be something you wanted to do when you were done playing?
"No. Right after I retired, there was a time where I thought I wanted to get away from football. You get away from football and into that business environment and some of the personalities I was working with weren't meshing with what I thought of. You prepare for something, you have a test, good or bad, then you correct the problem and you move on. It was the sense of urgency that I didn't feel. In football, you have that sense of urgency all the time. You're always preparing and always trying to get better. There's always some kind of measuring stick. You go back and you fix things that didn't work well or you expand on things that worked for you."
How would you describe your relationship with Justin?
"Justin and I have a really strong relationship. We've known each other for a long time and we were roommates in college. We have a good relationship at work. We have a good working relationship and I think we can both talk frankly with each other and understand that it's work. He's done a great job with leading the defense. The players love him and the players will really play hard for him."