Dec. 23, 2012
By Brian Rice
KNOXVILLE, Tenn.-- As he takes over as Tennessee's defensive coordinator in 2013, John Jancek aims to bring an air of familiarity to the Volunteer defense, no easy task for a completely new staff running a new scheme. But with a look that goes back to some of the great defenses of the past, combined with a couple of faces familiar to the Southeastern Conference, Jancek is up for the challenge.
A return to an 4-3 scheme from the 3-4 that the Vols ran a season ago is Jancek's first move. But in meeting with the media for the first time at Tennessee this week, he said the calling card of his defense would be more about the attitude they play with on the field, rather than the alignment that they play out of.
"If I could have my perfect style, I would want to describe it as a defense that plays with great effort, that plays with great intensity, that doesn't beat itself," Jancek said. "Part of that style is tackling, to be great tacklers and be physical and when people play Tennessee, they know that they are in for a long game. That is the model and the philosophy that we will constantly be working towards."
As he molded the staff that will form that identity for his side of the ball, Jancek and head coach Butch Jones called on a pair of position coaches with a wealth of SEC experience, defensive backs coach Willie Martinez and linebackers coach Tommy Thigpen.
"We have guys that know the league and understand the intensity and level of recruiting and have played in these venues before," Jancek said of Martinez, who has a total of 10 years of SEC experience at Georgia and Auburn, and Thigpen, who has four years, all at Auburn. "They know what to expect when you walk into a place like Tennessee. We identify this as a great home field advantage and when we go on the road our opponents will have an electric atmosphere so that was part of it. It was by design."
Martinez got his first taste of the passion and excitement of Tennessee fans as a graduate assistant at Miami in the 1986 Sugar Bowl. In his famous pre-game speech, then-head coach Johnny Majors implored his team to "make them remember you as long as they live," and the Volunteers definitely left an impression on the former Hurricane player completing the first season of a young coaching career.
"I know the tradition," Martinez said. "It goes back to Coach Majors and what he did when he was here. I got first-hand notice of that when we played them in the Sugar Bowl. It wasn't good for us (a 35-7 Tennessee victory). I just got a good feel for the fans, how passionate they were. It goes back."
Thigpen said the grind of the SEC will be the biggest challenge for the staff moving forward, but that it's a challenge that they are all prepared for.
"Every single week, it is the game of the week," he said before referencing the recent accomplishments of a few of the league's teams. "There is no down game. So every week you have to put your `A' game on. You go out to practice with your construction hat on and be ready to go. There are no let downs in this conference, any week, anyone can beat you. That is what Butch understands. Everywhere he has gone he has kept the intensity high and understands you have to play like it is the National Championship."
Thigpen, who won one of those National Championships two seasons ago while coaching linebackers at Auburn, knows that getting Tennessee back to contending for championships will be an incremental process, but one he hopes is filled with wins at each step of the way.
"I don't think there is such a thing as a quick fix in this conference," Thigpen said when asked if a change in philosophy would spur an immediate change in on-field results. "Our goal is to get better and to see the improvement every single week.
Jancek, who has SEC roots of his own from five seasons working with linebackers at Georgia before spending the past three seasons as the defensive coordinator at Cincinnati, is looking forward to what lies ahead in making that week-by-week improvement.
"We have some work to do," Jancek said. "It is going to be a great challenge, certainly an opportunity for myself and the defensive coaching staff. It is exciting. We are at a great place, we have great people around us and all the support that we need so we are going to roll up our sleeves and get to work."