Nov. 21, 2012
KNOXVILLE, Tenn. - Although they don't know if they will be coaching at the University of Tennessee next season, many of the coaches on the 2012 staff are grateful for their time with the Vols and feel very positive about the future of the school and the program.
"This is a great place," cornerbacks coach Derrick Ansley said. "You have every resource here at Tennessee to do some of the things that some of the other schools that are top-10 or ranked now. You have the big stadium, you have the nice facilities, a new facility, over 100,000 people every weekend and the Vol Walk is probably the best pregame venue in college football. You have everything you need to be successful here."
The struggles of the Vols' defense have been well documented, but defensive coordinator Sal Sunseri holds no ill will and has enjoyed his time at Rocky Top.
"I have a lot of respect for a lot of you guys (media) and a lot of the people in Knoxville, Tennessee," Sunseri said. "This is a great town, a great university and the bottom line is that you need to get it done, somehow, someway to get this program back to what it needs to be. I am telling everybody here thank you for the opportunity. I am telling everybody here that it has been a great experience for me and my family, we have been treated first class. It was a good situation."
No one on the staff knows Tennessee better than former Vols star tailback Jay Graham and the 2004 graduate doesn't have any regrets about leaving his post at South Carolina to return to Knoxville.
"No, I'd do it again," Graham said. "It's my university. I like this place. We did what we could do. I wouldn't think about it. If I had a second opportunity, I'd do it."
LOOKING FOR THE FINAL WINMuch like the players, the Tennessee coaches are trying to finish the 2012 season with a bang and earn that final win.
The coaches have stressed many times what finishing the year with a win would mean to the seniors, the program and the fans. They have also stressed what playing hard until the end means for the underclassmen.
"Every time you take a snap, it's your resume, it's who you are," wide receivers coach Darin Hinshaw said. "`What is your resume going to say?' for the underclassmen. And the seniors, `How are you going to leave the field on your last day in Neyland Stadium and walking out of there and what do you want to feel like when you leave there?' Same thing with the underclassmen. `How's everybody going to remember you from this season and your situation?' You never know in life what's going to happen. For some of these guys, it could be their last snap. You never know. Go out there every opportunity you get and give everything you've got."
Last season, the players and staff were left with a bitter taste in their mouths after the loss to Kentucky. This season, despite the record, beating Kentucky means a new beginning for Tennessee.
"Well I think it would mean a new start," safeties coach Josh Conklin said. "Whoever is here as a head coach, or whoever their position coaches end up being, what they have to understand is that the leadership is always going to come from within. It's always going to be team driven, I really believe that. They have to look at this as an opportunity for them to grow closer. Another guy comes in, he's going to have his own principles and the things he is going to establish his program around, but it's still going to be team driven. When a team understands it's led from within, I think they really understand the concept of what it takes to win football games at any level."
The coaches have driven this into their players heads by telling them of the opportunities a win would present, but also reminding them of their obligation to their university.
"What we are trying to stress is be a man," offensive line coach Sam Pittman said. "You have an obligation to man up. We all have problems in this world. The problems that they have are nothing like they are going to have in their life, unfortunately. We just told them to man up, let's go play and let's get a win for the university."
FOCUSING ON THE TASK AT HANDHaving gone through an in-season coaching change during his time at the University of Pittsburgh, Tennessee defensive coordinator Sal Sunseri is aware of the challenges it presents and what needs to be done to get the team ready to play.
"Any time you get in transition like this, it is a very tough situation for everybody that is part of the organization," Sunseri said. "Getting these kids out there, getting them focused to go out there and understand they have one more game. They have to go out, they have to play for the University of Tennessee, they have to play and have pride in what they are putting out there."
Effort has not been an issue in practice this week, but rather it has been keeping the team focused on a common goal. Sunseri said the veteran players have played a key role in getting the Orange and White ready to play and finish what has been a difficult season on a positive note.
"The energy has been good but the total detail of technique and preparation, understanding what is going on [has been lacking]," Sunseri said. "You always have this in this situation, because you have mature guys and you have immature guys. Maturity, usually the older guys, step up and do it. The younger guys probably are thinking what is going on, who is the next coach, instead of being focused on what is at hand. And what is at hand is playing against the University of Kentucky."
The team has improved its focus with each day of practice this week and Sunseri knows that will have to continue all the way until kickoff Saturday as the Wildcats have an offense that can make the Tennessee defense pay if it is not focused and prepared.
"What we are getting ready to do is go play Kentucky," Sunseri said. "They have a quarterback from down in Alabama from out of Prattville who has very good feet. These guys like to run the ball and then play action you and hit you over the top. The kids are out there at practice this week, I'd be lying to you if I didn't say it was a distraction, but they went out there and had a better day today. It's been a good week. We have to come back in here and polish it up tomorrow and get things right."